‘It’s time for the kids to head out to kids church. While they do that, turn to the person next to you, say hello and ask them one thing they’ve done this weekend’.
I confess this is my least favourite part of church. I love being at church, hearing the Bible read and taught, singing, praying together for each other and for our world, and simply co-existing with others who also love the Lord Jesus. But that 5 minutes of forced conversation gets me every time. Incidentally, I know a girl who used to arrive late to church to avoid that 5 minutes of chat time.
Sometimes I just want to sit there and be invisible. Sometimes I don’t want to talk. Sometimes I have nothing left to give. Sometimes I have nothing to say, and so think I should say lots of that. It’s not a very pretty truth, but sometimes I just don’t care how the next person is, and I don’t want to be disingenuous, so I think it’s best to say nothing.
But I’ll tell you, those 5 minutes tick by very slowly without any conversation.
And then there’s the fact that I am taught I ought to be welcoming. I ought to greet the new person with a measured amount of enthusiasm (not too much to scare them off, but not too little to seem like I don’t care or am unexcited about this particular church). I ought to be outward looking. I ought to welcome others as Christ has welcomed me.
And then there’s the guilt. I’m not doing what I should be doing, even though I am at a point of exhaustion or sadness or in such a state of overwhelmedness that I cannot do what is expected of me, even if I wanted to. Guilt is such a powerful motivator, and so many of us have an amazing capacity to suppress those emotions to the point of being able to do things we think we should be doing.
But shouldn’t church be the opposite of this? Shouldn’t I be able to be quiet, or a total mess, or sobbing quietly in the back? And more than this, are we able to sit with those who need to do this without needing to know why they are in such a state? Could we even let them sit alone?
Church isn’t a club for those who are always happy, and it’s definitely not for those who have it all together. But I wonder whether it is neither a place where we must know why someone doesn’t feel like talking during the 5 minute welcome.
Just a thought.