By John Lawson of Holy Trinity Welcoming Team
Last September I became a ‘Welcomer’ at Holy Trinity Church. Of all the jobs I’ve had it has the easiest job title to understand. I stand at the main door of the church and ‘welcome’ people who visit us.
All the welcomers are volunteers and everyday (except Mondays) between eleven and three o’clock there are welcomers at the door. Three people for each two hour slot; two on the door and one person at the counter of the church shop. Each three is a small team and I’m sure each team thinks that they do the best job of welcoming at Holy Trinity Church. Is there still the sin of pride? Well, I think the welcomers would admit to it; we are proud to welcome people in and show them the amazing place that Holy Trinity is.
When I started as a welcomer I received training in the form of a tour of the church with the Churchwarden telling me about the history of the building. Over seven hundred years is a long stretch to cover and I suppose all the welcomers have their own favourite objects in the church that they are keen to point out to visitors. It might be that art nouveau window designed by Walter Crane with the alarmingly vibrant colours. Or the small carving of George Peck on the pews in the north aisle. Peck carved the intricate pew ‘poppy heads’ and armrests in the 1840s. In amongst snakes and gargoyle faces he created his own likeness lounging at ease playing a fiddle on an armrest, it has prime position to see what is happening in the rest of the nave; a Victorian wooden ‘selfie’. Or the seven ‘Mousey’ Thompson mice scattered around the church. Although I’ll admit I can only ever remember where five are and three of those are on the door at the south aisle.
Some of it you discover later. Little titbits of information that enthral. For example, that the huge cradle holding the church bells is set at an angle to the walls so forces created by the ringing are sent into the corners of the tower. This way the tower can absorb the great forces the bells create without the walls bulging. A vital engineering problem worked out years before computers could model what would happen. Or discovering the central part of the transept roof can be removed and bells lowered or raised through it for installing or repair. Like that joke about Ernie Wise’s wig: I’ve looked for the join and I can’t see it. My favourite ‘secrets’ of the church, though, are the kneelers tucked underneath the pews. No one ever seems to look at them, too engrossed in the fantastic creatures George carved in his pews. But if you do look at them they are dazzlingly varied; like Holy Trinity’s version of Galapagos finches. Some of them are works of art in their own right. Embroidered to represent different local groups or organisations. Probably many now defunct. My favourite from all the varieties? The one depicting the Hull Daily Mail, complete with crossword puzzle square.
Most of the people that come through the doors are visiting to enjoy the church and its history. From Pennsylvania to Pécs people visit us from all over the world. Local people too, of course. During the time I’ve been welcoming I’ve met a couple returning on their 60th wedding anniversary to the church they were married in; recreating that original walk down the aisle. I’m always slightly surprised when local people visit and say that they have lived in Hull all their lives but this is the first time they have been inside Holy Trinity. That should be a target for 2017: to get every person in Hull to visit Holy Trinity at least once in that year.
Welcoming people who are coming as tourists to see the church is the easiest part of the welcomers’ role. The one I am nervous of are those times people turn up because of some urgent need that has sent them to the church for help and comfort. You soon begin to develop a sense for those who do not want to look at stained glass windows or find ‘Mousey’ Thompson’s mice. Some of it is easily dealt with; they want to know how to get their child baptised or are planning a wedding. Others you realise need help beyond what you are able to give in a quick chat at the church door. Surprisingly, although it shouldn’t be a surprise, I have always found someone who can help point them in the right direction; even if only to arrange appointments for help or guide them to another organisation that can give the right support.
Mostly welcomers are the first point of contact a person visiting Holy Trinity has; so we are keen to make that first encounter a special welcome. As in all organisations now we get feedback from our ‘customers’. Even Trip Advisor rates Holy Trinity as a place to visit and the welcomers get a specific mention in several of the comments people have posted. We have a certificate at the church door to prove how highly Trip Advisor rated us! Although I’m at a loss to see what more might be offered to get a full five stars rating given that it is free to enter; costs nothing to take photographs; visitors get a free information leaflet; there are magnificent stained glass windows and memorials; the church illustrates over 700 years of Hull’s history; there are often free exhibitions; plus welcomers happily take visitors round and tell them about the church if people want them to. But at least we have been given a target to aim for.
So how do you become a welcomer? Well, I saw a post on the church’s Twitter account and applied from there. Nothing too onerous, although there was an interview and an application form to fill in; plus the usual safeguarding checks. What qualities do you need? It’s almost like that job description the children in Mary Poppins sing when they are looking for a new nanny. Being kind, helpful and interested in people is a good start. Do you need to be involved with the church? Not necessarily. Many welcomers are, but not all. Each welcomer brings their own distinct outlook to the role. One of the things I’ve discovered about Holy Trinity is that it is a kind community that accepts people and wants to involve them. Perhaps the most important part of the role is being prepared to offer the time it takes up on a regular basis; two hours is all you need to offer. Once you have made that commitment the rest is easy.