This has been the worst kept secret, largely on my part because you can’t get me there fast enough (and it wasn’t really a secret)…but I’m moving to Canada. Yay! It’s been a long time coming. I almost mic-dropped about 9 months ago after some job contract dramas and an unhappy+stressful living situation. But relationships have always mattered to me and jumping ship and moving another 12,000km from ‘home’ didn’t give me time to leave well. That is, not running away from problems, having others get used to the idea + time to say goodbye and making good decisions about boring stuff like insurance, housing, banking rather than just winging it. (Although there will still be a lot of that!) I’ve officially given notice to work and I have a schedule so it’s time to press ‘go’. Unlike the last time I moved away, I’ve given many more of a heads up. If we haven’t spent time together lately, grab yourself a sparkling H2O, Pinot Gris or Noir or a big fat scoop of Messina Gelato and settle in for the conversation we would of had together. Think of this as my FAQs – because it really is. Why Canada? As one friend pointed out, it’s essentially a cold Australia. And it’s true. But it has mountains – mountains I can climb in summer and ski down in winter. I want to experience seasons and a winter where i won’t sweat when it’s finally cool enough to wear my largely aesthetic coat collection. Aside, I’ve always wanted to live overseas for a while. I’ve been out of school for 10 years now and 30 is now not too far away on the horizon. The original thought was Denmark or Norway, before its interior design took over the world. The Scandinavian world has a permanent home on the best liveability scales: education, healthcare, gender equality. Though many faults also, I wanted to know why. But with a bit of research I realised my language skills, or lack thereof, would hold me back significantly. Perhaps a cop out, but I pretty much got through 2 years of German classes from songs and flicking the exam back and forth hoping to figure it out comparing the English-Deutsch and Deutsch-English. I’ve decided, as ethnocentric (and perhaps egocentric) as it is, I’m going to focus my efforts of nailing English only. So next on the list was Canada. Where in Canada? Vancouver. I’d have more job prospects in Toronto, but I spent 10 years living a 6 hour drive from snow, and another 2.5 where it was easier to fly to New Zealand than get to the snow covered hills of NSW/VIC border. Toronto is too far away from mountains. But you never know, I may end up there for the second half of the adventure. I do like me some big cities. We’ll see. Have you been to Canada before? Yes. Twice. But not for long. I visited in 2008 for a weekend (from Seattle). We went to the aquarium to see the blubber whales. And again in 2012 for about 10 days split across Toronto (and Peterborough – hey Jen!) + Vancouver, on my 6 weeks travelling through North America. Do you have a job? Well that would make it less of an adventure! No. I have started to put out some feelers out but I’m likely going to need to wait until I get over there. I’m keen to stay in marketing within travel / tourism. But again, adventure. When do you leave? Short answer: June. Long answer: I finish work end of May, and start a month of annual leave…which will consist of moving majority of my stuff back to Sydney, a couple of weeks to say hello+goodbye and go to the dentist. I ship off 18 June for a couple of weeks of travel before settling down in Vancouver. For how long? I’m thinking ’til about 2020 at this stage – somewhere between 18months and 2 years. I have a 2 year working holiday VISA. Do you know anyone there? I’m from a large family and I’d struggle to find a corner of the world we don’t know someone. I have some family in BC and Toronto. But largely, no. I’ll be on friend hunt again. And after Canada? Sydney or Brisbane? I have a 2 year plan and about 2 x 15-20year plans. And the latter has more to do with world domination or making a big family really fat. Translation: I have no idea. I like Brisbane, particularly its laid back outdoor lifestyle, affordable living and 300 days of sunshine. But I don’t like to lock myself in. My goal in life is to love God with all my heart, with love invite others to experience the joy of a restored relationship with the Creator God + seek to serve him and his church. I tried to do that in Sydney, I have been trying to do that in Brisbane, I will seek to do so in Canada and what ever comes after that. How do your family feel? My parents have encouraged us to pursue everything we put our minds to. They’ve also moved a certain sister to 4 cities in 8 years. I’m sure they’d love to find out where their children will settle so they can start research retirement, alas. For the moment they’re more excited for a holiday to Canada under the guise of visiting me. Are you going to find Canadian man to marry? Look, i’m sure there are easier ways to find a husband than moving 12,000km away. I’d be lying if it didn’t cross my mind. But I also really like Australia. If I’ve learnt from friends, marriage across countries complicates things. Another aside…a treat indeed! I don’t talk about this often, or perhaps not in public pixels on the inter webs, but I have always hoped that my life involves sharing it with big fat family (I really love cooking!) I always thought my mum was an ‘older’ mum growing up — and she was 30 when she had me. I laugh at the thought of that now! 10 years on from school, I was going to have a house, a chubby baby and kicking butt in my career. But here I am – a 27 year old Christian lady – putting me at the upper end of the eligible Christian + unmarried spectrum with a strong attendance record at baby-faced Christian weddings. It is hard to not be swayed by the (let’s face it, counter-)culture that surrounds us. I had thought that maybe my near 3 years in Brisbane may have involved a significant relationship and put my back on my unrealistic perfect family + career goal. Alas, it hasn’t. And I’m absolutely okay with that – better than okay really. My time in Brisbane and my life is way more than seeking for a significant other. And Canada will be the same.  But if that happens in Canada, sure. We can look back at this musing and chuckle. Strong. Independent. Loves Jesus. I’m sure there are few of them across the Pacific. Do you want any contacts for people in Canada? Yes. If you have a friend / friend of friend in Vancouver, I’d like to have someone to have a drink with once I settle down. If you have a friend in marketing/professional services, I’m keen to understand the industry a little better. Applying to jobs is different in every city, particularly countries. Recruiter or not? CV formats etc. When can we see you before you go? April is a collection of friends + family visiting BNE. May is largely vacant at the moment and will likely involve packing up my awesome apartment + enjoying the last of my time in the Sunshine State. I plan to be in Sydney from 4-18 June. I’ll probably organise some kind of drop-in drinks thing. I’ll keep you informed. Beyond that, follow @DiscoverCanada @HelloBC or @VisitAlberta and I’ll see you where the sun shines a little less.   How was the Messina? The vino? I’m off both at the moment, so I would probably be giving you envy eyes if I were with you. Shoot any other Qs you have and I’ll answer them. One of the hardest things about moving away is losing touch with people I wish i could spend more time with. I hope this helps you feel a little more included in my life. Comment. Email. Facebook. I’m on all the channels. Tell me your news! BONUS Question not because of the number of people who have asked it, but rather the number of times a few people have asked it. What about bible college? It’s crossed my mind. If I were to study, Regent College is the kind of theological study I would do it at. I’m not saying no, but it would also be my entire house deposit…and I’m not quite ready to give that up yet. I need more convincing + vision for what women in the conservative church can do with a theological degree…mic drop and with that I’m out. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
And like that it’s been a year since I moved to Brisbane. A year since I convinced some QLDers to give this New South Welshmen a job during an 8am interview after 3 days of skiing. A year since mum and I cruised up the M1 stopping in Coffs overnight to watch the ever important Bachelor finale. A year since I left all the junk of 2015 behind and arrived in Brisvegas knowing only three people. And what a great year it’s been. Following on from a friend who wrote a ‘You know you’ve lived in [place] for [length of time] when…’ post a few months ago, I’ve decided to celebrate the milestone with a version of my own. Sadly mine won’t start with “Eating the relatives of your first pet is no longer traumatising.” Thank goodness I moved to BNE and not Peru! Praying for you Anna 🙂 Here goes. You know you’ve been living in Brisbane 12 months when: You’re wondering when winter happened. Perhaps it was that day when I needed a coat? Driving more than 20 minutes is an investment not to be undertaken without careful consideration You fill your fuel tank maybe once a month You’re attempting to transition to a morning person in preparation for another summer of 4am sunrises It’s 9pm on a Saturday night and you start thinking about heading home #nannalyfe Buying fresh produce at supermarkets seems criminal when there are farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The crazy special you discovered at the markets = flavour of the week. Hello 3 broccoli for $1, 1kg of strawberries for $3, massive pineapple for $2, 6 avocadoes for $1, boxes of mangoes. Ah so good. A long commute is being stopped at all 3 sets of lights on the walk home! You’ve stopped honking when cars are slow off the lights. They’re a little slower up here. You no longer rush (except when leaving the house every morning). Again, a little more laid back. Sunscreen goes with you everywhere, but you still manage to get sunburnt. You switch collecting coats and scarfs for hats. You start making connections between the few friends you do have #smalltown Your drink of choice is becoming closer and closer to beer You’re learning to drink real fast but even then your bev-ie ends up sitting in a puddle #condensation Eating inside seems counterintuitive…except in February. Gimme air conditioning please. Your skin glows November through March (aka sweat) You moisturise once a week before #sweat everywhere. Bikram Yoga isn’t something you pay for, but a free provision for all activities in summer Running along a river > Running along suburban streets Airport pick ups are stress-free, and, well, free You start complaining about traffic when you have to wait more than 1 cycle at traffic lights #srsly You develop an unhealthy affair with brownies (looking at you I heart brownies) and any hot cinnamon donuts (It’s okay, they’re usually gluten free, vegan etc so practically healthy) You strike up conversation with anyone, anytime #bigcountrytown The few overcast days each month send you into a depressed state (Hello 283 days annual sunshine) Despite walking it everyday, the (only) hill walking home is torture every single afternoon. (You’ll know this already if I’ve ever called you walking home!) The possums and brush turkeys in your backyard (3km from the CBD) are practically pets You attempt to plan social gatherings and wonder why no one’s available because there’s a game on A sea of maroon jerseys is now just part of furniture You drive into the city and street park on weekends and Fridays after 7pm #winning You drive everywhere because even if you have to pay, it’s never more than $2/hr. #cha-ching You love your new church family and miss them when you’re out gallivanting around You just miss the familiarity and history with old friends It hurts to see friends having fun without you #fomo The arrival of a text from a Sydney-friend can make a lonely night bearable. But you know you’ll always be a Sydney-sider when: You had to unfollow Gelato Messina on Instagram because the cravings were too much to handle. (But #providence, they’re moving in South Bank next month) You roll your eyes every time someone complains about traffic in Brisbane. #nothingonSydney The Story Bridge remains a laughing stock You can actually merge lanes, parallel park and just drive in general like a normal human who knows where they’re going You chuckle when people complain and/or nervous about visiting Sydney #sobusy You’re astounded by supermarkets closing at 5.30pm on weekends Your heart breaks at the sight of Brisbane salaries You get places fast because #assertiveness You really just don’t get what’s so great about maroon. Blue is so more aesthetically pleasing. You still follow NSW politics because Mike Baird SMH remains a daily news haunt Cyclists on the road really are super annoying You see any photo of Sydney Harbour and you stop everything you’re doing and just take it all in. That’s my hometown. You still refer to it as ‘home’ or visiting as ‘going home’ It’s gone quickly, but then reflecting on all that the 12 months has held, it doesn’t feel so quick at all. But as for another 12 months in BNE? We’ll see. #jks. I’m not going anywhere… for now at least. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
And like that another year is over. 2015 has been one the hardest years of my life in my living memory. It took me a while to realise it, and then to accept it. I’ve always found life fairly easy. My level head and controlling nature generally keeps everything in check. I don’t leave space for error. But this year I woke up in pain most mornings. I relied on painkillers to get through the days so much so #DrMel decided it was unsafe and I began to push through the pain unless unbearable. This year I started a fun relationship that wasn’t going to work, ended it and dealt with the guilt that followed. This year I went from absolutely loving my job to not loving it. This year I jumped on rollercoaster ride every time I went to a church related activity. From almost walking out mid-service and never returning to joining the church board and watching friend after friend leave. This year I decided I needed to shake up my life and packed up all my belongings and moved 1000km north to a city I knew less people than the fingers on my right hand. It’s safe to say my head has been in overdrive. I’ve never had so many areas of my life out of my control. I’ve never been one to come home and camp out on the couch. I’ve never been one to force myself to social gatherings because I know another night on the couch will make things worse. I’ve never been one to lie when people ask how I am. So often my loved ones have shared that they’re having a hard time. I tried to empathise with them. ‘Yes, it’s okay. We all go through them.’ But I didn’t understand what that meant beyond having thousands of words looming, a full social calendar and self-induced tiredness. I did not know hard. I possibly still don’t, but this year I’ve realised whatever ‘hard’ looks like for each of us, ‘hard’ keeps you awake at night. Hard keeps you in bed in the mornings. Hard keeps you grasping for anything to hold on to. Hard makes you reflect on what you know. Hard makes you learn. I’ve worked out if things aren’t easy, you don’t have to fake it. You don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to always smile. You can be real with the people around you. You can lose face. You don’t have to have it all together. 365 days ago I wrote about my goals for 2015 without any knowledge only a few days later I’d push myself too hard and cause a year of ongoing pain. In reflection they’re pretty shallow goals about me doing something. Throughout the year I came back to these goals to make sure I was on track. I was and I am. I read a lot of books (and snuck a few audio books to bulk out the count), I finished my DofE, I fought for a mid-year promotion then for an interstate role. The last one was a challenge as there were days and weeks I was convinced I could solve my problems myself. And although I’ll have a new set of goals for 2016, it wasn’t achieving these goals that I find the value of 2015. This year I’ve learnt to cling to the things that bring me joy, that refocus me and keep me at the foot of the cross. I picked up a paintbrush again. I didn’t even know if 9 years on I’d be even able to paint (to a standard I’d be happy with). I started sewing again (and wearing my creations). I started playing netball again (and accepted I had to relearn the skills I’d forgotten after I stopped playing competitively). I chose to start reading books again (and not just cushy novels). I chose to stick by the church I have struggled with (because church is more than me and my issues). I started being honest with myself. I started being honest with others. I started being honest with God. Yes, it’s been rough. I still wake up in pain most mornings, and despite most of my friends and family living 1000km away I’ve re-found stability. I know that there are seasons in life and 2015 held a number of them. I learnt about God’s faithfulness. I continue to learn what patience looks like, what gentleness looks like and what selflessness looks like. This year I learnt I can’t keep everything under control. It might have taken losing control to realise I needed to go crawling back to God because he’s the one in control. We can’t do things on our strength. I know that God is good. I have life because of Jesus. I have hope because of grace. Here’s to 2015, a horrible but fruitful one in Christ. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Welcoming is more than thrusting folded paper at the entrance Read Part 1 Church welcoming. Sigh. It’s the roster that no one wants to be on. I’m a long time avoider of it. Let’s pretend it’s because I hate hugs and self-conscious about handshakes and awful at remembering names, so all I can offer is a big enthusiastic, drawn out “hey!” upon one’s arrival and a folded A4 sheet that I know they’ll probably only read during a lapse of concentration in the sermon, then fold put in their hand bag and never look again…ever (Unless you’re older than 50 and then you’ll probably stick it on the fridge where the last 10 weeks are also placed). Ah church communications, I digress. The truth is I hate church ‘welcomers’. I mean, I love them, the people standing there, smiling and pushing paper. Huge hearts. I love them. But I still hate ‘welcomers.’ I hate welcomers because by us giving them a title, we delegate them a role, one that most willingly relinquish. “They’re the welcomers, so I can go find my seat and chat to the people that I know” or “They’re the welcomers, so they can get to church early to speak to visitors so I’m good to rush in during the first few songs, and sit beside my friend.” Put aside what you think welcoming looks like and think inclusive. Reflect on your own personal actions at church, and then the actions of those around you (read: friends) and ask: “Are my actions enabling others to be and feel included?” (Note: there is a difference between perception and reality). After two months visiting churches in search of a new church family, I think too often we get stuck in the routine of church and forget there may be people who have no idea what is going on, struggle to connect and often, sadly, feel or are actually excluded. Me and my big storytelling mouth are right up there with the unintentional exclusion. Being a visitor has allowed me to remember what it’s like to be welcomed and, the opposite, ignored. This is part two of what no one tells you about visiting churches. Join me considering our own actions and failings. I hope it makes you, church regular, stop and reconsider how you can look to the periphery with more intention and confidence than previously. And, you, church seeker, visit churches with an open-ness and willingness to be welcomed, in whatever form it comes in.   It starts with having a plan and executing it with purpose Intention. ‘Live life with intention and integrity.’ If I was the type of person who liked life mottos, that would be mine (but with ‘for Jesus’ tacked on the end for good measure). I told you last time that I didn’t just roll up out of bed and wander in to church. It was a highly researched, planned and executed adventure (x 8). Here’s the next reality: each hesitation, eye contact and apparent loitering was largely intentional. I wanted to talk to you so I tried to make eye contact: during the children’s departure to kids’ church and/or the general ‘welcoming’ moment: “say hello to people around you.” I stood alone in the middle of the foyer/café/drinks stand (without looking at my phone) waiting for someone to talk to me. I intended to wait for 5 minutes before leaving. Sadly, I left three times without anyone talking to me. Perhaps I was a super intentional church seeker because I did genuinely want to find a new church. I hope the visitors to my future church will wait as long as I did! But intention applies to church ‘regulars’ too. Some of my friends have been blessed by my soliloquys on this topic before, but being inclusive looks like having a plan when you walk into church, when you have the general ‘welcome’ moments and then immediately after church. Most importantly in the 2 minutes after the service. Scope out your territory and have a strategy. Don’t leave the greeting and meeting to the ‘welcomers’, the pastor or heck, even the extroverts. Don’t let it be an after thought as you see the visitor walk out the exit…most likely 2 minutes after the services ends if no one speaks to them. Here are 10 steps you can take to being inclusive: Get to church early. Smile. (I’m not kidding about this one. Why does church have to be so serious?) Say hello to everyone. Even those you don’t know. We are a family. Think offensive lines. Last week I told you finding parking, the door and then a seat were real challenges. Make them easy. Position people for each of those stages. It will also allow ‘greeters’ to transition into conversations with visitors and tag team with church members who are there (Note: Point 1). Look out for people who awkwardly walk through the door trying to figure out what the heck is going on, or sit down and are reading the church bulletin with the level of concentration one does their tax file declaration. (No church regular reads the news sheet in detail unless the teaching is going too long). If you see someone unfamiliar sitting alone, move seats and sit next to them. Write their name down so you remember it in an hours’ time. Fight the temptation to talk to your friends at church and prioritise visitors as soon as church is over. (Bonus tip: have a coffee with your bff/s before church so you don’t have to catch up after church). If someone else is chatting to a visitor, join them. It’s exhausting, tag team. Relieve them so they can go and discuss whose turn it is to bring supper to bible study etc. Introduce them to others. This may look like others in similar life stages or interests, and your pastor.   I’m as nervous as you While some people have heightened sensitivity to subtle social cues, it is not a prerequisite for being a good conversationalist. Talking and listening is a necessary evil in greeting and meeting people and inviting them in to a church community. Talking to strangers comes easy to some and terrifying for others. Small talk can be awkward. What if I forget their name? What if they give me one-word answers? What do I ask them first? Can I ask them why they’re here? How many questions are acceptable before it becomes an interrogation? Small talk can be tricky but consider this: I’m standing in the middle of a group of people looking for someone to talk to. I know no one. I don’t know where the door is. I don’t know how many people are going to show up. I didn’t know that this church writes all it’s own music and although I am fairly across Christian music I wouldn’t know any of the words and the tall person in front blocked half the screen. I didn’t realise that you transitioned straight from prayer to worship. I still had my eyes closed. It’s now the ‘take a break and say hello to someone moment’ but everyone turned to someone else. I’m wearing a skirt that is on the work appropriate fence and all the other women are wearing knee length skirts. I’m all alone. You think you’re nervous. I can tell you they’re nervous. After my first few visits I realised that some people had no idea how to talk to a new person. They fumbled their way through questions. I’d catch their eye but they’d look away. Or they’d approach, say hello and then remain silent. In answering their single closed question, it took a number of questions to get to the crux of my visit. Often I could see they were struggling. I don’t find conversations hard so by the third church I had a little spiel to assist us all: “Moved from Sydney to Brisbane for work. Looking for a new home church. Living in West End. Checking out the local churches.” It opened a few angles for conversations. Accept that both visitors and regulars are nervous and brush up on your conversation skills: Listen for common topics of conversation. It doesn’t have to be a one-way interrogation, share about yourself. Think tag team. It’s exhausting so tag in and out. “Let me introduce you to xxx, she also (insert: common interest, talking point)” It also means I get to meet more people. Think about your opening question. Make it an open one. “Is this your first visit?” is closed and can potentially be awkward if it’s not. Try: “Hi, I’m xxx, I don’t think we’ve met.” Read this TED article: ‘How to turn small talk into smart conversation‘   It’s not a fine line between stalking and follow up My previous church had yellow A6 ‘welcome’ cards that were in little holders on the back of the church pews. I’m guilty of using them to write my week’s to do list during the sermons. They asked for a name, number, email, service attended. They were out dated (think photocopy of a photocopy), often a little crumpled and very rarely was any direction given regarding their use. I’m not even sure where they were supposed to go. Despite their neglect, they are valuable. We live in a world that our every move, or at least every website visit and 5k run is tracked. I’m sure every second shop has my email, DOB and mobile number. But despite our personal details being in so many databases, we’ve (the church) has shied away from asking for personal information. Asking visitors to fill out a contact card seems intrusive. Reality check: there are no compulsory fields on a paper card. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. But not having a connect card, or similar, says you don’t care about following up on my visit. Three churches I visited gave some instructions as to how to connect with them. A well-designed form was provided, the form pointed out during the service and instructions given as to what to do with it. I filled them out each time. Of those, two followed up with an email. One church pastor emailed the following day introducing me to another young professional. But the surprise was the card (albeit a cheesy DaySpring card) in the mail – an actual hand written card. It was two weeks after I moved and no one had my address. Not even my parents. It was a pleasant surprise. The other church followed up with an email from a young professional. It was two and half weeks after my visit. Enough said. I never heard from the third. The five remaining churches never asked me for my details. Although to their credit two church pastors provided me their phone number. Another added me on Facebook through a mutual connection. They left the ball in my court. I contacted one; he invited me to dinner and bible study. I went. He followed up offering to help out with settling in. Back in my uni ministry days we had connect weeks. It was a three-week period following OWeek. Hundreds of people would visit my Christian group’s stall and complete a connect card. Hundreds. The connect cards were assigned to faculties, then from faculties to individuals. I spent many February nights calling 20+ people. Yes, calling with an actual phone. I could have emailed, but I was able to have a conversation. Find out more about them. I often met them for coffee. I often had to call three times before I caught them. Almost every single time the person on the other end of the phone call was surprised by my call. First it was the lost art of letter writing, but now it’s the phone call. If I’m completely open, I craved someone to talk to in those early few weeks. Let’s not forget the power of personal connection. Email is easy. Text messages aren’t intrusive. Yes, a phone call interrupts someone’s day. But that’s the purpose – you want to talk to them. Let’s not be afraid of the phone.   The pastor is important, but not that important I met the pastor at 5 of the 8 churches I visited. One was absent, another announced his departure that service, and the other was Hillsong – so understandable. Each of the men (sigh) were incredibly warm. They cared about me. They asked me where I’d come from. Some asked what I was after. They listened. They looked me in the eye. They smiled. I appreciated them taking the time to talk to me. But as much as I appreciated meeting the pastor, I really wanted to meet other people. I wanted to know about you because you would be part of my family. Yes, the pastor would be leading us (which is why although it was a great church, I wasn’t about to join a church losing it’s pastor without a replacement), but I wanted to get a feel of the vibe. Students? Professionals? All married? Any eligible bachelors? It was evident at all but three of the churches I visited, that many of the people who spoke to me were unsure of what to do next. How did they move me, a church keen bean, from first time visitor to visiting again? One church stood out in terms of inclusiveness. Each person I spoke to invited me to the lunch the young people were having after church. They introduced me to others. They tag teamed well. But no one asked me for my number. The pastor is important. But having other trained equipped people ready to connect with visitors is also important.     Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t have a horrible experience visiting churches. It has largely been a positive experience, a fruitful one. But the there is so much more that can be done. The church is a family, God-willing a growing one. Let’s work together to build inclusive churches. Understanding every virtual and physical touch point and making sure they encourage connectivity rather than exclusion or just ignorance.   Thanks for waiting for Part 2. The third and final instalment will come in another month or so: What no one tells you about visiting churches // Part 3 We’re all baggage carriers. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Six weeks ago I uprooted my life and moved cities. Along with friends, family, netball team and job, I also left my home church. I withdrew from my responsibilities on rosters, resigned from an elected position on the church board, and farewelled many – those I knew by name and others just by their encouraging face I saw from the front. Finding a new local church is a priority in my new city, almost equal to Operation: amigos. (You can read what I think about only making friends in church.) In the last six weeks, I’ve visited eight churches. Different brands, different sizes, different buildings. In fact, of the eight, only two met in a purpose-built building, one of which was a warehouse (FYI, that was the hipster church. It also had wooden pallets. #hipster). I grew up in the church and I’ve been part of a number over my life, the last for the better part of a decade. I’ve served in many church and parachurch organisations, some that involved visiting other churches. In summary, I feel pretty comfortable in most brands/labels/denominations of church. But that doesn’t make first time visits (with the aim of finding a new home) easy. I’ve learnt so much about the local church over the past few weeks. I’ve been encouraged. I’ve been disheartened. And I’ve been challenged. I chatted with a few friends who have just been through, or going through the same process before writing this. These are our shared reflections. I hope you gain from them. NB: Don’t read “I” as Melanie Pennington. Read “I” as “potential visitor to my church”   It’s hugely encouraging Irrespective of the number of people, the style of music or the volume of said music, I knew I stood with brothers and sisters. I may not have known their names, but through the songs we sung, the book we read and the prayers offered, it was evident we shared a common goal. I stand united with them. The local church is not defined by its geography, but by the necessity it is in our lives. You can move cities, but still the local church remains – a people meeting together, supporting each other in one name, for one purpose. Jesus. Learning: Be defined by Jesus in everything you do   Parking is the first hurdle, finding the front door the second, a seat the third I almost gave up on a church because I couldn’t find a legal parking spot. In the end I parked illegally, walked to the entrance and asked where to park. I ended up paying for parking because the 10mins I had allowed to park and find the entrance had lapsed and the service had started. Another church I drove by twice before I spotted a small A-frame with the church logo. Three others I wandered around looking for the entrance to the auditorium. I was inside the building, but the challenge was to find the door! Another, I arrived about 5 mins late (see above) and I had to sit in the front row because there were no seats left. And it wasn’t that it was full, it was there weren’t enough seats put out. And I wasn’t about to haul a seat off the stack. Learning: Visitors parking Instructions/maps for where to park Directional signage Welcomers/ushers should be more than paper movers   If you’re not online, you’re virtually invisible My old church’s website sucked. Before I left I was helping build a new site from scratch. It’s not easy. I know websites and they aren’t easy. Who is it for? What information does it need? Who will update it? So much to think about, but here’s the hard truth: it’s the first place I went. Actually, Google was: “evangelical / Christian / bible-based / bible + church + suburb.” If you don’t have a website, I can’t find you. Once on the site, I want to know where you are, when you meet, which service is best for me, where to park, what you believe and who your staff are. I also care about your Facebook page. If you don’t update it, delete it. Learning: Go to your church website. Count the amount of clicks it takes to find the service times. Meet in a school hall, warehouse, or performance space? Submit a location and listing on Google maps. Update your Facebook page or delete it. Really. Go to It is one of the best resources I’ve found on church websites (and social media).   Time is money valuable Unfortunately people are busy (but not me!) and time matters. Starting and finishing (or telling people when it will finish) on time shows you value them. Visiting a church is huge ordeal. It takes time and energy to find a church, research it and then plan a visit. It then takes more time to find a parking spot/entrance/seat and strategically plan how long before the service you will arrive. Lingering in the foyer before a service is awkward. Sitting alone in church is awkward. Be assured I have thought about how long before your service I arrive. And waiting 13 minutes for your on-the-hour service to start only puts a bad taste in my mouth. Flipside: I’ve also timed my arrival to allow myself enough time to find entrance/seat and should someone notice my visit, talk to me. If only a regular arrived on time/early to greet me. Learning: Valuing people means valuing their time Start when you say you’re going to start (or explain why you started late. “Windows decided it wanted to update at 10.28am this morning”) Finish when you say you’re going to finish Get to church early. (This is a huge one for me. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t caused my minister’s a small amount of stress over the years because I would arrive late when rostered to be involved in the service).   I could go on, and I will go on. (Did you notice the ‘Part 1’? Bahaha) Not as a rebuke, but as a gentle and hopefully helpful reminder about what it’s like being new. I am also writing this so I can revisit it in 6 months, 12 months and heck, God-willing, 6 years time to remind myself how I can be like Jesus in my local church. Standing with open arms, ready to accept and pursue anyone the Spirit stirs to visit the local church.   Stay tuned for Part 2: Welcoming, it’s more than standing at the door thrusting folded A4 sheets at people  Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)