First Impressions

March 30, 2017

by B. Mike Alexander, Jr.

What a wonderful day of worship we had this past Sunday in The Sanctuary (and, I know, in The Harbor, as well). The weather was spring-like, the music was expressive and inspiring, and we had two beautiful children baptized into the family of God. Everything just felt right.

But Monday morning I sat down at my computer and read a blistering email from a United Methodist pastor who is connected with another conference. He and his wife worshiped with us in The Sanctuary Sunday and walked away being disappointed, very disappointed.

He related that, from the moment he and his wife walked into our narthex until their final steps as they got into their car to drive away, he felt we were not friendly, welcoming, courteous, cordial or even Christ like at all (he even described us as “cool”). He said their presence was never acknowledged by anyone they encountered. As I preached on Jesus’ intense feelings of loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane, he and his wife sat in the midst of our beautiful place of worship, feeling lonely themselves.

Over the years, I have received one or two letters or comments about Belin Memorial not being a friendly church. I’ve heard a few people make negative comments about our church family. Quite frankly, I just don’t understand. I’ve been here since June 2005, and I find this congregation to be exceptionally friendly. Certainly every sermon could be better in some places and perhaps some of us could be more inviting from time to time. But I know the heart of our church family. We do have open doors, open hearts, open minds, and open arms. How one dresses or where one sits should NOT be an issue.

Maybe, just maybe… this guest and his wife came in with a chip on their shoulders. Maybe, just maybe… it was a bad day for them or for us. Maybe, just maybe… there is a lot more going on in their lives than they are aware.

I can’t change their first impression of Belin Memorial, but I have scheduled an appointment with them, desiring to listen… smile… and say, “You don’t have a clue about how wonderful this Belin family is!” How will it all play out? Well, I’ll just have to see.

I remind you that every Sunday you and I have an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus. We can be loving, even to those who walk in with a chip on their shoulder. We can offer a handshake, a friendly smile, and a word of encouragement to one who is just passing by. We can do this, and I hope you’ll be more intentional about this than ever before.

We might not change how people feel about us. With those who are negative and find solace in putting our church family down, so be it. But I know your heart. I know you are the most incredible church family I’ve ever known.

We are a large congregation, and you may not realize the person beside you is here for the first time. We are implementing a new Visitor Card system this Sunday. Please make note of those who fill out a card and put it in the offering plate or basket. Extend the hand of hospitality and fellowship. After all, our core values here at Belin Memorial are to love God and love others. May this start in worship.

God’s grace abounds,