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|By Aaron Johnston||July 2, 2004|
There are two types of people in this church: people who introduce themselves to strangers and people who don't. In my experience, the latter is the majority. Most people don't feel comfortable walking up to the new person in the ward and introducing themselves.
At least not immediately anyway. And why is that? What are we afraid of? Do we think we're going to embarrass ourselves?
"Hi, you must be new."
"That's right," the new face says.
"Well welcome to our warwardo. I mean, welcome to our ward. I'm Brother Smarklenandy. No wait, that's not right. I'm Brother Wilson. Where did you move from?"
"Oh Detroit. I hear a lot of black people live there."
"Er, yes, that's true."
"How fascinating. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go confess something to the bishop."
I doubt this would happen. Most of us are intelligent human beings.
But many people are shy precisely for this reason. They're afraid of embarrassing themselves. And even though it's the not the reason why I don't introduce myself to people, I can certainly relate to the fear.
You see, because of a certain scarring incident from my youth involving the school play, I'm always afraid that my fly is unzipped. Every time it's my turn to pass the sacrament -- and trust me when I say that it's not easy for me to admit this -- I always always always check my zipper during the blessing of the bread.
Everybody has their eyes closed, right? No one will notice if I just double check my britches.
I know. I should be paying attention to the prayer. And I do. Mostly. But I also have this unshakable fear that I'm going to get up and walk around the congregation with my fly wide open and my white shirt poking through.
And who wants to take bread from THAT tray?
So if that's the reason why you don't introduce yourself to new people, if you're sincerely afraid of embarrassing yourself, then, buddy, I feel your pain.
But maybe our reluctance to introduce ourselves stems from another fear entirely: our fear of rejection.
"Hi. You must be new in the ward."
"What is it with you people, huh? Yes, I'm new. Brand spanking new. There, are you happy? Sheesh, just leave me alone, okay? A man can't even have some privacy around here."
This likely won't happen either. But it is natural to think, Gosh, they don't want to talk to me. I'm nobody. They only want to be left alone. They came to church to worship, not to socialize.
The funny thing is, nothing could be further from the truth. Most new people are eager to say hello. Most new people want to shake your hand. They want you to approach them and make them feel welcome.
When my wife and I moved into our current ward, only a few people seemed to notice or care. A lot of people smiled at us, but very few people said hello or introduced themselves. As a result, it took us both a long time to feel like we belonged.
And maybe you're thinking, Hey, nothing stopped you from going up to people and saying hello. Why didn't you introduce yourself?
Well I did a few times. But not many. That's because new people don't like initiating conversation. "Hi, I'm new in the ward. You look like a nice person. Do you want to be my friend?"
No, the responsibilityshould be ours. If new people come onto our turf, we should be the ones to initiate contact. If we don't, the new person will notice and likely feel ignored.
Singles have the toughest time with this, I think. It's easy to spot a new family of eight, but singles easily get lost in the shuffle.
That's why we have to seize every opportunity we're given. For example, during priesthood opening exercises in our ward, the person conducting always invites new people or visitors to stand and introduce themselves.
This is wonderful. It allows each of us to clearly identify the new person. The perfect opportunity to go up to them and say hello would be immediately after opening exercises as we're all separating to our quorums.
In my ward, only one or two men take advantage of this opportunity. Most of us scoot off to class without saying a word.
But wouldn't it be better if everyone went up to him and said hello? Imagine how he'd feel.
And what if this person wasn't a member of the church? What would he think of us then? Well I'll tell you. He'd think, These are people who accept me. These are people who love me and who are happy to have me. Something about this place is right.
And what about after church? There are opportunities then as well. If new people or visitors are standing alone in the lobby, for example, seize the moment. Carpe diem. Go up to them and say, "Hi, I'm Brother So-and-So. Are you visiting today?"
If they are just visiting, we can tell them we're glad they chose to. And if they're new, we can invite them over for dinner.
This happened to me and my wife once right after we got married. On our first Sunday in our new ward, a couple invited us over for dinner. We were surprised by their invitation since they were so much older than us and had a lot of kids. But we went and it was wonderful. We truly felt welcomed.
But don't think you have to cook a hot meal to make someone feel welcome. Usually a smile and a few kind words will suffice.
But maybe you're one of the few who do this already. Maybe you say hello to every new face you see. If that's the case, bless you. Keep up the good work. You probably don't realize what your kindness has done to people. If only all of us would follow your example.
And maybe we will. Maybe we're ready to squelch our fears and put our inhibitions behind us. I know I'm ready. Yes sir, starting this coming Sunday I'm a new man. Fearless Man that's me.
Which reminds me, does anyone know where I can purchase a pair of zipperless suit pants?
|In response to this column, John Brown offers How to Meet People & Build Friendships|
Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston
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