(Members of One Body Series – Part 3 of 3)
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about welcoming new members to our church communities. We often put a lot of emphasis on what the church community needs to do, and overlook how the new member can contribute to the solution. Here are just a few ideas of what you can do to help integrate yourself to a church community you’re new to:
1. Introduce Yourself
I know this seems basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people I’ve talked to who’ve said to me, “I went to a new church and no one acknowledged me.” Then I ask, “Did you try speaking to anyone and introducing yourself?” And the answer is usually a no.
In large communities it can be challenging to spot new people, and one of the ways to be noticed is to introduce yourself. If you want a certain outcome, then you have to be willing to put in the work yourself instead of waiting on others to initiate. Meaning, if you want to become a part of the church community you’re visiting, then try taking the first step. I guarantee you, no one will intentionally turn you away. If you don’t know who to approach, the priest is usually a great first person to start with.
2. Don’t Jump to Conclusions
We’ve all been there—showed up to a new place, saw people looking at us a certain way and immediately jumped to the conclusion that they are judging us negatively. When in fact, they might not have been judging us at all, and the one casting judgment is us. We’ve just judged them for thinking they are judging us. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and try to see Christ in everyone. When I can’t see Christ in someone I know I need to work on myself.
And if they are judging you, it’s on them to repent from that judgment— and it has nothing to do with you. But forgive them anyway.
I was once attending a wedding at a church that wasn’t my own, where I was wearing a dress that was more reception-appropriate than church-appropriate. I saw a taunt (older Egyptian woman) from the corner of my eye looking hard at me. My mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that she was judging me based on what I was wearing (and you can say it’s a difference of cultural opinion on what’s deemed appropriate). Later that night, I ran into her at the ladies room during the reception. She started complimenting me and telling me how great I looked. I was caught off guard, and genuinely flattered. But there I was, already having judged her earlier for thinking she was judging me, but she was really as sweet as can be.
3. Get Involved
Don’t just attend the divine liturgy and leave right after. You’ve just been in communion with Christ Himself, now it’s time to be in communion with the rest of His body.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
There are multiple ways to contribute to the growth of a church community. Each and every single one of us has a talent they’ve been blessed with. Use it to serve the house of God! At the end of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, St. Paul points out how we all have different gifts: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)
Invest in your church as she has invested in you, and you’ll become an integral part of her community. In short, we need each other and the gift of community. Becoming a part of the community of believers is worth getting out of our comfort zone for. So the next time you’re unfamiliar territory, give yourself permission to go forth and make new friends.