One of the things I get to do as president is to stand up at the beginning of each service and say a few words about who we are and what makes us different from almost every other church in town. Every so often, I’ll talk about how we’re a Welcoming Congregation. And my usual explanation, taken mainly from Unitarian Universalist Association materials, says that within Unitarian Universalism the term “Welcoming Congregation” has a specific meaning – that we’ve taken steps to be recognized as a congregation that extends the full rights and benefits of membership to the members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities, and their heterosexual allies. A look at our history, our membership and the content of our services confirms that this is so, and we are rightfully proud of our status as a Welcoming Congregation.
We are a Welcoming Congregation, but are we a welcoming congregation?
Of course our doors are open, but do we really welcome everyone who comes into our church? If we see an unfamiliar face before the service or especially during coffee hour, do we introduce ourselves? Do we give people a chance to introduce themselves to us? Do we invite them to Lunch Bunch or the next potluck? Do we introduce them to the minister, or to a member with a shared interest or background?
As a group, we Unitarian Universalists tend to be somewhat introverted, so welcoming new people isn’t easy for us. But just a simple “hi, glad you’re with us today” can make the difference between a positive experience and an unfavorable experience for a visitor.
And being a true welcoming congregation isn’t just about being friendly to visitors. It’s also about integrating new members into our congregational life. I still remember how excited I was when Jackie Gibbons asked me to join the Worship Committee – somebody thought I might have something to add to our services! New members may be just as introverted as we are – if we always wait for them to step forward, we may be missing out on some great talents. Worse yet, we may give people the impression we don’t want their talents… and unintentionally send them looking for another place where they can be of service and feel valued.
Are we a welcoming congregation? My impression is that sometimes we are, and sometimes we aren’t. A church that wants to be more outwardly focused needs to be a welcoming congregation every week.
Welcoming visitors and integrating new members isn’t just the responsibility of the Minister, or the Board, or the Membership Committee. It’s all our responsibilities. All of us have benefitted from the freedom and acceptance of Unitarian Universalism and our community here at the fellowship. Past members welcomed us. We have an obligation – a sacred duty – to welcome others to our congregation.
May we be truly be a welcoming congregation!
John Beckett, Congregational President