March 26, 2015

When We Go Out, They Come In

When we go out, they come in. It seems like too simple a formula. But it’s by far the closest to a sure bet that I’ve seen in parish ministry. It sure beats, “If we build it, they will come,” which I have heard an awful lot of times as church-building advice.

Probably worth remembering that “If you build it…” is a quote from a 1980s baseball fantasy movie, not the Bible or any other source that even purports to hold holy truth.

I just counted up the number of times that we have “gotten out there” from St. Mary’s in the last year. By that I mean some sort of public demonstration of faith or public liturgy that involved leaving church building (and usually the church property).

Here’s the list in the last twelve months:

Palm Sunday
Palms and Oaxacan band music around the block

Good Friday
2 ½ mile walk with Stations of the Cross, band music, singing and Big Jesus on the back of a truck

Feast of St. Christopher
Patron saint for a group of our parishioners and neighbors celebrated with band music, incense, procession led by the image of St. Cris, giant puppets, dancers, lots of good and loud all-day festivity

A few lively folks in full costume giving out treats to the neighborhood kids; not terribly liturgical, but very popular nonetheless

All Saints Sunday
Mass in our church courtyard with band music and a traditional outdoor Day of the Dead Altar

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe
Lots of Christmas lights and a mariachi serenade and a procession with everyone carrying roses and images of Guadalupe from their homes

Around the block with candles and singing, karaoke in the parish hall with the door open, more Christmas lights

Ash Wednesday
Just two lady priests in cassocks, offering ashes to the after-school crowd

Bishop’s Visit
Around the church property with band music and incense to bless the sites of our ministry, including community gardens, preschool, basketball court in the parking lot, intern house, parish hall and kitchen

Now we’re getting ready for Palm Sunday again!

When I look back over this year of being “out there,” I realize that every single time, we had contact with someone new. Maybe someone who didn’t know the church was there, or hadn’t had the courage to come inside, or had questions about what it meant to be an Episcopal Church, maybe just looky-loos or people with too much time on their hands. Compared to anything else we do, getting out there gets us in touch with more new people than anything we could possibly build on the inside.

Do you get out there? Do people ever see or hear or smell you being church outside the walls of your sanctuary? If not, how do they know you’re in there? Can you pick two or three times a year when you might be “out there”... times and ways of being public that would fit with your community’s traditions and interests and needs?

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