Sunday, November 10, 2013

the welcoming church.

When we lived in NZ, our faith and church family were paramount to us. Not that they aren't now, but when we were foreigners moving to a new land, finding that 'connection' was of utmost importance. I'm a homebody by nature, and had you seen the way I- a grown, married professional- embraced my mommy sobbing as we were ready to head through security before flying to NZ, you would gain some perspective as to how vital it was for us to find a place to belong. Like, ASAP.

Before leaving for our Kiwi adventure, Lowell researched churches in the area that we would be living/working near. We contacted a church that stood out to us- Northwest Baptist Church- and were put in contact with Pastor Andrew, who was in charge of pastoral care. We exchanged detailed emails about family and life with one another, and he kindly extended an offer to not only pick us up from the airport, but to stay at his home until we found something more permanent. We knew the moment we had spotted him at the Auckland airport that we had hit the jackpot. His face radiated genuine kindness and was plastered with a huge, warm, welcoming grin. He wasted no time to take us on a little tour, and we were just thrilled with his excitable conversation and amazing accent (love the kiwi accent). Before long, he brought us to his home to meet his equally kind and genuine wife, Kay. They enfolded us, brought us to church, introduced us to their friends and family, and even introduced us to the place that we would call home for the next several months- a quaint cottage in Kumeu, Auckland (yes, that is why our dog is named Kumeu!).

Chillin with Andrew & Kay and two of their kids: Josh & Joanna.

At the church, we were introduced to Libby who hastily invited us to her home group. We eagerly accepted the invitation, and several friendships were born. We invested in many relationships, and Thursday evenings became our favourite times as that's when we would meet with our new friends. On the weekends that we weren't gallivanting up and down the mouthwateringly beautiful countryside, we were also welcome to spend time with them (as well as, of course, attending church!). Heck, the gals even threw me a surprise birthday party- complete with flowers and mini sandwiches (my fave)!

Lance & Natalie invited us to spend Christmas with Nat's family, and MORE lifelong bonds were built. Nat's parents became ANOTHER set of New Zealand parents to us: Mama & Papa Gw.

 Imagine that... in a brand new country with NO blood relatives, and we managed to snag not one but TWO sets of adoptive parents. We embraced these relationships, and Lance & Nat even joined us for a week while we were in Australia.

Lance & Nat had never been out of NZ, so we made sure to give them a super Ozzy Awesome welcome to Oz!

Just a tiny piece of evidence that we had a lot of fun together. Like, a lot.

People at work also took special care to befriend me even though they knew I would only be there temporarily, and that meant the WORLD to me. All of these people have left lasting marks on us, and we can't talk about NZ without including the PEOPLE. Yes, NZ is a beautiful country filled with adventure and fun, but it really truly was the people that we fell in love with. (And also the kiwifruit chocolate.) We often say that if we hated our families and money (wages left a little something to be desired), we would have stayed there permanently.


Fiona is one of those special friends that meant so much to me. Her door was always open for coffee and conversation, and I LOVED those moments with her. Fiona, Michael and their kidlets moved to the States, and now they're in the process of relocating to Australia. They have been on both the giving and receiving end of church reception.... and they've seen it all- the good, the bad, and the ugly. As such, Fiona has some wise words for church-goers and ways they can make newcomers feel welcome.

Here in Lethy, we don't go to a mega church, but it's a big enough church that you don't always know who is new and who has been there for 25 years, so the greeting thing is fairly important. I can not tell a lie, though. Because of Lowell's limited vision, we dread (like, dread) the greeting part of the service. You know, the part where you turn to those around you and welcome them.  The thing is that the lighting is often low (which means Lowell sees nothin... like, natta), and I'm pulling double duty- trying to genuinely greet those around me WHILST guiding Lowell's hand towards someone's outstretched hand, whispering to him which direction to face, and generally trying to make it all feel like a natural/normal interaction. What? No visual impairment to see here (ha)! So despite the angst that this time stirs up in us, we try... we really do!

I'm just going to go right ahead and link to Fiona's post here. Keeping in mind that it was the Fionas of this world that kept me SANE in NZ... I'd heed her advice. Right here. Well said, Fi, well, said. :)

PS- MAN I miss NZ. And by that, I mean yes... the people. And also the chocolate.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Moving post Julie. Dad and I had the privilege of being included by both your adoptive families and some of your friends in the short time we visited you in Kumeu. Heavenly to be valued and loved by them.

Thank you for including Fiona's insightful, experienced blog. Thanks Fiona! Such healthy, wise, useful tips for genuine, heartfelt welcomes. :)