Middle-Aged Mormon Man wrote a post about cliques a few days ago that has got me thinking. His post focuses more on how we, as individual members, sometimes exclude non-members from our social circles. My thoughts are a little bigger.
I grew up surrounded by devotees of many faiths. There are streets in my hometown lined with churches. I doubt there is a single road without at least a small church somewhere along the way. These churches, large and small, share one commonality in my memories: welcome.
Each of those churches prominently displays a sign welcoming visitors. They show times for their Sunday School and other services. They advertise their day cares and scouts and other activities. My brothers and I were invited to more vacation bible schools than I can count! I attended many activities and services for many different reasons. I never felt that the people were going to convert me or condemn me (...okay, I can think of one really creepy VBS where they tried to get my brother to speak in tongues but that was an exception!) For the most part, I was a welcome visitor. The people were friendly and kind.
Why can't we be like that?
I think Mormons feel such deep devotion to our beliefs that we often trip over ourselves! When a non-member shows up we either overwhelm them with our efforts or ignore them in our attempts to "play it cool". Of course, some of us have found that happy medium (I don't think I am one of them!) but we can't expect those few to do all the work.
I have thought about this a lot. I think it takes practice to be welcoming without slipping into the extremes. So, how do we practice?
I have long believed that our meeting houses should be more inviting. Not the building itself but the activities. Why aren't we advertising our scouting programs to the community? "Outsiders" are welcome and the scout budget covers dues and supplies for ALL participants. This could be a great advantage to communities that have low-income families who want to participate but can't afford it.
What about Relief Society meetings? I have a deep belief that the sisters in Relief Society are meant to be shining examples in this darkening world. I know, KNOW, that there are many women who need our steady courage in the face of so much pressure to be wicked. Yet we keep our meetings to ourselves.
Couldn't we invite other children to our Primary and youth activities? With a VBS and AWANA on every corner, why are our activities exclusive?
What about our Halloween parties, Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts?
I know that there are certain logistical issues when planning activities. I know about budgets and head counts and supply shortages. Those are so lame in the eternal scheme of things! Are we really going to look at some one in the afterlife and say "We would have invited you but we were on a tight budget."? I certainly don't want to say "It would have been extra work."!!!!!
I know we can individually invite people to stuff, and I do. I try to make is seem so normal, almost expected that they would want to come and I have managed to shrug it off when they say no. I no longer feel the rejection I once felt. But I still feel it is not enough.
I feel, deeply, that it is the duty of those who have been blessed with the gospel to invite others. We are ambassadors, hosts, guides. It seems we should not be hoarding the blessing of the gospel for ourselves but proclaiming them to everyone we meet.
What would it take, really?
Can we do it? Yes. Will we?
I think the reasons we keep to ourselves are the same old boring ones: fear, self-consciousness, laziness, human weakness,...
Imagine, just for a moment, what we could accomplish if we could only overcome these.