By Michael C. Coon

I arrived a little early, they arrived late. My boss and his wife invited me to their church for a Christmas pageant. I didn’t have any plans, and since I was alone – I hated not hav­ing anything to do on a Saturday night – I chose to accept the invitation. “Better than watching reruns with the dog,” I thought.

We agreed to meet about ten minutes before the 7:00 p.m. starting time. I was there around 6:40 p.m., a member of an­other church in a different part of the city.

I had been a Christian for several years. Visiting other churches had never been a problem for me. Tonight was dif­ferent. I was alone, sorting through feelings of low esteem and shame after a divorce. I felt a tinge of apprehension walking up to open the doors, but rested in the idea my friends were waiting for me inside the foyer. I walked into an undercurrent of voices coming from pockets of people filling the room. All of them were strangers to me. Still, I assumed most of them were people I belonged with.

“Where are they?”

I didn’t see my friends. Being head and shoulders above many, I had the natural advantage of a higher perch, a better view for scanning the horizon. This was a backdrop of contra­diction: feeling awkward and conspicuous walking through the surrounding crowd yet feeling alone weaving through gaps in the clusters of people. Panning the room with ea­gerness, I hoped my search would end quickly, that my eyes would catch the welcome sight of their faces. I turned, look­ing back at the front doors.

“Maybe they just got here,” I thought bouncing my eyes to the left and right of the foyer. My friends were still not here.

I wanted relief from my discomforting feelings of being an alien. I noticed darting eyes looking away from me. From many of the groups I passed, a head would turn. Sometimes the entire group looked at me for a moment, before returning to conversa­tions my presence interrupted.

“C’mon you guys. Where are you?”

I felt like a phantom in the foyer, a shadowy, transparent image passing unnoticed. My presence was heard, but the fearful ap­prehension left me banished, as a lonely soul wandering in this unfamiliar church setting.

“Isn’t anyone going to extend a hand of welcome? So, this is what it feels like to be a visitor. Man, I wish someone would talk to me. What time is it?”

Looking at my watch provided a brief interruption from my concern:

“I’ve only been here for seven minutes?”

The area near the welcome center had less people standing in it. I felt comfortable there. From that vantage point, I could see the front doors across the foyer.

“Hi. Are you looking for someone?” she asked.

“So, these aren’t mannequins after all,” I thought.

She was in a group of four, all standing in silence, one smiling while this lady asked her question with folded arms.

“Hi. My name is Michael, I was invited here by some friends of mine, Jerry, and Marcy.”

“I know them,” she said as she started scouting for them in the foyer. “I don’t see them here yet. We still have a few minutes, hopefully they’ll be here soon. Welcome,” she said, returning to her conversation.

“Thanks,” I said.

I resumed my walk toward the visitor center. “Did something happen? What if they don’t show up? I am not staying, that’s for sure. This church isn’t very friendly.”

The sound of their voices never sounded better:

“Hey Michael-san! Sorry we’re late. You been here long?”

I gave Marcy a hug and shook Jerry’s hand.

“Eh, about fifteen minutes. I was hoping you were still com­ing” I said.

“Did you find the church alright?”

“Yes, I did. Where do you guys like to sit?” I said as we joined people meandering into the sanctuary.

The Christmas pageant was enjoyable. Children singing off key, at times missing a queue, yawning or occasionally picking their noses, put a smile on my face. The pageant ended with the pastor delivering a message of Christmas hope. Jerry and Marcy had to get home to their dogs, leaving no time to go for a bite to eat.

Driving home I wondered, “Why did I feel uncomfortable in a church – in that church? Has my appearance become hard or un­friendly? People weren’t too friendly until Jerry and Marcy started introducing me to their other friends.”

Three weeks later, I was with friends and acquaintances at my home church. He came through the front door alone. He was an intimidating figure at first glance: a younger man than me, with a shaved head and thick mustache. He was dressed in jeans and his arms filled his tan T-shirt. His stature made him look like he could hold his own in a fight. Yet contrary to his appearance, he was traveling through the foyer with reservation. I saw the same apprehension in him that I felt the night of the Christmas pag­eant. I looked away before he noticed me.

“Remember what it was like?” You need to go introduce your­self,” I thought.

Tension to respond was building in me. Three weeks ago, I was living his experience of today. Was it now my duty to re­spond? I didn’t want him to feel like I did, like a phantom in our foyer. My intimidation caused me to delay. While I was mentally wrestling over what to do, he saw me, which triggered an instant response in me. I walked up to him, stuck out my hand and said,

“Hey, my name is Michael. What’s yours? I don’t believe I’ve seen you before,” I said.

We continued getting acquainted until the Sunday morning worship service started. Before he left, a few more of us were talking – thanking him for visiting with us. A few Sundays later, our church became his church home.

“Should I say something?” While it can be a little scary introducing myself to a visitor, my feelings are more than likely magnified in the mind and heart of the visitor. Visiting a church where I didn’t know anyone, and no one offered to get to know me, left an indelible impression. If greeting a visitor and offering a handshake can encourage someone looking for a church home, or someone who is curious about the claims of the gospel, stepping out of my shell is a small sacrifice. Besides, it gets a little easier each time I do it.

Michael Coon is both a student and an enrollment counselor in the online College of Adult and Graduate Studies, at Colorado Christian University. He will soon complete a BA in Creative Writing. He served as chaplain at the Denver Rescue Mission for 27 years. Michael and his wife currently live in North Carolina, where he works as a freelance writer, preacher and speaker. In his spare time, Michael enjoys music (playing trumpet), history, travel, and the outdoors.