When we lived in a smaller community there was really only one Episcopal church to attend. One of the joys of living in a city is that there are several congregations from which to choose. Last Sunday I visited a nearby congregation. They were celebrating Advent with a service of Nine Lessons and Carols. What a treat!
The music was quite good, excellent. The readers spoke and read well. Generally the service was quite good and worthwhile. I was surprised that some of the lessons were read from older biblical translations, but apparently not all of them. I appreciate congruence within a worship service so the different translations were a small disappointment.
About equal to the worship experience was an interaction with one parishioner. A woman came in after I did and sat in the pew next to me. She introduced herself and asked my name. And, as it goes for me, within two sentences her name had vanished from my mind, and has not yet returned. She invited me to coffee hour, downstairs, after the service. The invitation was quite remarkable.
Recently I had visited several congregations on several occasions as I looked for a congregation that fit me the best. In the past two years I have worshipped with this congregation probably six or eight times. In many ways they are a good, strong congregation.
There are a couple of areas where they failed me. As I experienced this congregation in worship one aspect that they fell short was in pastoral care. After several visits I realized that I did not feel comfortable asking any of the four clergy for help in a pastoral emergency. The parish runs excellent programs and is active in many important causes, but I had not felt that there was a clergy person that I could call on for personal pastoral help if I needed it.
The second negative aspect concerned coffee hour. I am rather socially shy. I’m not one who can confidently barge into a social setting. The church building is arranged with the sanctuary on the ground floor and coffee hour in the basement. As a stranger I felt too exposed to “take the plunge” and go downstairs after a service and join some kind of coffee hour that I knew nothing about. Each time, exiting through the front door seemed easier than going past it and committing to “downstairs.” Then, last Sunday, this woman sitting next to me invited me and encouraged me to attend coffee hour. I realized at that point how powerful it was to be personally asked to join coffee hour.
I almost did go down those stairs, but the rest of the day was full of things on the “to do” list, and the sun was shining. As I scooted out the front door I assured myself that next time I would indeed venture down to coffee hour.
Perhaps a third point about this congregation that I missed was that they don’t need me. In each of my visits there I have not seen a place where I could put my talents to use with that congregation. As I see it, more powerful than being sincerely invited to coffee hour would be some moment of sincere interest in me that would result in showing me a place where I could be of use to the congregation. Okay, I know that if and when I do attend coffee hour then there would be a much better chance that someone would talk with me and perhaps show me that a clergy person there has a pastoral attitude or that someone else would invite me to join some activity that would put me to use. Most of it is my fault, but this is “how I see it.”