I was out of town last weekend and had the chance to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. We met for church on Sunday morning at an Episcopal church not too far from where I was staying. Anyone likely to read this has probably seen one of the Episcopal Church signs that proclaims that "you" are welcome at the local Episcopal church.
Certainly the people I met weren't unfriendly or looking askance at me and my daughter for being there, but I can't really say that I felt "welcome." Frankly whether I was there or not seemed to make no difference to anyone there at all. And there's something about that which really bothers me. I want to say to the people running the place, "why ask me to come over if you're just going to ignore me?" They aren't saying "come join us," they're saying "come watch us." The worship space would easily have sat 200, and if there were 30 I would be surprised and I suspect that the organ was played so loud that no one would notice how few were there to raise their voices to God.
Sometimes, inthe Episcopal Church, it seems like we think about ourselves in a simialr vein to the symphony or opera - an institution of "culture" inherently worthy of respect and support. The elitist tag is often hung on us and not always unfairly. That said, I think of the parishes were I've been and they've been genuinely warm and welcoming places where Christ is a lived-in reality and I am very thankful for that. Going to a church for the first time is like going to another family's Thanksgiving dinner. In the same way that we would welcome a new member of our family at the table, we need to make an effort to welcome people to Christ's table.