As your pastor, I have a wish list for our community which I hope will be fulfilled as the church grows in her discipleship. I wish for True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation to be a community that is warm and welcoming. This is not something new. You have heard me talk about it from time to time. In the last ACM Sunday, our theme for the intergenerational service was ‘The Art of Welcoming Strangers’. Allow me to indulge myself and flash out in greater detail what a warm and welcoming community may look like.
When you come to church on Sundays, do give each other a smile in the lift, at the door of the sanctuary, as you make your way to the pews and even when you sit down amongst the worshipers. You have come into the house of the Lord J Sometimes, this is what I notice. People come late and they look rather distressed while looking for a place to sit. As they walk down the center or side aisle, they find an empty space but it’s usually in the middle of a pew because both ends have already been occupied. This means that to reach that empty space, they have to manoeuvre across a few people. I can imagine the perturbed faces – those who are already there are distracted; those who are trying to squeeze through wonder why the former cannot move to the centre instead. As a result, smiles are replaced by frowns. I don’t think that’s a good posture to have right at the start of the worship service. How I wish worshippers will be punctual. Pack the front of the sanctuary first and fill the pews from the centre to the sides so that those who come later will not distract the others. How we seat can go a long way in welcoming each other into God’s presence.
During the worship service, be mindful that although we are worshipping God, we are doing so as a corporate body – there are people all around us, and we should not ignore them. The Psalmist says: ‘I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”’ (Psalm 122.1) There is a horizontal dimension to worship. Look out for the needs of fellow worshippers. A parent who is new to the church may not know which room to send his child to for Sunday school. Another parent in the Cry Room may need help with her toddler. Someone might need a bible; another, a pen to copy sermon notes. Newcomers may need some guidance if they are not familiar with our order of service. Let’s not be so focused on God that we are oblivious to people’s needs. Look around you. If your eye catches the eye of another worshipper, give a smile or a nod to acknowledge each other’s presence; express delight especially if you have not seen the person for a long while. During announcement, when we welcome newcomers, it’s always heartening to see some of you taking the initiative to shake hands with the newcomers even before the welcome team reaches them with the information pack. Don’t restrict such welcome to newcomers alone. Extend the same handshake of fellowship to those seated nearby whenever you are given the opportunity to do so. And after the service, do remain in your pews or linger around the lift lobby or have refreshments at the Cozy Corner and continue to fellowship with each other over some meaningful conversations.
I feel very bad when I see people at the Cozy Corner alone with no one to talk to. If someone is looking down and restlessly scrolling his hand phone up and down, it may just be a sign that he is uncomfortable being left alone. I really wish that we will develop a culture where we see ourselves as hospitable hosts, taking the initiative to walk across the room to engage people in conversations so that no one feels left out. For DGs or groups of friends who gather together after service at the Cozy Corner or Event Hall, do look out for people whom you can invite into your fellowship. Who knows? They may be the future additions to your DG. If all of us exercise situational awareness in terms of the people around us, and readily make an effort to include others in our casual gathering in and around church, we definitely can become a more embracing community.
When I was studying in the UK, a member of the church that I attended invited some of us over to her home for lunch despite the fact that all of us were at church for service in the morning. The meal was simple but the fellowship was great. The host was not a member of the welcome team. She was just a church member. Her hospitality reminds me of Hebrews 13.2: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’ I think we will find it daunting to invite newcomers to our homes for lunch immediately after service but what about inviting them out for lunch or brunch? What about inviting them to our homes for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night? Something wonderful can happen over a meal. For that same reason, I really hope that more people will turn up for community lunch. We are making every effort to provide quality and affordable food. See community lunch as a good opportunity to connect with people in the True Way community, especially those whom we have not met for some time. You might even want to ‘book’ them in advance and say: ‘Hey, shall we meet up for community lunch this Sunday?’
Keep a look out for each other. If you notice that someone has been absent, send a sms to the person to ask how he is. Once, someone informed me that she had not seen a particular person who was always seated near her during worship service. I subsequently gave the person a call and by divine appointment found out that he was going for a heart bypass the following day. I had the opportunity to go down to the hospital to pray with him before his major operation. If you have the opportunity to meet a newcomer, knowing that she doesn’t know many people in church, you can arrange to meet up with her again the following Sunday and sit together for worship. We don’t want the newcomer to feel at home only on her first visit, and subsequently to feel like a stranger.
Well, I am praying that what I have written will not just be my wishful indulgence but that my dream for a warm and welcoming community will turn into reality. The above is not an exhaustive list but perhaps it can spark off even more ideas as to how we can be that community. The motivation that drives all these efforts is love – love for our brothers and sister, love for newcomers, love for strangers. We love because God first loved us.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
July 17, 2016