Recently, I’ve been travelling. I’ve experienced hospitality both as a guest and as a host, and as the visitor to unfamiliar church communities’ weekly services.
Arriving early to one such service, I found the place quiet and meditative. A note in the bulletin, in fact, encouraged people to get their greetings out of the way before entering the sanctuary, so as not to spoil the silence within. Most of them obeyed. It was easy to be a visitor in such a space, and I was grateful for the opportunity as a stranger to worship in company and receive Communion.
After the service, the rector greeted me. “Are you just visiting?” he asked. Yes, I was.
It may have been my imagination, but was his nodding, goodbye sigh one of relief? “Oh, I don’t need to cultivate an acquaintance, then, on to the next thing on my list.” He was not unfriendly, but neither was he curious, or warm.
It’s certainly a pragmatic approach. It wasn’t inappropriate, and it’s not one that is any less welcoming than other places I’ve been. It was just, well, kind of funny to see him mentally checking the box and moving on. It’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder what shows on my own face when a new face approaches.
Or, indeed, an old one!