I was pretty sure there’d be a person or two there that I’d know, which helped some. But I still felt apprehensive. I knew I was being irrational. After all, I was entering a place of worship; a sanctuary. Nevertheless, the nervousness was present.
What made me different from the rest of the people that morning was that I am of the Episcopal faith and the church I was entering was Methodist. And aside from being in a room full of strangers, my concern was this: at my church I know when to stand, when to sit, when to pray – in short, what to expect. No surprises. But here, there were nine way to Sunday that I could embarrass myself. Or worse, unintentionally offend someone.
As it turned out, the only thing I had to fear was if I had left my cell phone on or not. When I reached the church doors, two little kids with big smiles swung open the doors to greet me. The adult ushers welcomed me, handed me a program and, well, ushered me into the beautiful sanctuary. Still worried about making mistakes, I selected a seat in a row well toward the rear of the church. Within seconds I was welcomed by a stranger, then another. Then a colleague welcomed me warmly. And although I was ‘forced’ closer to the front, I felt ‘held’ by parishioners. Choir members smiled. Behind me was a woman in a wheelchair. As far as I could tell, she was the only one in the room too.
Long story short, I was made to feel welcome. And although there were some who ‘kept their distance,’ I reflected on how many times when somebody else was the only one in the room, how I held my own distance. Not intentionally, mind you; I might have been too involved in my thoughts or ‘just not in the mood’ that day to reach out.
Short of making direct contact, offering a smile or nod can go a long way in making someone feel welcome. Simply having an awareness of another person’s situation can often make the difference between fellowship and fear.