Several years ago, I lived in a small town with no Unitarian Church. There were two bigger churches in bigger towns in opposite directions from one another. Usually church shopping takes me a very long time.
This time, it didn't.
The first church I went to seemed initially more promising. It was bigger, with a better young adult program and a really good minister.
They were so nice over there. A little too nice. As I remember the visit, multiple people came up and talked to me with great enthusiasm. (Actually, getting people to talk to me has almost never been an issue at any church I've visited. I guess I just look like a Unitarian.) I mentioned that I was also considering the second church and one lady whispered "Oh, you don't want to go there. They have *problems* there."
At least one person hugged me. (CC is not a hugger of strangers. CC has that WASPy who-are-you-and-why-are-you-touching-me thing. Which is not to say that she doesn't basically go along when hugged.)
I sat alone, which was something of a relief. At the first UU church I ever visited, an old lady insisted on sitting with me, telling me she had to spy on me during the hymns to see if I would be a good addition to the choir. That was charming then, but I wouldn't have appreciated it on the morning some years later that I visited the first church.
Probably the final nail in that church's coffin was during the Oprah-style joys and concerns when a perky young hippie stood up and was allowed to go on quite a bit about how proud she was of herself for completing a paganism course on the internet. The audience clapped and cheered.
We're cheering for a paganism course on the internet? I was out of there. (Item: I've grown a lot cooler with pagans since then, sort of ironic because the next minister I would have was a pagan who would talk from the pulpit about how pagans were going to take over UUism. But I'm still not a big fan of hippies.)
Anyway, I went to the second church, which did indeed have *problems.* My first Sunday, I asked around after church if some people wanted to go to lunch. I ended up eating with a sweet-tempered Schizophrenic and a guy who said that marijuana and the love of a good woman had cured his mental illnesses and he was running for governor. His good woman came too.
Needless to say, I felt right at home.
At the end of lunch, the schizophrenic looks at me with doe eyes and says,
"You're coming back next Sunday, aren't you? It's mental illness Sunday and I'm going to sing."
Like I could say "no' to that?
Mental illness Sunday turned out to be a lay service that absolutely defied description, though the Schizophrenic's rendition of "Still Crazy after All these years" literally brought tears to my eyes. But that Sunday, an older chap who had been out of town the previous week greeted me at the door and told me all about the church, encouraging me to come to the humanist discussion group.
He'd gotten his PhD in Linguistics.
I would still be going to that church if I hadn't moved. It was great. I still go back every Christmas as it is close to where TheCSO's parents live. And, of course, Linguist Friend and I are still close amigos.
Item: Some months later, I would mention my experience at the first church to some of my new friends from the humanist discussion group. They all were mildly insulted and twittered at me that I shouldn't dare insult the first church as its members were wonderful people and its minister was a great guy.
I don't think there's a fine line between being welcoming and being too damn extroverted, I think there is a wide band. But a church can cross it.
I think this story mostly came to mind because I read some really good posts that The Wild hunt linked to about an internet paganism course called Witch School. Apparently, at least the Pagan Jason links to who wrote a thoguhtful review of WitchSchool found it quite lacking in intellectual content.
Judging by the pagan's description, I strongly suspect that was the course the hippie was so pleased to complete these many years ago.