Round 2 took me back to St Silas today, for their morning and evening services.
Just like my first visit, both services were brilliant. The rector, David McCarthy, preached in the morning on 1 Peter, and another member of the church in the evening on Mark chapter 7 about doing to others as you’d have them do to you. Both sermons were really useful, deep, helpful, entertaining and well-delivered.
The praise was great too – the songs were lovely, the band played brilliantly, and everyone seemed to sing very enthusiastically. The building was near full in both services and there was a real buzz, liveliness and sense of spirit about the place.
The services and intimation sheets also made me more aware of the other work of the church – their outreach work through soup kitchens and football, their support for missionary work, their homegroups, and their other events and gatherings.
However with last time, the welcome was a bit of a major theme. Regular readers (both of you) will know that my original review caused something of a stir because I had said that despite it being a brilliant service the first time around, I had been disappointed that nobody had spoken to me.
To the church’s great credit, I learned that the review led to some deep reflection and discussion among members over how they treated visitors, and why being welcoming was so important. I claim to be no authority on churches nor even a particularly good blogger (though I confess I can rant on a bit sometimes!) so was really humbled to have impacted on a church in what seemed to have been a positive and challenging way.
I say positive, because the welcome in today’s services was wonderful, both at the door and from the lectern where Dave expressed a hope that visitors would feel welcome and introduce themselves to him later. In the morning there was a “turn and greet the person next to you” moment, which some people I suppose must find a little contrived but I think they’re great to simply break the ice and get people talking. In the evening, just before we adjourned for coffee, Dave strongly urged the congregation – in the spirit of the sermon we’d just heard – to treat others as they’d want to be treated, and look out for new people or those on their own, and be friendly and welcoming. So either things really had changed at St Silas, or I just caught them on a bad day last time!
But beyond all that, two other very interesting things happened that lodged in my mind.
Firstly, just before the morning service started, a girl rushed in at the last minute and sat next to me. We got talking briefly, and it turned out this was not just her first time at St Silas but also seemingly in an Episcopal church. By telling her something of the little I knew and could guess about the place and how it worked, I was able to keep her right during unfamiliar things such as the liturgies and communion, and generally make her feel a bit more at home.
I, the originally unwelcomed, had become the welcomer. As I said to David when I introduced myself to him after the service (and who I really enjoyed meeting), there’s a lesson in there for me… but I’m not quite sure what yet!
Secondly, as I sat waiting for the evening service to kick off, I was reflecting on my church search so far, thinking about how much Christians need the caring, sharing community of a church family in order to strengthen and maintain their faith, and praying to God that he would lead me to a conclusion to the search soon. As I looked up to the screen which was displaying intimations, I saw that He’d answered me bloody quickly:
“Welcome Simon Varwell“
…said the text scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It transpired that David had mentioned that I’d been in the morning and was hoping to return in the evening to Graham, their computer person, who was one of the many St Silesians to email me after my original review to say hello. David gave a brief explanation at the start of the service, and pointed me out. He and Graham had obviously decided I needed a bit of public humiliation! While the public “outing” was embarassing it was actually very funny. A church really needs a good sense of humour.
I ended up going to the pub with a few of the folk from the church afterwards, and having fascinating discussions with them about their faiths, their lives and their experiences of St Silas. I felt like I was a real part of an inclusive, friendly Christian community for the first time in a while.
Obviously I will need to pray about this, and I’m barely halfway through round 2, but I think the result might just be in the bag.
Who’d have thunk it?