Greeters at the door when you walk in the building.
Ushers at the door when you go to find a seat.
At some point during the service someone up front will tell you to introduce yourself to the people around you.
I get why. I see the importance of making sure everyone feels welcome. And it's part of being the family of God to actually get to know each other, and that often starts with a simple greeting. It is an important part of what we do as a church. If you came to the Bible study I lead on a Monday night, you would find me doing exactly these things.
But, it's also the part of church I struggle with the most. In a typical service, at least three times I feel like I have to make brief conversation with people I may or may not know. I'll be honest that I do my best to avoid it sometimes. Sometimes that's just easier for me, because of how I'm managing that day.
And, the unfortunate reality is that, sometimes, the responses of people when I do need to avoid that part that time are far from helpful. When I've chosen to sit down while everyone else is greeting each other, I've had some people make it a big deal about coming over to shake my hand then. Of course, I smile back and shake their hand, but inside I'm dying. I've had greeters follow me to make sure they say hi to me and shake my hand. Again, I respond in as friendly a manner as I can muster, but inside I'm wishing I could just run.
I don't assume people are trying to make things hard for me on purpose. My assumption is that they have a desire to make sure everyone feels welcome. And, in the process of doing so, they don't even realize that they're actually making me feel unwelcome. I can end up feeling singled out or overwhelmed - like there's something wrong with me because I sometimes have a need to avoid these types of interactions.
For me, it's the reality of living with social anxiety disorder and still being a part of a community. Some days when I go to something at church, I don't have the capability or capacity to engage in these sorts of interactions because it is taking all I have in me just to be there. I know I still need to be in church community, but, to manage, I will do my best to avoid these situations. I'm not trying to be rude, although I know it may look like it sometimes; I'm simply trying to have as normal a life as I possibly can.
And there are other times when I'll engage with these parts of church more readily. They may still be difficult for me, but that day isn't a struggle just to be there, so I have some capacity for this. And I know that the more I do so, when I'm able to, the more it will help to manage in the more difficult times.
I've spent a few days trying to figure out how to end this post, but really haven't been able to come up with a way to end. I'm not even sure there really is some neat conclusion or helpful advice I can end with. This is one of those things where we need to keep doing these things, because they are important. But, there are also always going to be people who struggle with them and try to avoid them.
When I think about my purpose in writing this post, which usually gives me some way of ending, I think it is about sharing an experience of things that falls outside of what many people experience. This isn't about just not enjoying these sorts of things and wishing they wouldn't happen. This is about an anxiety that comes in social situations that actually makes it more difficult to engage in these "normal activities."