I was feeling it’d be great to go hang with some other Christians on Sunday so I looked at the local church website and saw that they had a 5.30 evening service ‘cafe-style’. Now call me a sceptic but as I see it that is almost always code for ‘plastic tables in the church hall with instant coffee and no atmosphere’, but we were keen to meet up with some other folks so we thought we’d give it a whirl.
Don’t you hate it when your scepticsms prove true?… I was hoping we’d be pleasantly surprised and that we’d meet some great people and learn some new stuff…
But we entered a cold church hall at 5.30 where 8 or 9 plastic tables were scattered 3 of which were filled. We didn’t know whether to sit at a table, stand around and look lost or just leave… But we had wandered too far in to turn back so we found ourselves at the little table near the front where the woman wanted to take our order.
Basically apart fron hot drinks the only options were soup or raisin toast. So we ordered two of each and went to sit down. A tip for you if you are doing this kind of thing – smile at people and make conversation. It will compensate for the drabness of your environment and it will communicate that you are a friendly person…
So we went to a table and sat down. I expected that some of those from the 3 tables already seated would come over and say G’day. Obviously that was a big expectation as we sat on our own in a room of 20 people for the next 15 minutes… all the time wondering ‘should we just bale?’ It was cold, tacky and unfriendly – everything you would hope not to encounter.
I dunno about you, but this kind of thing really gets my goat. I don’t think we looked particularly scary or hard to engage with, but sadly we were largely left to ourselves. We did get a fleeting ‘hi – nice to have you here’ from the pastors wife and one gem of a bloke sat and chatted to us for a good 20 minutes in between taking orders. His efforts impressed us greatly, but the sheer lack of any attempt by the others left us puzzled. Surely when some people wander in who are clearly new you would go out of your way to welcome them?…
With the meal finished by 5.45 we had another 45 mins to kill because the church ‘service’ didn’t start until 6.30. I was for doing a runner, as I figured that if part 1 was a taste of things to come then I would only go home more annoyed.
But I was outvoted by the other members of the family and we ended up joining their Sunday night gig for the next hour.
Again the bizarre happened when in a room of 50 people the leader asked if ‘there were any new people?’ I’m sitting thinking ‘you all know each other and we are the only unfamiliar faces here, but you still want me to raise my hand?’ I don’t like this approach especially after these people didn’t want to know me over dinner. Now they want to give me their info and get my details?… You have got to be kidding!
The service rolled on – one of those very Pentecostal type affairs which is not my cup of tea either. I am all for being open to the HS, but I felt like I had stepped into the set of an American TV evangelist show. Curiosity kept me there but after a very sketchy sermon about ‘living in the spiritual’ rather than the natural we were all invited to come to the front so the HS could ‘minister to us’ (or so the pastor could push us over)
I was tempted to head up there to see how good he was… in hindsight I probably should have… but I was tired of the whole thing and managed to convince the others that we should just leave.
I write all that because it’s a reminder to me of how unwelcoming and foreign church culture can be to the outsider. For all those folks knew we could have lived in the town and not been believers but I suspect if we were they would not have seen us again.
And this is not an isolated event…