Saturday, June 18, 2011

Us and Them

Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral (London) and Director of the St. Paul’s Institute, wrote an interesting essay that appeared in Church Times yesterday. The essay is “When us-and-them can seem unwelcome.”

Fraser, of course, is associated with a famous church that, in many ways, is quite different from the average parish church, whether in the U.S. or the U.K. He explained that “85 per cent of the congre­gation are visitors.” I don’t know what the corresponding number might be at St. Paul’s on average, but I suspect that it is closer to 2 or 3 per cent.

Neither St. Paul’s Cathedral nor St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, has the “right” proportion of visitors in its congregation; the churches have different missions. Being responsible for greeting visitors to his cathedral has gotten Fraser to think more deeply about the welcoming procedures at places of worship, however:
For instance, I really don’t like being overly welcomed in church. Of course, I don’t want to be made to feel unwelcome, but I am not a fan of church greeters and similar meas­ures. While having the best of inten­tions, the message that they supply is often that the greeter (as a repre­sentative of the members of this local church) welcomes you (an outsider, visitor) to “our” church. When this happens to me, a little irritated voice in my head reflects that, although I have never been to this place before, it is as much my church as theirs.
Giles’ reactions gives us something to think about. Are we welcoming visitors to “our” church or to Christ’s church?

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