I stood in the well polished wood foyer looking for some church member I could talk to. .Looks like the service is over, I thought. All I saw were two men engrossed in a conversation. I waited, standing on one foot and then the other. No one looked up. Geez, don’t any of you want to welcome a visitor? A new face would stand out in this tiny church. After a few minutes I realized no greeting would be forthcoming and my temper grew. I wanted to shout,” I’m one of you, even if you don’t know me. I belong to the same family”
Finally, exasperated, I grabbed one of the programs and ripped it into a hundred tiny pieces, letting the confetti float to the floor. Rip and tear, rip and tear. Taking out my frustrations on a piece of paper probably wasn’t the most mature reaction to being ignored but it felt good, real real good I was weary of being a newcomer and having to reconnect with strangers …again.
To my amazement, they still didn’t look up. I’m outta here, I said to myself as I stomped out the front door to the parking lot.
Has this been your experience as a newcomer visiting a place of worship? I hope not. Maybe you aren’t the over reactor I’m famous for, but inside did you struggle to connect with a new congregation? Wouldn’t it have been easier to snuggle up on the couch and flip on the television to a famous pastor and worship anonymously in your living room? I know I have. It’s a lot less stressful.
What keeps me from taking the path of least resistance and settling for the electronic church? One word: community. I long for a few souls who might understand me, befriend me and pray for me as I adjust to a new zip code. I desire to find a place where a few might remember the names of my children, ask if I’m finding my way around, and suggest a pediatrician- simple things to feel connected to one’s new community.
Community is called koininia in the New Testament and means (bible.org) to hold something in common (www.bible.org). Another source, (www.gotquestions.org), suggests it means fellowship, communion and joint participation. It’s a rich word that carries the sense of action and can’t be translated with just one English word.
Of course true community comes from God. Our Heavenly Father is a complete contradiction. Our brain can’t fathom the Creator of the world also being Jesus the tender Good Shepherd to his twelve disciples. When we read the New Testament, we see Jesus mirror community with his twelve raggedy men. He constantly taught community as He washed their feet and cooked them breakfast. He built deep friendships as He comforted them when the disciples became fearful. And in turn, the disciples practiced koininia in the early church as the world commented: “See how they love one another“.
I’ve had to repent for my little paper-tearing temper tantrum. In retrospect, the two gentlemen might have been involved in a crucial conversation. Maybe one man had lost his job and his friend needed to encourage him. Maybe they spoke of marriage troubles or a wayward child. It doesn’t matter. Only God knows and He’s reminded me not to judge people’s reactions to myself.
Several years and moves later, I can laugh about the episode. But let’s us, as a church, be more aware. Newcomers show up everywhere, vulnerable because they’ve uprooted. When we spy some poor soul with a pile of shredded paper at his feet, I hope we’ll grab a dustpan with one hand, and extend our hand with the other.
Please be patient with the new gal in town. I recognize her modes operandi; ‘she’s just a fellow pilgrim trying to find her family.