I would like to start a conversation with you…actually, with as many of you as possible. You see, I am new to East Shore, and in fact new to the PNW. I came from a beloved UU community in White Plains, NY, where I was active for 27 years. That was the hardest thing to leave behind, but my kids and grandkids beckoned. I started attending services in December, and was just starting to have conversations, make connections, and understand and integrate into the community when COVID struck.
As those of you who have met me know, I am not shy, nor reluctant to show up or speak up. But that only takes me halfway. I stopped going to coffee hour after services because, with a few exceptions (thank you Aisha, Amanda, Maury, Ann and Bill), no one engaged me. Please don’t take that as a criticism of your culture: I was a member of the Welcoming Committee at my previous congregation, and believe me it was the same. I, too, enjoyed using that time to chat with friends or take care of congregational business. Now, of course, I am seeing it from the other side, and I know that we can do better. (One suggestion: move coffee hour out of that tight, distant space into the lobby, where people are captured as they leave the sanctuary.)
CONVERSATION STARTER #1: What do you see as the function of coffee hour? Do you ever engage new people, or anyone standing by themselves? What was your experience as a newcomer? Do you have other ideas for greeting or integrating newcomers?
I know I need to do more than show up for Sunday services to connect with people. I had attended groups before the shut down, and have continued to do so via Zoom. As a newcomer I am actually finding that format more comfortable. I’m sure much will be written about Zoom’s value in these times, but here are a few of my observations:
- It’s easier to show up – there are no excuses like bad weather, car trouble, babysitters, running late, or just being shy about walking into a room of strangers;
- It’s easier to leave if the meeting is not for you – a click is far less obvious than walking out of a room, and knowing that makes it easier to attend;
- Like everyone else, I am less busy, and craving ways to fill my days and connect with other humans, and am therefore more likely to go outside of my comfort zone and show up in new contexts;
- There are names associated with the faces on screen, which is so helpful for newbies (I frequently check names in the directory to see family structure and location);
- It’s easier to just observe and not participate on Zoom, whereas that feels more awkward in person, and this gives me a chance, in the beginning, to sit back and learn about the history, culture and players – so important for a newcomer;
- I can send private messages to connect with an individual in the Zoom group, which is easier and entails less fear of rejection than trying to catch someone on the way out of an in-person meeting;
- Everyone has equal presence on Zoom – as in all communities, there are those who take up an inordinate amount of a room’s oxygen, which is better controlled and less obvious in this format;
- Cliques and interpersonal connections aren’t as visible in this format, which can be off-putting to a newcomer;
- You really do get to know people through Zoom meetings, and they get to know you. You will recognize each other’s faces and names, and remember things you learned about each other, when you meet up face to face.
Of course, there is much Zoom shuts out: the tastes and smells, the connections between other attendees, the body language, the wardrobe conversation-starter opportunities, the impromptu small group chats and introductions, the uncomfortable chairs, the building and its symbolism, the long walk up the stairs, the rituals and their props, the harmony of singing together, the warm handshake (which may be a thing of the past).
CONVERSATION STARTER #2: If you are also new, how do you feel the Zoom format is working for you? If you have been in this community for a while, have you found some advantages too? What are you missing? Do you have ideas for how to add some of what’s missing into the Zoom format?
If you need help with Zoom, contact Nicole Duff, our Membership Development Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have had several hour-long phone conversations with people as follow ups to Zoom meetings. It occurs to me that they are replacing impromptu chats after services or meetings, but with real advantages: they have longer time limits, as we are not running off somewhere else, or home, and they are not as likely to get interrupted by another chatter seeking attention. Our talks have always veered off from the congregational business at hand, and I feel I have made some real connections. This has been a surprising joy in this era of texts and busyness.
CONVERSATION STARTER #3: Have you found yourself having more and longer conversations with other ESUC folk? Have you made new or deeper connections?
CONVERSATION STARTER #4: What have we learned by being in community in these ways? Has your concept of community changed? How do we carry these connections, commitments and channels forward when we are back on campus? What have we found that we have been missing or could do better?
I have a fantasy: On the first day of live services, we each get a sheet of sticker dots on which we write our initials. Then, we all go around the room pinning them on new acquaintances and better friends. I am really looking forward to that polka-dotted spectacle!