For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
“Gathered in this friendly place,
love bring light to ev’ry face:
one and all, from far and near,
come on in! We’re glad you’re here!”
— after V. B. Silliman, “This Friendly Place”
One piece of feedback I consistently hear from people visiting our Fellowship is how friendly we are as a congregation. And I certainly see it on Sunday mornings, as we welcome people through our doors. Much credit for that goes to our hospitality teams’ Greeters, who make a special point of speaking to newcomers, but there’s also a generally warm atmosphere of friendliness that helps people feel at home. It’s wonderful that this is in our nature as a congregation, but it also makes a big difference to be intentional about it.
Of course, not everyone in our Fellowship should feel able to strike up a conversation with a stranger. And even though I suspect that we are fortunate in having more than a typical Unitarian Universalist congregation’s proportion of extroverts, the fact is that being friendly and welcoming is a shared ministry that needs all of us to be involved. (I realize that “extrovert” doesn’t necessarily mean “outgoing” any more than “introvert” simply means “shy”, but there is often a correlation.)
So I’ve put together the following list of things everyone can do so that we can all help the UUFP to be a friendly place.
First, wear your name badge. Members get their first green engraved name badge free, and replacements can be ordered for just $4. The Membership Committee also prints name badges (in clear plastic sleeves) for anyone who wants one, and there are always write-on, stick-on name badge labels, too. So there’s no excuse! For there’s something about knowing someone’s name that makes it easier to approach them, and a whole group of people wearing name badges sends a message that this is a group of approachable, welcoming people. (Plus, even the most outgoing amongst us might have a poor memory for names, even with people we know!)
Second, even if certain meteorological conditions would need to occur in the underworld for you to be a Greeter, take a turn as an Usher. Coordinated by our hospitality teams as well, the main responsibilities of Ushering include handing out Orders of Service and collecting the Offering. Sometimes they’ll help a latecomer find a seat, or perhaps control the lights or perform some other non-speaking role as needed in a service. Here’s a great way to help someone feel at home on a Sunday morning without needing to know what to say beyond “Here you go.”
Third, if you’re already in the Sanctuary and people are still coming in, move along into seats away from the aisles. (If you’re on either of the sides, this means moving towards the windows; if you’re in the middle section, this means moving to the middle of the row.) I frequently see someone come to the doors of our Sanctuary and, with a slightly panicked look in their face, and even with an Usher helping them, try to figure out where to sit. This can be particularly hard for very new people who don’t know our space, and though we have three seats near the double doors reserved for first-time visitors, in even the most packed service we have a handful of empty seats into which someone could easily slide if only they were on an aisle.
Fourth, help your neighbor find a hymn or a reading. With two different hymn books, not to mention occasional Order of Service inserts, it can be tricky for more than just newcomers to find what the service leader’s just announced! If you’ve already found the hymn or reading for yourself, why not help your neighbor find it, too? Or, better yet, offer to swap your now-open hymn book for the one they’ve been trying to use. Helping someone find what they need during a service is one way to live into our promise to be a caring community.
Fifth, smile! I’ve heard it said that smiling uses fewer facial muscles than frowning, but that’s been debunked by actual scientists. Besides which, who, given the choice, would pick smiling over frowning simply because it’s less work? But it is true that people respond with similar facial expressions to those they encounter, while our own expressions not only reflect what we’re feeling but also contribute to what we’re feeling. In other words, smiling is contagious and helps everyone feel happier!
So these are five ways that anyone at the Fellowship can be a part of our shared ministry of being friendly and welcoming. What other ways can you suggest?