Five years ago when my life, as I planned it, went off track and I didn’t want to burden my kids and friends with my problems, I decided to go to church to pray and sing hymns in order to find comfort. I chose a church close to town. It had a full attendance so I sat in the back pew. The minister noticed me as a new attendee and asked are there any new worshipers here today? I shrunk in my seat as the whole room turned around to “out” me. “Please stand and introduce yourself,” the minister instructed.
Are you kidding me? This is why I came to church to be singled out in a crowd? I don’t think so, I thought. I obediently stood and introduced myself. I sat through the sermon and sang a few songs and prayed then slunk out quickly afterwards. Amazingly, I came back the following week. This time the minister walked down the aisles and picked me out. “Are you new here?”
“No, I was here last week,” I meekly uttered.
One of the other members confirmed, “Yes, she was here last week!” No, I’m lying in church, I thought sarcastically. Again the whole room turning around to glare. Honestly, this is not why I came to church to be singled out in a crowd. I wanted to blend in, pray, and sing. I wanted to heal. I wanted to be anonymous. That’s it. Afterwards, there was a breakfast where I had to sit with strangers and make small talk. I felt worse than when I came in and decided to find a new church.
Two weeks later I attended a different church closer to home, hoping for a better experience. Once inside an older woman walked down the aisle from one of the front pews and came up to me. “How is it I do not know you?” she asked snobbishly.
“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a big world,” I answered flippantly. Does everyone have to know everyone? I thought. Who are this church-going people?
I already had my back up when the minister singled me out before the sermon began. He asked me to stand and say a little something about myself. I became defiant and shook my head in refusal. What am I, in school? I thought. But the girl next to me said she would stand with me. It was so humiliating. I almost ran to my car when it ended. And I never looked back. There were no hymns with an organ just the minister singing folk songs with his guitar. Not what I expected.
Needless to say, that was the end of my church experience. I went back to pray in the privacy of my home. I healed on my own by getting engulfed in my first and second mystery novels. Out of everything bad comes a little good. Silver lining.
I never remember church being so “in your face.” Why can’t people just come inside a house of worship to pray? Why do they have to be introduced? Ministers need to understand that not all people like having the spotlight on them as they do. I realize this is the “look at me” generation but not all of us are part of it.
Ministers should introduce themselves in private to a newcomer and don’t ask them to stand for whole congregation. It takes a lot of courage for some of us go to a church alone and there are many different reasons why one would. Don’t ruin the experience for them by singling them out. It may be the church’s way of welcoming new people, but it was off putting to me.