Introduction to Greeting
We invite you to consider four questions in relation to greeting guests that come to your congregation:
- Who are we?
- What are we doing as greeters?
- Who is our neighbor?
- What are we called to do?
Who Are We?
We are already a multicultural group of people. We are a congregation comprising at least several cultures. Among our cultural identities may be people from various international cultures of the world; various sub-cultures within the United States; of various colors and ethnic backgrounds; with various gender identities and sexual orientations; people who are deaf and others who have visible and hidden disabilities; people dependent on substances or processes and those recovering from these dependencies; and people who claim various combinations of these cultures. Some cultural differences are obvious and some are less so. Everyone has a culture and is included. Please refer to the definition of “multicultural” on page 5.
What Are We Doing as Greeters?
- Unitarian Universalists representing our faith in our community;
- Creating and finding community in our congregation, and being “in community” in an ongoing way by welcoming everyone who comes to worship. Not everyone will feel at home at
our congregation due to personal preferences, and yet they can receive a warm welcome when they attend;
- Standing at the doorway of possibility for others who could join us. If you were a visitor to your congregation, imagine if someone made you feel that you could come in and be saved. Unitarian Universalism emphasizes saving in this life, no matter a person’s beliefs about another life than this one. The term “saving” can be literal or can be saving by finding a religious path or a religious community that gives life meaning, and thus saving it from otherwise being a less meaningful life. Put another way, there is no prerequisite to join in the life of the congregation. You are welcome as you are.
- Making it possible for people to find the grace they seek, be it from a source that is spiritual, human, or both.
Who Is Our Neighbor?
In the case of our congregation, we are speaking of people who are not currently involved as either members or friends. Our neighbor is someone who lives within such a reasonable distance that they would consider attending regularly. They could live very near to the site of the congregation, or a little further away. And in the case of greeting, our neighbors are people known and unknown to us with whom we can be in relationship. Our neighbors may have a similar range of cultures to those in our congregation, or not.
In saying more about cultural differences, people whose culture differs from our own may differ from us in their use of language or concepts of terminology, be of various racial and ethnic origins, have a range of levels of education, be of a different social class, identify with a diversity of faith, have a variety of gender expressions and identities, and hail from a variety of places of origin within the United States and around the world. We may share a common set of values or we may have some values in common and others that differ.
We can find out about our neighbors by contacting them and talking with them, and also by demographic research from our local chamber of commerce or demographic information from the UUA. What we learn from this interpersonal and demographic research can enable us to better prepare for and serve our neighbors.
What Are We Called to Do?
Quite simply as greeters we are called to be welcoming, and to provide a welcome to all who come to our congregation. Whether we feel called by our community or by God, this is our purpose. In order to welcome people from various cultures we need to be culturally literate. This means that we need to be open to our guests showing us who they are themselves, and not to guess who they are. This is where the gifts of “invitation” and “listening” you were given on page 2 are so useful. We need to be ready to learn from others about who they are and about their culture.
Greeting is a calling, and a moral obligation. We are like human doorways, like portals, to Unitarian Universalism for those who come to our congregations. Greeting is also a practice that will infinitely enrich our lives and the life of our congregation. We invite you to join us in the art of greeting in your congregation. Be they guests or those we have known for a long time, let us make them welcome.
Role Play Scenarios
You might like to try these role play scenarios to further develop your multicultural competencies of welcoming.
Try practicing these in groups, with different people playing the roles to see more facets of what can happen in these situations in which we all at times find ourselves.
How does it look, how is it, to be welcoming to people who:
- Interrupt during fellowship/coffee hour;
- Are blind, or deaf, or use a wheelchair, or have a visible or hidden disability;
- Have a strong foreign accent;
- Didn’t complete high school, or didn’t go to college;
- Have a different class identity than our own;
- Make us feel uncomfortable about our beliefs;
- Wear a cross on their necklace;
- Are children;
- Have children that look significantly different from them;
- Have difficulty with spatial issues;
- Have an ambiguous gender identity;
- Do not make eye contact with you;
- Are different from you in some way, when your tendency might be to assume that this newcomer wants to meet persons similar to them. For example, making the assumption that young adults are single and only want to meet other single young adults.
Some of these facets of individual experience aren’t immediately apparent when a newcomer walks through the door. Instead of trying to spot individuals who may claim a particular identity, try to use these role-plays to think about how you can welcome people’s full selves–whether they’ve disclosed a particular identity to you or not.
We invite you to think of more examples of role play scenarios.
As you look at these case studies, can you imagine them happening at your congregation?
As members of the community, we all make mistakes from time to time. Let us learn from each other. Let us give ourselves the gift of being gentle with ourselves and each other. Let us forgive each other and begin again, held in the love of community.
Tips and Techniques
When you role play, and when you greet people on Sunday, there are some useful things to think of, and you may already have thought of some. Here are a few below, and you will likely think of more.
- Enjoy the gifts of invitation and listening.
- Greet everyone who comes though the doorway. Everyone includes members, friends, visitors from out of town, and local guests. Only greeting local new people can have the dual negative effect of making new people feel too important to you and can leave them wondering if you care anything for your friends and acquaintances at your congregation. New people want to find a place where people value one another.
- When starting a conversation, try asking open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “Do you live in Your Town?” instead ask, “Do you live locally?” or “Do you live nearby?”
- Try asking questions that allow your guest to tell you something in a way that they choose. For example, if they are wearing an interesting item of jewelry you could say, “What a lovely necklace. Is there a story connected with it?” Or perhaps, “How did you hear about us?” asking how they came to your congregation’s doors. If you are inclined to, you could even tell them they have a nice or a lovely name, if it is a less usual one.
- Let the guest take the lead in conversation sometimes.
- Allow people not to answer your questions. Sometimes each of us asks questions that others may choose not to respond to, for a variety of reasons.
- When we meet new people, guests at our congregation, let’s leave the theological door open. Let others tell you their theology, rather than anticipating it.
- Putting yourself in others’ shoes is helpful, and with people of cultural identities other than your own, this may be of limited use. This is because there are parameters that you might be unaware of. As you greet people, you will likely find that taking your cues from them will make them feel most comfortable.
Behavioral Change in Your Congregation
Here is a note about how you actually make a change in behavior in your congregation.
At the very least in using this resource, we are trying to become more authentically welcoming. At most we are trying to be multiculturally inclusive. So, how do we make our new welcoming practices into a habit? How do we make the new behaviors part of the culture of our congregation?
We do this by:
- Practicing our new welcoming techniques until they feel authentically part of our behavior;
- Committing to make this change widespread, by voicing the commitment repeatedly so that it becomes habit and more widespread; and
- Holding one another accountable for making the change, together, recognizing that we all make mistakes and that we will try our best.
Another way of engaging others in your congregation in joining your multicultural greeting is to invite them to respond to these questions below. Listen to their responses and tell them yours.
Thinking about life in our Unitarian Universalist congregations:
- What does being welcomed mean to you?
- How do you know when you are welcomed?
- How do you know when you have made someone feel welcome?
Talk about how important it is to new people, and also to continuing members and friends, to be greeted warmly and to have a feeling of belonging.
To help this process of change you will find, on page 12, resources useful in creating a wider, deeper welcome.
Creating Safe Congregations
It is important for us to create safe congregations, so we’d like to ask you to think about how you can be accountable to your congregation.
Welcoming all does not mean putting anyone’s safety in jeopardy. Although we are welcoming to all, there are behaviors that jeopardize the safety and health of others in our congregation and we recommend some resources from the UUA’s office of Congregational Ethics and Safety to deal with these issues and to handle relationships with people whose behavior does jeopardize the safety of others.