Entertaining Angels Unawares

By Katrina E Davis

Today, one of the most common ways for making contacts outside the work place is the social gathering. Almost everyone enjoys some form of after-work or weekend social life. So it follows that one of our greatest opportunities for attracting and incorporating new people into the life of the church is the social life of the parish. If we make newcomers and potential members a welcome part of the coffee hour or the “after-service” gatherings, this can become an important factor in forming their impressions of the church. “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Pet 4:9).

During the service itself a friendly smile, a nod of greeting, and the offering of a Liturgy book open to the proper place sets the tone and makes the newcomer more at ease. Because many people do not like having attention drawn to themselves, this should be done quietly. If the service is a special one or unusual in any way, a quiet word of explanation may be in order.

After the welcome and invitation to attend the coffee hour has been given by the priest at the end of the Liturgy, the church member designated to greet newcomers (if there is one) should introduce himself or herself to the visitors and conduct them to the refreshment table, making sure that they are served before they are surrounded by “well-wishers.” If the greeter can make introductions, it will keep mumbled names from being misunderstood.

A few general questions such as: “Are you new in the area? Do you live in the neighborhood?”, will usually elicit enough information for the greeter to work with, yet keep the visitors from being put through the “third-degree” by everyone who comes up to talk to them. If they are searching for a church, or come from one of the local churches, members should not make comparisons. Much more appropriate is something on the order of, “We hope you enjoyed our service and will come again.” “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2).

Some Guidelines

DO NOT Question visitors on doctrine or other practices of their present church Allow any one member to monopolize and isolate them Assume that because they came once they will want to become involved in all phases of church life: choir, Sunday School, baking, tithing envelopes, etc Give a “crash course” in Orthodoxy Tell them about financial problems, personality conflicts, gripes against the priest or parish gossip—they may be trying to escape these things at their present church Load them down with books, crosses, icons, and the like or make them feel obligated to browse or buy if the church has a bookstore Emphasize ethnicity or use a foreign language in conversation—this often gives the impression that the newcomer is an outsider or is being talked about Refer to them as “our visitors”—this creates the impression that they are not encouraged to return DO Welcome them to our services, and ask if they have any questions Try to introduce them to as many members as possible, particularly those of similar background and age and make sure they are introduced to the priest Assure them that all areas of church life are open to them should they wish to participate Answer specific questions simply and briefly Tell them good things that are going on: upcoming events, special projects, etc—show them that the church is busy and involved in the community Let them know if the church has a library or bookstore, but only as one item of interest Give them a tour of the church if they seem interested Assure them of their continued welcome and invite them to return Give them a schedule of services, making sure times are clear and correct. Ask them to sign a guest book so follow-up can take place

Remember that we are Christ’s witness here on earth, so the impression we make on others is very important. Let’s try to make it a good one.

“Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ...” (Mt 25:34-35).

Video Tape

A 12 minute videotape, “Evangelization: As Close as the Parish Coffee Hour,” produced by the Dormition Orthodox Church is available for rental ($6) or purchase ($10) [these prices are 1987, and may be higher now]. It highlights in action, many of the points found in this article and can be used as a “starter” for any discussion of adults or teens on the subject.

To receive the tape, write to:

Dormition Orthodox Church Box 14073
Norfolk, VA 23518

Make check payable to—Dormition Orthodox Church. Prices include postage and handling. VHS Format.

Katrina E Davis is an artist by profession and an active member of the Dormition of the Theotokos Church, Norfolk, VA.