Monday, May 10, 2010

Coffee Hour

It was good to see an unusually large crowd at the coffee hour after the 10:30 service yesterday. I’m not sure why that was the case, and I doubt that the commissioning of Stephen ministers or the sheet cake celebrating the event was responsible. I enjoyed the cake, but I felt very uncomfortable in the crowd.

A couple of months ago, at a rector-led discussion about becoming a more welcoming congregation, participants were asked for their own suggestions. I pointed out problems with our coffee hour and contrasted it with the full lunch offered by St. James’, Lothian, a Maryland parish where both Lou and my son Geoffrey were once on the staff. My complaints were the following:
  1. Everyone is expected to pay for snacks. I have literally never been to any other church that has this expectation.
  2. We place what seems like a guard at the table, seemingly to assure that everyone pays.
  3. The food is placed on tables that block traffic and make it difficult to reach the food.
My suggestions:
  1. Use the coffee hour for fellowship, not as a profit center.
  2. Move the tables out to the middle of the floor.
  3. Move other tables and chairs out of the way, so people can circulate freely.
In particular, I noted that St. James’ holds their coffee hour—it really seems unfair to call it anything other than lunch—in a large parish hall. The tables holding the food are in a row in the center of the room, where they are accessible from all sides. All the other furniture is against the walls, so people can freely move about, not only near the food but throughout the room.

And how does St. Paul’s arrange things? The food is on tables in the middle of the high-traffic path between the education wing and the Mayfair exit. After church, a traffic jam inevitably occurs in the hallway just outside the undercroft. Moreover, only one side of the tables are accessible by people seeking snacks. Several tables are set up just a few yards from the food tables, so that the crowd is corralled in a small area. This makes it difficult to get to the food, difficult to move through the area, and very uncomfortable for people who don’t like being confined in a small space with other people.

Lou declared that he liked my idea of arranging the furniture for coffee hour the way we do for receptions, with excess tables and chairs moved out of the way and food tables in the middle of the space parallel to Mayfair Drive, rather than blocking the passage in front of the kitchen. He declared that we would try that arrangement the next Sunday. That was, as I said, months ago, and the suggestion still has not been implemented. When I was trying to leave the church yesterday, I had to walk around all the tables toward the back of the room, then walk back toward the hallway to the Mayfair exit. There were a lot of people I had to elbow out of the way. That makes an introvert like me very unhappy.

Welcome to St. Paul’s, by the way, the most welcoming congregation in the world South Hills for all generations.

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