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December 3, 2017, 7:35 PM

What St. Clement's Means to Me by Janelle Fallan

Ken and I have lived in six different cities in four states in 43+ years of marriage.  In every town, we have sought out the Episcopal Church – except when we moved back to Helena, Montana and simply returned to St. Peter’s, the church I grew up in.  So we have a lot of experience at being newcomers, and that is what I would like to share with you.

Specifically, the stories of three different Episcopal churches.  When we are new, we are always quick to introduce ourselves and tell people we’re new, to avoid that awkward moment as they stand there and wonder if maybe we’ve been coming for years and they’re just not sure.

One church recognized newcomers during the service and gave us coffee mugs with the church logo and printed materials.  Very handy – most of our coffee mugs were still in moving boxes.  At the coffee hour, I served myself coffee and introduced myself to a woman nearby.  She nodded politely, then started chatting with the next woman behind her.  So I introduced myself to her, too.  Then a third woman helped herself to coffee and started talking with the first two.  I introduced myself again, and the three of them continued to chat.  At that point, I said “Very nice to meet you all” and wandered on.  We did belong to that church for several years and they all turned out to be perfectly nice people – maybe just a little lacking in social skills.

Another church, we went to when we were visiting our son and his family.  It was near their house and we really hoped to spark the family into church attendance.  Very welcoming when we came in, and our son John told the greeters that he lived nearby.  Great sermon – I still remember it.  Good music, and the prayers of the people lasted about 10 minutes as people came forward to pray for each other’s special needs.  All in all, a really good experience.  Then we went to coffee and disappeared.  Really.  John is considerably taller than Ken, so 3 of us are kind of hard to miss.  We wandered around the parish hall, separately and together.  No one even made eye contact.  After 10 minutes we left.  Fr. Dave told me I should have let the vicar know about our experience, but I just never got around to it.  Needless to say, none of us plans to visit that church again.

My third example is from the Chicago suburb where we lived for 3 years. The rector was on vacation when we visited, and maybe the parishioners were working extra-hard to welcome newcomers in his absence.  In any event, we were warmly greeted and maybe given a tour of the church.  Ken had a great conversation with the senior warden, who gave him a pledge card.  When the rector found that out, he was a little upset – that is not how you start out welcoming people!  And yet, it worked for us and that has remained one of our favorite churches.

So what is the point of these good and bad examples?  I truly believe that welcoming newcomers, welcoming the stranger, is something we do really well at St. Clement’s.  I have a hard time imagining someone wandering around the parish hall during coffee without being greeted once, by someone.  We are looking forward to change and praying for growth.  But being a welcoming community is one thing I really love about St. Clement’s and hope we never lose. 


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