July 22, 2007

Before I get started, let me say this experience only has to do with one single Episcopal Church parish; in the grand scheme of things, all this serves as is anecdotal evidence, but I can’t help but wonder if it in itself isn’t a sign of some weakness or arrogance on a grander scale – after all, when it comes to today’s Episcopal Church, ya never know. Anyways, here’s my story:

Back in March, I started attending the 5 PM Saturday Eucharist at the Church of the Epiphany in Tempe, Arizona. It’s a nice enough church – very modern in design, very Eucharist-centered (the weekly bulletin mentions this several times), with an apparently good-sized (I can guesstimate from the number of people on their parish prayer list) and vibrant congregation. (I haven’t attended any of their Sunday morning Eucharists because the Saturday service has a contemplative feel with no music, allows me to sleep in on Sunday mornings, but – more importantly – has more of a monastic feel to it, which I both enjoy and, at least at this stage in my own Christian journey, seems to feel better in my soul.) Anyways, I started attending this service fairly regularly, and even began the practice of writing a check out for my weekly contribution to the plate. (I should also mention here that my checks contain my name and full address on them.)

Anyways, here’s my beef: at no time since I started attending this church have I ever had a member of the Saturday congregation take the time to personally welcome me to their parish or even ask my name. The priest seems to be a decent enough fellow (while his sermons are hardly what I would call either stirring or thought-provoking, they’re well thought out and interesting enough to sit through) and seems always glad enough to see me, he hasn’t either. Keep in mind, I’m not someone who has been showing up only once a month; until a few weeks ago I had been attending the Saturday service regularly. Now, while I understand it takes two to tango, in this case, the church has had someone attending who in his past has done virtually everything a church member can do short of celebrating the Eucharist; I’m no piker when it comes to parish service. And yet, I’ve never received a welcome letter, phone call, or invitation to a chat or conversation. They have no clue where I came from, where I live, wjhat my relationship with the Episcopal Church is, why I chose that particular congregation, or what – if any – my interests or desires for parish ministry – if any – are.

What’s particularly disconcerting is that, after attending Saturday services regularly for a good 2+ months, I hadn’t been able to attend services for several weeks, but did I get a phone call or letter expressing any kind of concern? No.

Look, I know there are far more important things to concern one’s self with these days, but I can tell you this – if I were the priest in that parish, I would make damned sure every new visitor was made to feel as if their attendance was important to them. And the fact they haven’t tells me one of two things – 1) they don’t care, or 2) they don’t have any kind of new visitor or welcoming committee who oversees these kinds of things. And, in a day and age where the marketplace for church attendance is extremely competitive and the Episcopal Church is hemmoraging members, you would think the parish and its priest would pay attention to this kind of stuff. Now, whether I would accept any invitation to take a more active role at the church is another thing altogether, but if someone like me were to be allowed to come and go without any kind of welcoming response, God knows who else has come through the doors and then left without ever being seen again. In short, it’s bad practice, sloppy Christianity, and a sad state of affairs if this is the kind of thing that happens regularly in the Episcopal Church.

It may sound arrogant to say this, but someone like me deserves better treatment as a prospective parishioner than that. And it’s not just me – whoever walks through that door does. Maybe it’s time to take my business elsewhere, but believe me, it won’t be before I have a word or two with that priest!

Filed in: Religion & Culture by at 01:36 | Comments Off on Seeing What Others Don’t
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