On Thursday, I went to a martial arts class at my local community centre. I saw it advertised on the internet and thought I'd give it a go. When I arrived there were no sign posts to say which room it was in, so I could only assume it was in the main hall. Fortunately it was and inside the hall was a group of men, mostly 30s to middle aged, although there was one teenager. I spoke to the instructor, we shook hands, and then I spent the next 5 minutes not being spoken to and being ignored except for some sideways glances. There's being on your own and then there's being on your own in a room full of people. The former is easy to deal with, the latter is just awkward. Fortunately, awkward situations amuse me, and it was hard not to burst out laughing as I watched people intently stretch and practice their positions. I had a feeling that they were all the more intent to avoid catching my gaze, and any conversations that happened between the group were more forced in order to pretend I wasn't actually there. Also, when people are concentrating they often look like they're constipated, have been lobotomised or someone just deeply offended them. I managed to control myself and avoid hurting anyone's feelings.
Then we began practicing positions and techniques. We did it in a bit of a circle and I was told to just copy the person opposite me. The training position felt a lot like I was squatting over the edge of a bridge in order to defecate into the river below (and some people's concentration faces just added to the humour of this). That ended and then we got into pairs. The guy to my right was happy to partner with me and teach me a few things, so I enjoyed this part of the session. Then the instructor told us to change partners. There was a panicked look on everyone else's face as it dawned on them that they could be stuck with the new kid. One guy turned away from me and walked around the room attempting to keep his back to me at all times. Alas, he was too slow and by that point everyone had paired up. He was a nice guy but he still keep gazing around the room in the hope that he could quickly abandon me and join someone else. I then ended up with another guy, when an opportunity arose for my partner to ditch me, who gave me the distinct impression that he'd rather be doing something else.
These types of situations I'm usually okay with. I can accept that when a new person comes into a group it's often difficult for the established group to relate to them and it makes people feel uneasy. There is one context when I do find it frustrating, really frustrating, because it should not be happening. This is within a church or a christian organisation. I have been to enough churches, CUs and Christian Events to see the welcoming done really well or really badly.
My pastor said the other day that most churches think they're far more welcoming than they actually are. They did surveys where they asked usual congregation members how welcoming they thought their church was and then they also surveyed first time visitors. The results from the two groups were rarely the same. This should not be the case. We should always be showing the all-welcoming love of our Lord and Saviour. We are told in Hebrews 13:2, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." It's too easy to focus on our friends and the people we know but Jesus tells us we shouldn't:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)When the opportunity to show hospitality to strangers and welcome people is dropped in our laps, we should jump on it (on the opportunity, not the visitors).
- When have you felt really welcomed?
- What awkward situations have you been in?
- Do you think hospitality is important?
Rachel's post on What does it mean to be hospitable?
What does the Bible say about hospitality?