I'm back from my summer trip to the mountains of Georgia to visit my best friend and her husband. I go every year around her birthday in July--especially good timing because it's always at least twenty degrees cooler at her ridge top home than Houston, and there are no mosquitoes.
I like to be gone over a weekend (or it's not really a vacation, is it?), and there is always conversation about where we'll worship. My friend is an active member of her local Episcopal Church, but it's an opportunity for her to go on a worship road trip. She only lives about ten miles from South Carolina, so we decided to travel and worship in another state.
Last Sunday we drove through the mountains to the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and to the parish of Ascension in Seneca. Ascension has some of the best signage of any church I've visited. We had no trouble finding the parish off the main road and then where on the property to go for worship. Four folks were at the door to greet us and make sure we had everything we needed. In the pew backs, in addition to the usual Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal, the parish had laminated worship guides with everything except music and Scripture printed for those who were unfamiliar with the Episcopal book shuffle. The grounds were beautifully kept, and the buildings were clean and tidy. Ascension had received the memo about being a welcoming parish and followed through on each hospitality tip.
In these days when the Episcopal Church gets more negative press than positive, at least here in Texas, it's a delight to see one little parish being The Church. Too many times on my travels I've found Episcopal churches with locked doors--understandable, it's true, but with no hint about how to contact someone so one could get inside. Too many times on my travels I've attended churches that say they are welcoming (don't we all?), but are really only welcoming to those people who are familiar to them. Too many times on my travels Episcopal churches rush through worship with not a clue for those new to our style of worship of how to run and catch up.
In the parish where I've served for nearly twelve years, when I arrived they described themselves as a welcoming parish. However on the Sunday my daughter visited for the first time, not one person spoke to this young single woman....not one. When I said something to the parish afterwards about the oversight, the response was, "But if we'd known she was your daughter we would have welcomed her." This was not a good response. I hasten to add that today we strive not only to be welcoming, but inviting, too.
There's a line in a familiar hymn that my former bishop quoted frequently: We horde as precious treasure that which you so freely give. We in the Episcopal Church have been given extraordinary, precious treasure, particularly in our worship, particularly in the words of the liturgy and in our open table. I believe that there are many people who are starving for the treasure we have been given so abundantly. I am passionate about figuring out ways to share that treasure especially with those who don't even know that it's what they are searching for.
Where have you worshipped that you felt especially welcomed? What did they do that made you feel welcome?