Socially Distant Churches

by S. M. Hutchens

Some years ago, new in town and looking for a church, we attended Sunday services at a church in a denomination known for its inbreeding and coldness to outsiders. This disease varies by congregation, though, and I thought we should give this one a fair chance. As we left (a rather good service, as I recall), I extended a hand to the lady next to me in the exiting queue, who began to reach for it—but as soon as she determined she did not know me, she quickly retracted her arm and turned her back. All the time we were there was marked by surreptitious staring and eyes quickly averted. No one but the pastor greeted us.

I decided the church's reputation was probably well-deserved, and needless to say, we ended up elsewhere. I think the threshold of acceptance there was something like three generations. In some churches it's longer. And in others they really do not want you around at all, even though nobody ever admits it.

In my experience, no unfriendly church thinks it's unfriendly. How could it be, since it's got so many of our friends in it? Welcoming strangers, however, is, for one good reason or another, somebody else's job.

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor.

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