>Love Thy Non-Fat, Non-Bald, Non-Tabloid-Reading Neighbour

>This story about the church of England telling its members to be more welcoming toward certain groups has my brain spinning in many directions.

First, I’m glad somebody realized that church, although it makes claims of friendliness and desire to reach all of God’s people, often isn’t the most friendly and welcoming of places. In lots of them, they like to stare at new people or people who haven’t been in a while, some have been known to refuse guide dogs, I have heard of others who don’t want to put a ramp in so folks in wheelchairs can get in, and the list goes on. So, good on them for figuring that out.

But some of the groups singled out as needing special care amuse me. there are the usual ones…blind folks, deaf folks and folks in wheelchairs and nursing moms, but there are some new ones, like bald people that might have trouble with the overhead heaters churches have installed, really short people, overweight folks they like to call “the wider community”, and…this one kills me…people who read tabloids.

Wow, just listing off those groups makes it obvious just how judgmental some church-goers can be. It pretty much sounds like anybody with any kind of imperfection isn’t welcome. And how is it made widely known who reads tabloids? Do they read them in church?

But the rest of the pamphlet, as it is described in the article, sounds more like an act of desperation to keep attendance from dropping rather than a genuine attempt to be better. they suggest that churches should get customer service managers who are trained in how to make a store a place that people want to come back to, and they instruct congregation members to talk to new people, repeatedly using their name so that you remember it later. I don’t know, wouldn’t that be sort of creepy? the only place I’ve seen that done is when police are dealing with someone who’s causing a disturbance. I also love how the book openly acknowledges the culture that churches have of ignoring new folks. How did they put it? “In many churches it is normal not to speak to newcomers. We are not usually openly hostile, we just ignore them and eventually they go away.” Uh-huh, so welcoming.

Another line that made me chuckle was the part where they said that some people will find loud organ music distressing and that’s why they don’t go. Um, what are they going to do about it? Are they going to remove the organ music? That’s a little too accommodating. It’s one thing to help a blind dude get to the john or make pews wider or put in a wheelchair ramp or not make the bald guy sit under the heater or refrain from staring at the new family, but it’s another to take a big part of what the church is out of the church. That would be like taking the music out of a concert, or taking the wine out of a wine and cheese party. I don’t go to church, but I know that churches have organs, and that’s a big part of it. Personally I find the awful singing more distressing on my poor ears than an organ could ever be, but that’s me.

The big point this story drove home to me is if church folk need to read a manual on how to be more friendly, I guess they aren’t as love thy neighbour-ish as they like to believe. Maybe they should put more thought into that than remembering to say a person’s name or hiring a customer service manager.

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