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April 8, 2018: The Search for a Church

by Greg DuRoss

Most of us are familiar with that welcome sign that many Episcopal churches have.  Maybe it does get a few people in the door, but just how effective is it if no one makes an effort to make guests feel welcome? 

Earlier this year I moved to Lewes, Delaware—a move that was long-planned and took even longer, between a retirement postponement, a foot injury, three hurricanes, and other delays.

One part of the transition that’s been unexpectedly difficult is finding a new spiritual home. I don’t want to suggest that people are unfriendly down here when in fact just the opposite is true.  Almost everyone says hello and neighbors wave when driving by; meeting people outside of church has not been particularly challenging.  But for some reason, people have not been particularly welcoming at the two churches I have visited so far.

On my fifth visit to one of them, I consciously set a goal of making eye contact with people at the post-service social time, and then introducing myself.  As I headed to the exit after about 15 minutes, having totally failed in that effort, I made eye contact with a man.  We both reached out to shake hands and introduce ourselves.  Finally!  Nope – he introduced his wife and said they were visiting for the first time; clearly, no one had been talking to them either.  We did then have a great conversation.

Many places of worship like to talk about building a spiritual community, but success requires supporting words with actions that make people want to return.  While the rector should set the example, I would suggest that it is the primary responsibility of the voluntary leadership of the church, and the members themselves.  That is one reason why I was a greeter at All Souls, and St. Thomas’ Dupont Circle before that.  More than one person told me that it was my friendly outreach that made them come again.  All Souls does a good job, but there is always room for improvement, and there is ample opportunity for you to make a difference.  Take your turn at being a greeter at All Souls, or just be especially mindful of new faces.

While I have absolutely no regrets about retiring to Lewes, the search for a new spiritual home continues.  Could it be that one reason some churches are thriving while others are not is due to a lack of genuine welcome?  While I continue to visit other local houses of worship, I encourage you to keep making All Souls as welcoming of a place as it was to me.

Last Published: April 5, 2018 10:40 AM
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