People have asked why I love Disney so much and there is a very easy answer to that. I have many good memories that feature Disney as a part of them. Whether it was going to a drive-in movie to see “Snow White” when I was four or taking the Princess on Matterhorn for the first time, there is so much joy in my life that is associated with Disney. Disney is not the only thing that brings me joy. I have lots of wonderful camping memories too, but camping doesn’t have the media presence of the Disney Corporation so this is not a camping blog. So I decided to ask the family what their favorite memories are. We are starting (of course) with The Princess.
Now you have to know that The Princess was the perfect Disney kid. She was cute, highly enthusiastic, and unfailingly polite. You would be surprised how far that will get you not only in a Disney park, but in life. As a result we have had plenty of wonderful experiences in the parks as a family. So when I asked her to pick her favorite Disney memory, she had a lot to choose from. What she went with was her actual Magical Moment experience.
When we were at the Park with The Princess’ dance team, we had a very odd schedule. Between practices, performance, and workshop we were all tired and off kilter, but our last night in the park several of us decided to stay up late. All the dads went to bed and a group of 6 of us were going to meet up in front of Space Mountain. We had gone back to the hotel room to get jackets and got back to the park as people were gathering for the firework show. We decided to skip the show, even though we loved it so that we wouldn’t be late for our people and instead of trying to get through the crowd we hopped on the train and rode around to Tomorrowland. We got there in enough time to catch the firework side view and still be early.
As we were watching, The Princess noticed a cast member with a pin lanyard. Pins trump pretty much everything, so she walked over and asked to look at the pins. The cast member had noticed us watching the show and asked if we had seen Dumbo yet. We were confused so she told us to watch a particular tree which Dumbo (bright blue and shiny) flew out of and over the audience. We were delighted and may have even clapped and cheered just a little. The cast member smiled and said, “We just shared a magical moment.” We agreed and thanked her whole heartedly. She introduced herself as Wendy and asked if could wait where we were for just a minute, she needed to talk to her manager. We waited and two of our group showed up. Wendy came back and informed us that it was her job to make sure that guests had special experiences while they were visiting and then asked The Princess if she had ridden Finding Nemo yet. The answer was no because the line had been terrible all day. Wendy said she would love to take The Princess to the front of the line so she could experience the ride. She also said that our two friends could go with us.
So off we went with Wendy, who asked the girls (who were wearing their dance jackets) about their visit and their performance as the other mom and I brought up the rear. We got to Nemo where Wendy introduced us as ‘special guests’ and handed us over to the ride operator who put us into a submarine and sent us on our way. The Finding Nemo ride has never been cooler.
When I asked The Princess why that was her favorite memory, she replied that is was something that was all about her. Lots of cool things happen at Disneyland, but that one thing was something that only she got to do. She felt special and cared about for herself: the dancing, firework watching, pin collecting, Disneyland loving person that she was and is. It was a Magical Moment that was all hers and she got to choose to share it with family and friends.
As I thought about what this meant I began to think about people who visit churches. Churches are very mindful of visitors. We like it when people visit. It means that they might come back, they might be regular attenders, they might join the church, join a committee, volunteer, and of course pledge. Churches love visitors. We have a multitude of books and programs that teach us how to be welcoming to our visitors. We need a multitude of books and programs to teach us how to be welcoming, because we aren’t. When people are asked why they do not return to churches they have visited, they reply very often that they did not feel welcome.
Churches tend not to really make people feel special. They are looking for people who fit a particular mode. Someone who doesn’t fit the church mold isn’t welcomed simply because the church doesn’t know how to welcome someone who is different. How do you welcome someone who doesn’t want to sit in the same pew every week? How do you welcome someone who had questions and wants to raise their hand during the sermon? How do you welcome someone who is unmarried or childless or unemployed or a host of other things that set them apart from the people down the pew? The answer is as simple as it is difficult. You make them feel special. We have not been taught as a Church to celebrate differences just to seek conformity. We have taught to believe that being of ‘one heart and mind’ is preferable to reflecting the diversity of creation. But what if we tried something different?
What if, instead of handing people hymnals and making sure they knew where the restroom was we worked to have a magical moment? How would people react when they visited our churches if we actually connected with them and seemed truly pleased to have spent time with them? Would it make a difference? I have to believe that it would. I believe that if we could set aside our expectations and just make a real connection with the person next to us, we wouldn’t have to learn how to be ‘welcoming’ we would just welcome people.