St. Bartholomew’s is a friendly congregation. It has always perceived and represented itself as a warm and caring community and is the home to some 300 worshipers each Sunday. There is pride in a full range of programs and occasions offered for the congregation and its members.
These young people had not felt welcomed by the music or the worship, and not a single person had talked to them at the coffee hour. Each wondered if they should return.
One Sunday, four people in their twenties were noticed by some long-time members at the end of the service. A conversation began. A church member welcomed them to their first St. Bart’s worship. “Actually, this isn’t our first visit here,” offered one of the visitors in response. “Each of us has been here as individuals, but no one seemed to notice. It’s kind of a scary place to visit, so we thought that we would come together.”
The last term the people of St. Bartholomew’s ever thought applied to their congregation was “scary,” but the parish members listened to what these young people had to say. They had not felt welcomed by the music or the worship, and not a single person had talked to them at the coffee hour. Each of these young people wondered if they should return, but they decided to come back together for a last attempt.
The two St. Bart’s members talked with others in the congregation and related the story of these young visitors. They realized that very little in their congregation was welcoming to young, single people — and they decided to do something about it. The four young people were contacted and invited to return. People listened to their stories, and the parish decided to learn more so that they might be truly hospitable to the stranger. They began to try different forms of music and worship that reflected the interests of younger generations; they did some advertising in the community’s young adult newspaper, and investigated opportunities for specific young adult ministry.
Hospitality in a congregation is the practice of openness, invitation, and welcome that reflects the hospitality of God. This practice is rooted in God’s hospitality and welcome to us. A hospitable climate is essential to mission and the invitation of people into the community of faith.
This article is an excerpt from “Transforming Congregations”, a book in Transformations: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century, published by Church Publishing in 2008 and used by permission.
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