There’s an exercise in boundary building going on at the Manse! Last year, the house next door on Trevorten Avenue was demolished and then, just before Christmas, a very large slab was laid for a new dwelling. Now, for the last few weeks, a team of landscapers has been at work, mostly replacing the fencing - in other words, building barriers. This is not because that the fences were in bad shape (except for the parts damaged during demolition). The fence shared with the manse was still quite serviceable. I gather, rather, that the new owners wanted to start out with squeaky new fences, of the “Good Neighbour” style – high, with no rails.
This has led me to muse over the changes in fencing over my lifetime. In one house where I lived, the fence was quite dilapidated and rather low in one place, allowing the neighbour’s pets to treat our backyard as an extension of their own (double the attention) and giving us easy access to each other’s back doors – just step over the fence – for those times when you needed to borrow a cup of sugar or invite the other to sit in the cool of the evening and chat. There wasn’t much privacy, of course, as we both could observe each others’ comings and goings, but in that street, “good neighbour” meant that sometimes one did not see what was before your eyes. I can’t quite imagine how this sense of community can develop with an eight foot fence along the boundary.
This musing on fences and boundaries spilled over into reflections on our life as a worshipping community. Boundaries between a congregation and the wider world are intrinsic in contemporary culture. Most of the population do not attend church; most of the population are unfamiliar with the ways of worship. There is a fence between a visitor dropping in to worship and the regular attenders. What sort of fence do we want it to be? What sort of “good neighbour” will we be?
In my ramblings through the internet, I came across a member of the “Millennial” generation (18-35yo) writing about her experiences in going to worship. Erin Lane suggested five ways that the worshipping community might be more open to those outsiders who come to a service but who are unfamiliar with the patterns of doing worship. These were small things, and so achievable. Here is a summary of what she says:
1. “Ask me what I like to be called. And if you forget, it’s okay to ask again.”
2. “Treat me like a stranger!” Make the bulletin accessible to someone who is unfamiliar with the church so that they can navigate through the service and understand it, by explaining what is going on as the service progresses.
3. Create an opportunity “to share and learn names” so that the stranger can know others and be known by them.
4. Show me what it means to be part of the family. Most millennials have a different experience of family. Many are single and feel alone (this is true for many of our international guests too). Teach them to reach out, by reaching out yourself. Erin made the observation that passing the peace “was the loneliest ritual I endured.” Most people turn first to their partner or family, then others. Those few seconds alone can highlight the isolation of the visitor.
5. “Invite me to stay.” Not just the first visit, but from time to time, in different ways, welcome the stranger and show them “how it is that we belong by our longing for each other.” Learn about the other person and their uniqueness and share who you are with them.
At Scots we have a pretty good track record at welcoming others, as the postcards we receive from visitors shows. But we should not rest on our laurels. I invite you to reflect on Erin’s five points and our practices, and think of ways we might improve what we do to create a place and a community where others are welcome.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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