31 days: name tags

Have you ever stopped to think about the importance of a name tag? I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t until I arrived in Mayfield, KY. Once I got here and it was forever cemented in my brain that I didn’t know anyone here (minus the few folks we’d met from the PNC – Pastoral Nominating Committee, aka search committee), I realized that I really appreciate the name tag.

I’ve always had one for work, since most of my jobs have been in higher education. We wear them when we go out and meet new students. We wear them when we host events on campus. We wear them when we interact with employers. We wear them when we have “official University business” to which we’re attending. We wear them to let people know who we are and from where we come; or who we represent.

The last two churches I served had name tags for the members, and most of them wore them regularly. As church staff, when I was supervisor over other staff members, I required them to wear their name tags for the sake of good customer service. Especially when your job happens to be childcare. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a congregation wearing name tags on a regular basis, until I arrived in Mayfield, KY.

Now, I’m all for the name tag.

Being new is hard enough. Being new AND being the preacher’s wife makes things very hard. I’ve noticed that there is an automatic expectation that I know exactly who people are after one brief encounter. And that’s a pretty tall order for a new person, especially when they only see you once a week for an hour or so during worship. And it’s an especially tall order for someone who is brand new to the area and is still learning her way around.

To me, name tags represent hospitality. It’s a way of saying, “Hi, I’m so glad to meet you. I know you won’t remember my name from my quick introduction, so here…let me help you a bit.” It’s recognizing that the other person might need a little assistance, and it’s being willing to put your pride aside so that they can learn who you are hopefully a bit faster so that you two can move into relationship rather than just being acquaintances.

There is a saying that 11:00-12:00 on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour of the week. I think this is true, sadly. We get so used to our “traditions” that we find it hard to break out of the mold for the sake of another. We care more about our comfort and our own needs than we do about welcoming the stranger and making them feel as at home as we do during that hour. Honestly, how many times have you walked into a church and gotten “the stare” or felt uncomfortable because you inadvertently picked the wrong pew…you picked someone else’s pew for worship…how dare you!

My childhood church had name tags for our Wednesday night program; I remember because my dad built the name tag rack for the fellowship hall. I don’t remember people wearing the name tags on Sunday mornings, but because we wore them on Wednesdays, we knew who people were…even in a church of over 1,000 members. It felt like home. And as I sit and type this, I am realizing how inconsiderate we were to the outsider. WE were home, but they were visiting…did we do our best to welcome them and make them feel at home in our church home? Did we show them enough love?

Between this call and leaving our other churches where we served, we attended a church that is all about anonymity. This is a good thing if you’re NOT trying to do ministry with the congregation. If you want to just show up, worship and leave, there is no need for a name tag. Most people at the church do just this, and they bring their friends who want that very kind of worship experience, and they all sit together. Having come from working in a church for a very long time and knowing that’s where we were headed in the short future, it was a nice change of pace to “just be” for a bit. No worries about making relationships with anyone outside of our group we already knew that worshipped there. It was wonderful.

But sad, at the same time.

Now that I’m in a place where I don’t know anyone, I long for relationships. And I can’t move past mere formalities if I don’t know who you are. My husband knows the congregation, but he’s out visiting with them regularly, working in the office with them, attending Session meetings with them, and all of the other varied and sundry activities that come with being the Pastor. I, however, am not the Pastor. And the Pastor is not always around me to help me remember the congregation members when we run into each other or when I am approached on Sunday mornings. He’s busy doing the Pastor stuff, and I’m left trying to remember…what was your name again? After all, it’s hard to get to know new people when my primary job is being at home caring for our son, and my other work takes place in the home, too.

So, needless to say, I have a new-found appreciation for the name tag. I see it as a way of stepping outside of ourselves and loving, even in just a small way, the newcomer, the visitor, the unfamiliar face that we see in our congregation on Sunday mornings. Name tags allow us to break down an odd barrier that exists; embarrassment over not remembering a name.

I’d also like to see us use name tags to help us remember who we are, not just to which church we belong. Most business name tags say our name, then below, our title. How neat would it be if we all chose to wear a name tag on Sundays that stated our name and just below it, our title…”Child of God” or “Servant of God” or “Disciple.”

How would wearing our title with our name help us to shape our ministry?

Hello, my name is:
Katie
Servant of God

5 thoughts on “31 days: name tags

  1. As the Associate Pastor’s wife and mother of three… prayers. I look forward to reading your story this month. My husband just returned to church ministry in June and I hate that feeling of not knowing who people are. At the moment I am focusing on learning the kids and parents in the nursery with my own children.

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    1. Thank you for the prayers! I am not sending my son to the nursery right now for a number of reasons, and since we one of 2 families with babies, my pool there is small. It’s a small church, but it’s still hard for me.

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      1. That is hard when there aren’t many children your kids’ age. I experienced that with the church we were at with our first baby. It took forever before I would put her in the nursery. (That and I learned that people didn’t mind me dancing a little in church if I had a baby in my arms. Standing still during hymns is not my gift.)

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  2. Oh, and I should caveat that nothing I write is advice. Your posts have just touched me to actually comment (a rarity for me) and share my story as well.

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