As I sit and try and write sermons for Holy Week and Easter my thoughts turn to all the people who will be in church on Easter Sunday. Attendance is usually double most other Sundays of the year and in the Episcopal church people joke that they are members of the Church of C and E (Christmas and Easter). I think it is wonderful anytime someone shows up on an Sunday. Living in Portland where 42% of residents are religiously unaffiliated, it is great to see people worshiping on Sundays.
Because there will be a lot of new people in churches this Sunday I offer this list of what to do and not to do when you meet them. I am a little embarassed that I would even need to say this but…
1. Say hello to someone you do not know. This is very simple and a matter of basic manners. You do not have to share a 5 minute conversation. Just say “Good morning” or “Happy Easter”. Whatever you share in authentic kindness will go miles towards making someone feel welcome.
2. DO NOT think you are being cute by telling people you don’t recognize “You know we are here every Sunday” or “You know we are open more than Christmas and Easter”. This applies to clergy as well as members of the congregation. There are so many ways we shame people and make them feel bad about getting up and out of the house with their family to come to a place where people say stupid things to them. You are not cute or funny, it is rude, don’t do it.
3. If you walk into church and someone is sitting where you normally sit, go and sit somewhere else. That is not your seat or your pew, even if you have been sitting in it for 30 years. If you say anything like “You are sitting in my pew” I would like to speak to the person who taught you what it means to be a follower of Christ. I would like to find out if you have ever learned what hospitality to the stranger means. If you know you might be upset if someone is sitting in the pew you normally sit in, and you are afraid that you might say something stupid, make a copy of Hebrews 13:2 and carry it with you. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
4. Be helpful. I am not even sure why I should have to say this. If you see someone new to you who looks lost or appears to be looking for something or someone, speak to them. Ask if you can help. The family with 4 kids, all in their uncomfortable Easter best, might not have any idea where the nursery or bathroom is. Offer to help. See Luke 10: 29-37 if you have any questions about this one.
5. Be yourself. You do not have to say exactly the right thing to someone and you do not have to carry on a long conversation. Simple kindness and good manners go a long way. If you really care about peope it will show.
5(a). Be yourself; Caveat. Be yourself… unless you are a jerk who is rude and mean to people. If you are a jerk who is rude and mean to people stay home. Yes, I know, jerks probably need the love of God more than anyone, but God can hear their prayers and touch them with the Holy Spirit at their house. I often hear that people find God on the golf course when they are not in church. Too often the rudest and jerkiest people come to church and act out in all kinds of stupid and mean ways, and we either ignore them or avoid them. What I am saying is that the single mother who got her baby up early because she wanted to come and worship God on Easter does not need your stupid rudeness. Yes we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23) but that is a statement of fact, not an excuse for bad behavior.
There. That is the end of my list. It is as simple as just having decent manners and treating people in the way you would like to be treated. You may have other things to add to this list. Please feel free to add them in the comments. Now back to writing sermons. Have a blessed Holy Week and joyous Easter.