Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

How to Welcome Folks to the Hall  

(see also Orientation to Zazen Instructions)

Why be welcoming?

There are many reasons to be welcoming to new folks. First, it is just plain nice and polite to greet someone adventurous enough to walk into a new place for the first time. Second, it helps new folks to feel a measure of comfort in experiencing the dharma for the first time. The human brain is more receptive to new thoughts if it isn't stressed out about the technical aspects of being in the zendo. Third, it is good practice to share the dharma skillfully. Fourth, one of the goals the sangha expressed in our recent reorganization is to improve outreach.

Please note that not all of the following is always done in welcoming a person. It depends on how much time is available to you and the new person, and how much interest the new person has. Also, this list is not necessarily in the time order in which things should be done. If I have a lot of time before service begins, I get more welcome things done before service. Anything that is done to make a person feel welcome is great.

Things to do for welcome:

  1. Put out the sandwich board sign on the front "lawn". It is easier for a new person to walk in to a building that they know is open.
  2. Move the lobby table out from the wall and place the practice discussion and the email sign up clipboards there, along with the description of the service being offered. People see that and think, "Oh, good, there's information here".
  3. If you have signed up to be the welcome person for that service, show up a bit early (15-30 minutes prior to service) and hang out in the lobby and greet folks (new and not new!).

If a person comes in you do not recognize, here are some things you can say:

  • Hi, I'm…insert name here….and you are?
  • Is this your first time here?
  • Are you new to meditation?
  • Have you meditated before?
  • Are you familiar with Zen meditation?
  • I can show you a few things about our hall and about our practice before service begins, would you like that? How can I help you?

(Note that it might be better not to use words that are unfamiliar to the average American like "zazen" and "zendo". Also, not all new folks who enter the hall do so to practice Zen. Most are just curious about meditation. So, it is perhaps best not to lay the "Zen heavy" on them. Assume that they have seen only a few pictures of folks in the full lotus, and know nothing much else.)

If they are new, and need/want an orientation, start in right away, making sure you observe how much time you have before service begins so you know how much detail to provide at this time.

Topics to Cover in Orientation

Here are some things you might consider covering, if you have a lot of time. (Note: in the handout rack in the library there are more detailed instructions on giving both a 25 minute and 10 minute orientation)

  • Entering hall (zendo)
  • Bowing while standing (gassho)
  • How to meditate: postures, ways to sit, meditation in a chair, meditation with a bench. Do the best you can with this. It doesn't have to be perfect. Your job is to make them feel comfortable that they can join in without feeling lost or out of place.
  • What to expect for the service: how long is meditation? When will I know it is over? How many periods of meditation? What do you mean by "a service follows"?
  • Walking meditation
  • Bells
  • Chanting
  • Full bows (how to do this, and make it clear that they are optional—can be done as standing gassho).

You might say once or twice that these are rituals we use in our practice that new folks are not expected to execute perfectly, and that it is ok to watch and imitate as best they can.

The short version of orientation if you have very little time before service: Make sure they know how to sit meditation (cushion, chair, bench, posture, no need for full lotus), what to expect of the service, a quick bowing demo, and a statement about feel free to watch and imitate and not feel bad about "getting it wrong".

After Service

  • Greet people who have received orientation and ask if they have any questions. Respond to questions the best you can. Or, ask another member to help you respond.
  • Show them the library and invite them to check out books/cd's. If you can, show them basic meditation books.
  • Invite them to put their name and email on the clipboard in the lobby.
  • Offer them a Welcome CD, and explain what it is and that it has contact information on the cover.
  • Remind them of your name, and introduce them to one or two other members if at all possible.
  • Remind them that we offer many sitting times. It is also appropriate to tell them about the BIMS group.
  • For gold star performance, ask them what brought them to the hall. Keep mental notes to share (email, phone, whatever) with the Welcome Workgroup Chief.
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