I was aghast – years ago – to learn that one of our Sunday School teachers had ditched the curriculum and was teaching “good manners” to her students: five older elementary students, two of whom were her own children. Her own children, of course, didn’t need this training but the teacher was certain that the other three did need this version of “Christian Education.” They were were classless lowlifes, in her estimation, since they hailed from lower middle class families, had single moms and mixed racial heritages. She was literally teaching them which fork to use – bringing her own implements from home as teaching tools.
She was quickly relieved of her duties, although she never really got why her efforts “to civilize” those kids was a problem. Sigh.
What I’ve witnessed over and over again as a Presbytery staffer who worships in a different congregation every Sunday is that we actually do need to teach social skills to both adults and children in our churches. Not good manners, exactly, but graciousness.
In the almost two years since I’ve been on the job in our Presbytery, I have experienced these moments:
- A person literally yanked my bulletin out of my hands after worship saying, “Time to recycle and get out of here!“
- No one speaking to me, even when I asked questions about upcoming programs.
- No one passing the peace with me.
- No one handing me a bulletin or even sharing a hymnbook when I was trying to follow the worship service without a bulletin.
- Trying to find coffee hour.
- Finally finding the space where coffee hour was being hosted only to find no more coffee. (I had briefly stopped in the ladies’ room on my way there.)
- Regulars referring to “Peggy” and “George” during prayer concerns as in “Peggy got out of the hospital” and “George is back” as if everybody knows these people and what we are talking about.
- Elders serving coffee to everyone around the table except me (the interloper from Presbytery.)
I have also experienced authentic graciousness:
- People who have taken me to coffee hour themselves.
- Members who have invited me – a stranger in their congregation – out to brunch after worship.
- Ladies who have made a fresh pot of coffee just for me.
- Gentlemen who have shared their umbrellas with me in the parking lot.
We followers of Jesus are in the grace business: offering it, teaching it, sharing it. Grace could be defined as mercy, charm, or fluidity.
But we are also in the graciousness business: showing compassion, making people comfortable, being kind. Grace and graciousness are similar words, but they are also different.
Can you honestly say that your congregation – as a whole – is gracious to each other and to guests? Or does your church fail to look anything like Jesus in the way you treat each other? And how can we train our people to be more gracious in the image of Christ, especially when we believe good manners has something to do with forks?
Fork by Vietri.