Monthly Archives: October 2014

invisible woman

The nervousness of walking in another door was great but if I was to find a church in my community, I needed to take that step. Several people were in the church that day. It seemed to be a big anniversary gathering. Lots of people were talking to each other as I walked in. The only words said to me were by the “greeter” at the door. No handshake or smile, just a “Make sure you sign the guest book” and then turning to someone they knew better than me.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best date to visit. Let’s see what happens on another day. Bright smile applied. Shoulders set in a relaxed friendly angle. Do what I can to catch an eye and be open to what comes.

Nope. Nothing before church. Okay, maybe people need to be settled. Watch carefully to find an empty unwanted seat so that I don’t cause the grumbling that happened in another setting. Stand, sit, sing, listen. The service draws to a close.

Move out into the foyer. Bolster myself a bit with the edge of a table but don’t try to hide between my shoulder blades. Not to eager but open for what might come.

Look! a woman walking my way. And another coming from the other direction. Perhaps my openness was what was needed. The woman come to each side of me. I smile.

They don’t even glance toward me. They stand so close having a conversation across my nose that I can’t really go anywhere. The conversation is not one that invites anything I might have to offer so I wait. Perhaps as the conversation goes on they will bring me in.

The conversation ends. The women walk away. Their eyes don’t even dart a look toward me. I am shaken by the invisibility of my presence in that building and especially in that conversation within my close personal space that did not even include me with a glance.

I think it is time to make my exit. Unfortunately, the pastor is blocking the door with hand shakes. Right at the moment I am feeling a little to raw for official greetings. But I steel my shoulders and move toward the door doing my best to disappear.

He sees me and holds out a hand to shake as he looks sideways to the next person but I stop. In stopping his attention turns to me.

“This is my second visit to your church,” I tell him. And you are the first person to greet me. In fact, I just had two people carry on a conversation across my nose. I am not telling you this for me. I won’t be back. I have the strength still to try another church so I will get past the unfriendliness here. This is not my last hope.”

“But for the next person who walks through your door, you may be. If that person who is longing to find a faith community meets what I did today, they may not have it in them to take another chance.”

“I can only tell you what I experienced. You will have to decide what to do with it but I pray for the next stranger that may walk through your door. How you greet or don’t greet them may ma difference.”

Did he thank me for my words? I really don’t remember. I was just numb with a disbelief that people can be so calloused.

I want to remember, not in naming their names or church but in knowing what it felt like to be an invisible woman. May God give us the eyes to see.

 

Advertisements

Opening to the new

There is something I have stopped doing for myself but memory asked me to keep bringing an awareness of the experiences of a new person in a church or other faith based group. I was once an insider, and even then noticed how often it was seen as the task of the stranger to meet everyone. Even then it troubled me, especially in the times bridging that gap meant I heard a story of pain that made it hard for a new person to reach across that distance alone.

Many years later, I was the person seeking entry into a church community. The struggle I had seen from one side became my struggle as I met much of the same resistance to risk the new. I began sharing my stories, hoping that having shared both sides, these experiences would cause others to at least begin to consider the impact of how we act church on those who may be coming through our doors seeking.

Sadly, when the stories of seeking a church home are shared, most inside church people remind me of how fragile the people are in the church and what understanding the newcomer needs to have of the needs of the people included. Today, that may be truth. It is not unusual to talk to people who have gone to the same church for years without knowing others in the congregation.

Oh, there is often a core group who know each other through family relationships or shared activities outside of church. I have even been in churches where a circle was talking about preparations for a women’s activity and how each could be involved. It was a church I had attended for weeks, even helping with some of the music with the music director but hadn’t notice any women’s group in the bulletins.

Wanting to be involved with others. I stepped into the edge of the conversation and listened. As they were talking about how each could be involved, I offered an entry into the conversation by asking what I could do. They looked at me, told me I could buy a ticket and turned back to their conversation with those near me stepping forward into the circle to close me out.

I don’t believe their purpose was to be rude. Often, we are unaware of how our body language is read by those who are longing for the inclusion we have already at least tentatively found in a setting.

For me, at that stage of the journey, and with the reality that this was not my first effort to find a way to be a part with others, the slump of my shoulders would have spoken to those who might have observed.

This was not a place where I was going to receive a personal welcome. It was a denomination that in theory reaches beyond barriers set for many but in practice, at least in this setting, it was an ingrown group of family and friends who did not have room for those from outside.

What we say with word and body matter. That new person who walks through your door may need your words of welcome, your opening of a circle to allow them inside, your inclusion at a table or the act of moving over so they feel they can sit beside you.

The rest is up to them but it is time to stop asking the newcomer to make the first move in a fabric that has been sewn over time. Rebuffs hurt especially in a church which once had a reputation of welcome.

Wherever we are, may our hearts and eyes be opened to see those among us with the need of inclusion.