We spend a lot of time with the Amish in our area, driving them around and otherwise providing services to them. Hopefully that is going to expand very soon, more on that later. Even in our area where there are lots of Amish, numbering in the thousands, most places find them still in the minority. When we take them to the store or a doctor's office, even in places like Grabill that have tons of Amish, they stand out a bit among the "English". I generally don't notice it because I "fit in" in English clothes but it is definitely there.
Last night was a different story. We took some friends to an auction in Shipshewana, a town in LaGrange county Indiana that can only be described as an Amish tourist trap. There were several hundred people there and 95% of them were Amish from all over the area. This part of Indiana is home to the third largest community of Amish in the world so the volume of Amish buggies, Amish on bikes and Amish walking along the street is staggering. For us it was a very different experience as we were in the tiny minority. It was easy to recognize other English people but next to impossible to pick out specific Amish in the sea of black coats and white bonnets. We have been settings like this before but it is still jarring and never on this scale. You can't help feeling weird and out of place wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. Even my wife wearing a long dress and a head-covering was clearly out of place.
I thought back this morning to my early days in the church after coming to faith in Christ. We were an oddity in our Kentucky Southern Baptist church, a large family with five young children who had just left mormonism. We were something of a sideshow attraction. Nothing gets attention at a typical evangelical church like a family with a bunch of little kids, especially when they came from a mysterious cult. Looking back at that I wonder, do we recognize this when new people without a "Christian background" come to our gatherings? I am not saying that you need to change to look and act like the world to make people comfortable but are we at least aware of how jarring that can be and what a barrier to fellowship and discipleship it can be to be an outsider who doesn't fit in? It can be pretty easy for me to go somewhere different, I can go to a Sunday school class and jump into almost any conversation with ease. I know how to dress and how to talk the religious talk. I can fit in, although I choose not to. It isn't as easy for others who want to follow God but don't know how that looks and aren't experienced enough to recognize the difference between religious mumbo-jumbo and actual edifying teaching. Even in largely orthodox gatherings, we must be aware of our tendency to speak in a secretive lingo and engage in confusing behavior. I fear that many new brothers and sisters miss the fellowship of the church because they don't know how to fit in.
It is a fine line like so many other tangible aspects of the faith. We must be separate from the world while not being unwelcoming to others. We have to avoid straying into our religious fortresses to keep the world out and we also have to avoid being indistinguishable from the world in order to be welcoming. The best advice I can give myself as well as others is to never get so caught up in what we want that we miss what others feel. Hospitality is an integral aspect of the Kingdom community, not just for those who look, talk and think like us but just as much (or more) for the stranger and sojourner among us.
At some point we will all be that English guy in a barn full of Amish in our church gatherings. Remember how that can be disconcerting and remember as well that a friendly smile and a warm greeting can go a long way to making others feel welcome.