In praise of Coffee Hour

 

Last night I had the great opportunity to visit an Orthodox church in the suburbs, Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview. I was there to hear one of my favorite living theologians speak, the awesome Met. Kallistos Ware. If you’ve never had the chance to hear him speak, do it. I confess that when I saw him I just wanted to run up to him and hug him. Don’t worry, I didn’t do it. Probably it’s because I came with a pal who is more sensible than myself. Thanks, Anna. 🙂

After Vespers and the talk by Met. Kallistos we all shuffled downstairs for what was a pretty fabulous spread. It was generous and delicious, especially in light of the current Apostle’s fast we are rockin these days.

Obviously, I was focused on the food. I love food. I love it a whole lot.

In a quiet moment as I sat with my plate of lovely goodies, my friend Anna mentioned that it felt like weekly coffee hour on a bigger scale to which I said, “I love Coffee Hour.” And I do, because for one thing, as we’ve already established, I love food. I love it a whole lot.

But that isn’t the only reason I love Coffee Hour. For me, a convert who knew nobody at all in a new parish at the start of my Orthodox path, toting along smallish crazy kids, it was an opportunity. It was a terrifying opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless.

It’s not possible to really meet and get to know people just at Liturgy. There is always something happening and most of us converts are just trying to keep up. Some of us are also trying to parent kids who have zero interest in keeping up with Liturgy. They just want to go home or go outside or eat cookies. Coffee Hour affords us a chance to connect and also eat cookies.

So here’s the thing. Cookies are great but connecting is hard and weird and scary. Coming into Orthodoxy is difficult enough without having to figure in the whole “meet new people” part but meeting people and having conversations and participating in the life of the body of Christ is vital.

I mean that. It is vital.

Without that bit, we’re all just going through the motions. We have to do the hard work of relationships or we simply will not last against the pull of all the other stuff we could be doing when Liturgy is happening.

I suffer from some social anxiety. You can believe me when I say that meeting people felt like torture as I visited churches while on the road to becoming Orthodox. I was sure that if only I could have a sponsor assigned to me I could get further faster. I wished I could convert online or by mail. But, that’s not how it happens. I had to meet people. I had to reach my hand out in hello.

Coffee hour is how I got there.

It began with one visit where finally, against my nature, I sat at a table in the middle of the room that already had a couple of occupants who all seemed to know one another. If you’ve read, “Nearly Orthodox” you might recall that I still am doing self-therapy getting over a certain High School lunch table rejection fiasco. Needless to say, it took some courage to ask to sit down there.

What was necessary for me at that moment was to have people willing to say “yes” when I asked for a seat. Thankfully, they did say yes and they did engage me beyond that. There were other moments of “yes” that were important too and this is where I tell you, oh my people, what I want you to do, because it’s important.

If you exploring Orthodoxy and are visiting a parish:
Go to coffee hour. Make time. Find a table and sit there even if it’s awkward because it is awkward. Even the most confirmed extrovert will see how awkward it can be.

Do it anyway.

If you are a parishioner:
Invite someone to connect after Liturgy. Offer the invitation to a newcomer even if the priest does the inviting from the front as ours does at Christ the Savior. Offer it even if you think someone else offered already.

And if they come, say hello and offer a seat or a yes to their inquiring. Remember that it’s often intimidating to ask for a seat at a table. Open up the circle of conversation, the one you’re most inclined to close off to strangers because you haven’t seen your friends this week yet.

Remember, we were all strangers once. And as William Butler Yeats wrote, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

Make it so.

6 comments:

  1. You write,
    <>

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.

    I’m struggling with this right now – I’m Orthodox (have been for just over 2 years), but am displaced from my parish for a year thanks to a sudden move (we had 5 weeks’ warning at the end of Lent) related to my husband’s job.

    There are 2 parishes here in our temporary hometown, and thanks to being here as visitors for a year (it’s not exactly home), along with my own anxiety issues and missing my home parish dreadfully, I’ve had the hardest time going to Liturgy while here. I just feel like a long-term outsider and it’s freaking hard. There are cultural differences as well (my home parish is Antiochian; the parishes here are Greek and Russian), and then since it’s Hawaii, there’s an added layer of Hawaiian culture as well.

    And then there are 4 small people I get to wrangle, too, and I’ve been getting stuck in “this is too hard.”

    Thanks for this post. Will try (again) to gather courage for Sunday.

    1. I feel you, Pauline. Praying you get the energy and courage to venture out soon. I always think of Anne in Anne of Green Gables just hoping to meet a friend, “one bosom friend” when she arrives at her home. I hope you find that one person soon who will help open up the doors for you 🙂

  2. I can certainly empathize with the feeling of being alone. I too have anxiety and I am having a hard time in the socializing aspect.
    My story is that I simply went into see a Greek priest to give a donation to the fire victims in Greece. We started talking and he told me that classes and discussion would be held on Wednesdays. As a result I started going. I did tell the priest before hand that I had anxiety and so he knew.
    One of the ladies that attended the group told of her Hystorectomy. I thought wow I would never talk about something so private. When I do talk the priest says, which I am fine with, that I am over analyzing the dogma. He says that religion is simple and people just believe. I feel he is right Guess it was the way I was brought up in Catholic church, over thinking.
    I also was friends with a Greek man for 35 years. We never married, and I told the priest privately about that. I told him I felt bad that we did not marry. However he became sick and so then moved in with me . I feel like if I tell the class what and all the things that I told the priest would not be appropriate.
    Also the priest did say that Communion could not be experienced with new members but then he started talking about Baptism and said it would be accepted and Confession was necessary but I felt he somehow did not put a rigid emphasis on . It was like only if we thought it was necessary. So I decided to attend a different church same on the Transfiguration Feast Day and I at that time did not know of the importance of Chrismation. I wanted Communion and the priest would not give it to me. I respected his decision and was mad at myself for not knowing. I also stated thinking that my priest who gives the classes will think I am showing hubris and not following his lessons. However I truly did not
    know of Chrismation. Feel bad and wish I did not go to that other church. When I left the church I felt defeated. The priest questioning me more so than my spiritual father.
    So this is my story and I don’t know if I will ever be selected to the Orthodox religion. I am wondering if I am worthy. The anxiety and the mess up of Communion.
    My anxiety is another factor. However I will say that it has gotten better since I started going to church and especially speaking with the priest. He is absolutely wonderful and I am very comfortable talking to him.
    Any help or suggestion you have would be so appreciated. Also when you line up after mass to kiss the crucifix and kiss the priest hand what do you say to the priest if anything. And finally do any of you think I should open up to the group of the difficulty I have had in the three years since the death of my dear Greek friend? Not married and other and the mix up of Chrismation. It is hard for me to talk to groups but I want to become Orthodox and I need to get on with it. I think the priest is not satisfied that I am so quiet.
    Your help would be so appreciated.
    Thank you all

  3. I FEEL very differently from you. I am a new Catechumen and to be honest, coffee hour is something I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t skip entirely. I’ve had massive social anxiety issues since childhood and so the transition from the stately spiritual worship and peace and heavenliness of the liturgy to the crowded noise and the “yep, America this still is after all” of coffee hour, almost feels like someone just died. Or maybe it’s a little part of ME that dies when it happens.

    Everyone at my parish says that it’s due to the fellowship hall being a former garage (amplifies noise too much) but I know better than to think that’s the root of the issue. The issue is that coffee hour is something a lot of outgoing adults and especially children look forward to, and run to right after receiving the Body and Blood, but it isn’t NECESSARY. I’m embracing Orthodoxy to be sanctified and saved, to live out Christ’s commandments. Coffee hour isn’t a liturgy, it’s not an hour of prayer, it’s not a charity or selfless service opportunity, it’s doesn’t involve a Holy Mystery, and it isn’t a Vespers (which I already go to) or a Bible Study (which I also go to), and you know what? It’s not even a very good place to buy Orthodox books (websites trump that many times over). And to top it all off, the people I would most like to talk to about holy things more one-on-one, are going to actually come to the Vespers and the Bible Studies when they are able, not just turn up on a rare Sunday cause, y’know, otherwise they don’t feel like it or whatevs (UGH). So what’s left is me saying I still need to be there, because I shouldn’t isolate myself from the flesh and blood members of the community that are there, because your least favorite environment builds your spiritual fortitude and capacity to forgive. But…. I dunno.

    I guess this is something I need to take with a massive dose of acceptance for human weakness, the way things are. Maybe God has in store for me a meeting with a marriageable Orthodox girl at my parish yet (probably NOT at the Coffee Hour), or maybe that isn’t my role, and I need to be tonsured a monk. I shall see.

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