Today I attended a meeting. Well, I attempted to attend a meeting anyway. It was a meeting for minsters and church leaders. I won’t reveal which organization it was or in which local church because that isn’t really the point.
I do want to share some thoughts I had and what it has me pondering.
It is easy for pastors, leaders, and other insiders to forget what it feels like to be an outsider. Today I was hit with it pretty hard. This is actually the second time I had attended one of these meetings. Since I am new to this area, I walked into the first meeting not knowing anyone and a little unsure why I was there. The host pastor greeted me at the door and introduced me to a couple of people and made sure I had a table to sit at during the meal. It was easy to stay and I ended up having a fairly positive feeling about the organization and their monthly meetings. This is what opened up for me to be willing to attend again.
Today, it was held at a different church. When I pulled into the parking lot, it wasn’t very obvious where I should go as there are many entrances to the building. I parked where it seemed to be most appropriate based on the cars that were there. As I walked into the building I saw several folks who made no gesture or greeting to me at all. If I didn’t acknowledge someone first, they didn’t acknowledge me. I walked past a couple dozen people without being greeted once on my way to hang up my jacket. I found my way into the main room (multi-purpose sanctuary that was beautifully decorated). None of the ones I had met previously were there. I had to walk around several groups of people talking. Not a word was spoken to me. I stood in the back and looked around the room (I am intrigued by how places are set up with equipment, etc.) More people filtered in. If someone’s eye met mine I would smile and say something, and they would nod back and move past. I started feeling very uncomfortable and very alone. Then one guy started trying to get everyone to find a table to sit at so they could start serving the food, which did smell very good. A few moved toward the tables, but no one sat down. He kept insisting that people find a table. I was trapped by people standing between me and the tables. Finally, I slipped out into the hallway again. I had been there nearly 20 minutes and had no interaction with anyone. I grabbed my jacket with several standing in that area and walked out the door. I passed a few more coming in. I got in my car and left.
As I was driving away, I had a few thoughts as I tried to process my feelings from my experience. I was reminded of what it is like to be an outsider. Today I felt very much on the outside and like there was no desire for me to be on the inside from anyone there. I am quite happy I had not yet made out the $50 check to join the organization. It came to me how someone feels the first time they walk into a church where they don’t know anyone. If someone doesn’t catch them right away, they more than likely won’t stay.
The first time I attended this group, I felt like a visitor, but felt welcomed. This time I was an outsider. Our goal shoul dbe to help everyone who attends to feel, not like an outsider, not even liked a visitor, but to feel like a guest.
A guest enjoys their experience. They feel valued. Their fears are calmed and their uneasiness soothed. A guest easily becomes a friend.
May we each strive to help others feel like our guest and not like an outsider. I can assure you, I will do everything I can to make sure Capital City is a place of hospitality where no one that walks in feels as uncomfortable and excluded as I did today.