August 2017

You’re welcome

I quite often have to help with facilitating meetings in the diocese when parishes come together as the first stage of the process of finding a new incumbent. One of the regular features of these meetings is that people are invited to describe the good things about their churches. And one of the regular features of this is that people say that their churches are welcoming. And I say to them, ‘Do you mean that they are welcoming to people when they move into the area or when they they dare to open the church door?’

It is an important distinction and one of which we all need to be aware. A welcoming church is one that welcomes people to its community, and that is an important part of any church’s ministry, which is why welcoming such people is part of our deanery mission action plan.

But I think that if a church is truly welcoming, it goes a bit further than that. We need to bear in mind that many people - probably many more than we realise - visit our churches under circumstances other than normal service times: they come when they visit the area, when they feel the need for peace, when they want to pray and when they are in distress, and doubtless for many other reasons, and we need to ask ourselves what we should do to make sure that they feel welcome.

Let me pose a few questions. If someone comes to visit our churches, what is there that he or she will immediately see which makes it clear that they are welcome? Is there a welcoming message (and in how many languages)? How can they easily find out what events - services and other - are coming up? 

Do we assume that people understand churches - their layout and features - or do we help to explain them? We need to remember at all times that the overwhelming majority of people do not attend church regularly and they will not understand things that we take for granted. What questions are they likely to ask? And how easily do we let them find the answer? I think it would be a help to sit down in all our churches - possibly with someone unused to them - to find out what they will want to know. Things like: how old is the church? What are its main features? And if our response is that the answers are in the guide book, we have rather missed the point. We need to help people to understand our churches: if they don’t, they will not feel welcome.

People sometimes come to churches because they feel the need to pray. But they are not used to praying and so can feel utterly helpless. What do we do to help them? I am considering getting a small collection of prayers together which can be available in churches which can possibly help people in that situation. I would be glad to hear your views.

As many of you will know, the diocese has a buildings project designed to help people look at their churches and see how they can be used, with our deanery used to be a pilot area.. I know that a number of churches have exciting plans which is excellent news. But other churches might feel there is nothing special they can do. But there is. They can make their churches welcome to those who visit them and those who use them. That is a vital part of Christian ministry. If you read the gospels and the Acts, you see that Jesus and the first apostles went out to welcome people. We need to go out and welcome those who come to live among us, but we also need to extend the welcome to those who we may not see, but who visit our churches: do they find a warm welcome?

I quite often have to help with facilitating meetings in the diocese when parishes come together as the first stage of the process of finding a new incumbent. One of the regular features of these meetings is that people are invited to describe the good things about their churches. And one of the regular features of this is that people say that their churches are welcoming. And I say to them, ‘Do you mean that they are welcoming to people when they move into the area or when they they dare to open the church door?’

It is an important distinction and one of which we all need to be aware. A welcoming church is one that welcomes people to its community, and that is an important part of any church’s ministry, which is why welcoming such people is part of our deanery mission action plan.

But I think that if a church is truly welcoming, it goes a bit further than that. We need to bear in mind that many people - probably many more than we realise - visit our churches under circumstances other than normal service times: they come when they visit the area, when they feel the need for peace, when they want to pray and when they are in distress, and doubtless for many other reasons, and we need to ask ourselves what we should do to make sure that they feel welcome.

Let me pose a few questions. If someone comes to visit our churches, what is there that he or she will immediately see which makes it clear that they are welcome? Is there a welcoming message (and in how many languages)? How can they easily find out what events - services and other - are coming up? 

Do we assume that people understand churches - their layout and features - or do we help to explain them? We need to remember at all times that the overwhelming majority of people do not attend church regularly and they will not understand things that we take for granted. What questions are they likely to ask? And how easily do we let them find the answer? I think it would be a help to sit down in all our churches - possibly with someone unused to them - to find out what they will want to know. Things like: how old is the church? What are its main features? And if our response is that the answers are in the guide book, we have rather missed the point. We need to help people to understand our churches: if they don’t, they will not feel welcome.

People sometimes come to churches because they feel the need to pray. But they are not used to praying and so can feel utterly helpless. What do we do to help them? I am considering getting a small collection of prayers together which can be available in churches which can possibly help people in that situation. I would be glad to hear your views.

As many of you will know, the diocese has a buildings project designed to help people look at their churches and see how they can be used, with our deanery used to be a pilot area.. I know that a number of churches have exciting plans which is excellent news. But other churches might feel there is nothing special they can do. But there is. They can make their churches welcome to those who visit them and those who use them. That is a vital part of Christian ministry. If you read the gospels and the Acts, you see that Jesus and the first apostles went out to welcome people. We need to go out and welcome those who come to live among us, but we also need to extend the welcome to those who we may not see, but who visit our churches: do they find a warm welcome?


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