A Visitor in the Hall
“Any announcements for today?”
You can tell the size of the church based on the format of the announcements. If they are strictly regimented, read off a piece of paper, with no extemporaneous audience comments allowed, you’re at a big church; over a hundred where inviting in the peanut gallery would bring mayhem.
If they ask for announcements, and the congregation rambles on about their own stuff, you’re at a small church. An extremely small church.
“I just wanted to say I hoped everyone had a great and safe New Year, and wanted to welcome any visitors we have with us today,” the woman said, staring right at me when she said the last bit.
At extremely small churches they also know who the new guy is.
So far I’ve gone to decent size churches—two megachurches and two medium size churches—churches that you don’t have to try to be noticed on Sunday, and can walk in and out with ease. You can’t sneak in or out of St. Andrew’s, when the church barely tops 50 people you’re pretty noticeable (especially if you show up 5 minutes late). It also helps when someone stares you down in the announcements and makes a generic “Welcome to our guests” comment—as if there was more than one. (To add: it was funny and not annoying.) The small congregation of the church lends itself to something I haven’t seen yet: a genuine, close knit, community. I commented on the strawman argument of community in mega-churches, but it’s fair to say there’s a good chance that you won’t know the people sitting next to you at Sunday morning service. With St. Andrew’s everybody knows everyone and the “turn around and say hi” part of the service lasted a good 10 minutes because everyone went around to greet each other.
Recently, I’ve joined a small house church with a few friends. We meet eat pancakes, listen to a few Christian podcasts, and talk about what we learned (sometimes we watch The Office). We started for a lot of reasons, but I joined for the same reason I started the project, a sense of community. I had lost it in the church. While Kensington and Woodside were friendly and serviceable St. Andrew’s showed me something I hadn’t seen at any church: an observable community. It was weird, and almost uncomfortable. I felt like an outsider invading a private gathering, but they were so excited to have a new person I didn’t feel like I crashed the party. Even with all the upheaval going on at St. Andrew’s—they are searching for a new Rector (pastor)—the congregation seemed excited by the simple fact they had someone visiting them. When people get excited by the little things—or what you think the little things are—it’s hard not to be happy too. It’s reassuring, knocks away some of the jaded armor, and puts all your issues in perspective. But none of the excitement of having a visitor can top this exchange with the Interim Rector, a man in his late 60’s-early 70’s:
Rector: And who are you?
Me: Drew Proctor, I’m just visiting for the next few weeks.
Rector: I’m Les Holdings (name changed), I’m the rector here. The interim type. It’s great, I can say whatever the hell I want and go home at the end of the day.
Me: That’s the best gig—challenge their outlook and not have to deal with the drama!
Rector: Yeah, after 53-years of doing this you just don’t care [about angering the crowd].
If he was their regular guy, I’d be hard pressed not to go.