September 25, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

The divine in me bows to the divine in you.”

Perhaps you’ve spoken these words at the end of a yoga class.

Usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, with palms touching and fingers pointing upwards. Thumbs are held close to the chest. Namaste is a respectful form of greeting, welcoming, and acknowledging another. 

Recently, I experienced this word as a cudgel.

During our noontime walk and sensing we were about to be overtaken by someone, my friend and I stepped aside. As he passed, the younger man turned, brought hands together, bowed, and said “Namaste.” I smiled at this unexpected greeting, before responding “Namaste,” expecting him to continue down the path.

What happened next caught me off guard. (Perhaps because we did not bow or raise our hands?) Turning, he challenged us, “Do you even know what Namaste means?” Startled more by his tone than the question, a jumbled response tumbled out of our mouths. “You’re wrong,” he thundered, lecturing us on the ‘proper definition,’ before continuing on his way.

Tone matters. Actions matter. When there’s a disconnect between the two – as my friend and I experienced – it can leave you stunned; wondering, “what just happened?”

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Topics: Hospitality
September 15, 2015 by Richelle Thompson

We stood in the drizzling rain, some huddled under umbrellas, others with water darting down glasses and dripping off noses. There wasn’t a football game or concert to keep us from escaping to the dry indoors. Instead the magnet was a desire for community.   

For two hours, the rain fell, off and on, and still people came—and stayed. The kids played ga-ga, a dodgeball-type game that has nothing to do with the Lady. They rode their bikes in the street, which was closed for the event, and played Capture the Flag as night fell.   

The adults stood in clusters, various drinks in one hand, scrumptious potluck offerings in another. And we talked and laughed. Met new people and reconnected with old ones.   

It was a great neighborhood block party.   

One of the women I met was new to the area. As we talked throughout the evening, she shared her longing. I just want some friends, she said. It’s hard to meet people when you’re working and new to a community. I want somebody to take a walk with or to sit on a porch and catch up on the week. I want to feel like I belong.   

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Topics: Hospitality
September 7, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

The wheelchair broke. That was why she was stuck inside the access-a-ride minibus outside our church. Her only choices were to wait for someone to come and repair it, or to return to the assisted living home. It was a Monday evening at St. Lydia’s and we began the service as she, a member of the church, was stranded in a minibus. We could see her through the glass door.

As we were about to pass around the bread during communion, which we do at the start of the service, Emily Scott, the pastor, had an idea. As we sang the refrain of “Glory to you, forever and ever,” we crossed the street and filed into the bus, more than 20 of us.

We sang and we passed the bread from one hand to another in the cramped space. The driver looked slightly perturbed as we all piled in, but she offered us a “God bless you all” after communion as we were returning to the church.

It is in moments like this, when we leave the comfort of our space, that we best follow the example of Jesus. Just as when we, a mostly white congregation, march with those who know that black lives matter, and when we join those who fight for a living wage. Doing this well, we should not forget, requires a lot of listening so we actually know where people are and what they need (and don’t need) from us.

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Topics: Hospitality
June 30, 2015 by Richelle Thompson

Thousands of people from across the United States have hunkered down in Salt Lake City for the triennial General Convention. It is an intense, marathon-length, sprint-pace gathering for leaders of the church to make decisions about policy, direction, and finances. We worship together each day and connect in convention center hallways and at exhibit booths.

And sometimes Jesus shows up. (To be more accurate, Jesus is always here; sometimes we recognize him.) Forward Movement invited people to share their Jesus encounters, using the hashtag #JesusAtGC, and there have been some wonderful encounters. Of course, we have experienced some big-Jesus moments, like the historic election of North Carolina’s bishop, Michael Curry, as the next presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. This is a man who loves Jesus and isn’t afraid to tell others about it. His election and leadership will galvanize and inspire the wider church, and I’m excited to see the plans God has for us through Bishop Curry.

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Topics: Hospitality
April 29, 2015 by Anna Olson

This post is also available in Spanish here.

Third Sunday is mash-up Sunday at St. Mary’s. We bring together all three of our Sunday worshipping groups -- from our two English and one Spanish service -- plus Trinity Church, our neighbor congregation, with whom we share our associate priest. They have an English and a Spanish service, too. The third-Sunday service is bilingual, and we do an interactive sermon with the children at the center of the action.

The reading was about the resurrected Jesus greeting the disciples, “Peace be with you.” Nancy Frausto, my co-conspirator in the shared Trinity-St. Mary’s ministry, talked with the kids about peace. They practiced passing the peace, which even one-year-olds can get pretty excited about. Then they handed out nametags. They invited the people of the five services of St. Mary’s and Trinity to greet one another by name at the passing of the peace.

The name-tagging process was awkward. We ran out of tags and had to rummage the office cabinets for more. There were not quite enough markers. Some of the kids were a little confused about their helper roles. It began to look like it was going to take a while. Very quietly, the organist began to play “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

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Topics: Hospitality
April 29, 2015 by Anna Olson

Este blog también está disponible en inglés aquí.

El tercer domingo es domingo de mezcla en St. Mary’s. Unimos nuestros tres grupos de culto de los domingos: dos grupos de los servicios religiosos en inglés y uno del servicio religioso en español, y el grupo de Trinity Church, nuestra feligresía vecina, con la que compartimos nuestro sacerdote adjunto. Ellos también tienen un servicio religioso en inglés y uno en español. El servicio del tercer domingo es bilingüe y tenemos un sermón interactivo con los niños en el centro de la acción.

La lectura era sobre el Jesús resurrecto diciéndoles a los discípulos “La paz sea con vosotros”. Nancy Frausto, mi coconspiradora en el ministerio compartido Trinity-St. Mary’s, habló con los niños sobre la paz. Practicaron pasarse la paz, algo que puede llenar de entusiasmo hasta a los niños de un año de edad. Invitaron a la gente de los cinco servicios religiosos de St. Mary’s y de Trinity a que se saludaran por nombre al pasarse la paz.

El proceso de hacer las tarjetas de identificación no fue fácil: se nos acabaron las tarjetas y tuvimos que rebuscar los armarios de la oficina para encontrar más. No había suficientes marcadores. Algunos de los niños no habían entendido bien su papel de ayudantes. Parecía que iba a ser un proceso largo. El organista empezó a tocar suavemente el himno “Que haya paz en la tierra y que comience por mí”.

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Topics: Hospitality
November 20, 2014 by Janine Hand

Most Friday afternoons the office at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar, California, is a quiet place. Locals head out of work early to hit the beach, but get stuck in a jam on the freeways. Though we staff the front desk lest the phone ring or an email comes in, no calls come through; no emails pop up. It’s warm, sunny, and breezy, on a Friday Del Mar day.

This particular Friday was no different. The busyness of the workweek was over. Bulletins were printed; updated announcements were posted to the web site. St. Peter’s was ready for weekend worship. I sat quietly wondering what I could do next.

Fairly new to California, missing home, friends, family, and my home congregation, it dawned on me if I familiarized myself with the church’s pictorial directory, I might recognize a friendly face in my new community if I ran into someone here or there. I could put names and faces together, and make connections.

What seemed like a lot of time that passed was really not. Done with the directory, I thought I’d see if our web pages were user-friendly, eye-catching, and chock-full-of-information. I decided they flowed logically one to the next, were accurate, and timely. You could learn where the church is located, when we hold worship services, and all particulars for upcoming special events. You can browse photos, old newsletters, and select a sermon or two to hear. You can even choose how you’d like to serve the church and surrounding community. Why would the phone need to ring or an email be sent with such an effective tool? It wouldn’t!

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Topics: Hospitality
July 16, 2014 by Greg Syler

Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you'll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly Vital Practices Digest delivered to your inbox, all for free.

At General Convention? Pick up copies of our #GC78 cartoons at the resource table or find someone with an ECF button.

More heated than perhaps any other debate in the church today is an age-old struggle: whether to print everything in the Sunday morning worship bulletin or use The Book of Common Prayer.

Those staunchly on one side of this argument contend that Episcopalians must learn to use the Prayer Book, and those congregations generally turn out leaflets with phrases like “Opening Acclamation,” directing the user to secret code words such as “BCP p.355.” The advantages of this position are that people, in such a congregation, do in fact use the Prayer Book; however, the obvious disadvantage is that a newcomer is overwhelmed and confused and can’t figure out why, if God wanted her to become an Episcopalian, God didn’t give her four arms to hold all those books!

On the other side are those who contend that hospitality is paramount. They produce veritable booklets every weekend which contain every reading and song and prayer therein. The advantage, here, is that a newcomer has everything he needs to worship, while the disadvantage is that it comes with no small weekly cost to the parish, not to mention stress on the parish administrator – and folding team – to produce a veritable newspaper week in, week out.

Given that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is no longer “new,” although some still insist on calling it that, this wrestling match is probably beginning to subside, but I’m not so certain that it means we need to go wholly over to the other side. Learning to use the Book of Common Prayer, let alone open and read an actual bible, is an important tool for ongoing discipleship. As such, our corporate worship on the Lord’s day should model and teach those skills. At St. George’s, the congregation I serve as rector, we’ve struck on a happy middle. For all outward appearances, we are a traditional, colonial church – the Prayer Book tradition and connection to historic Episcopalianism, here, is strong and meaningful – but we’re also growing and reaching young adults and young families, meaning that we’ve had to figure out a way to make this lovely liturgical expression much more accessible and user-friendly. Our Sunday morning bulletin, then, is designed to work in coordination with other books and, since God only gave us two arms, the user only needs the bulletin and one book at a time.

And it works. Let me explain.

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Topics: Hospitality
June 16, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra
Something I love (and sometimes hate) about living in a city is the variety of people I encounter: businessmen and women, hipsters, undergrads, homeless people and tourists and everyone in between. Many people I simply pass by on the street, but occasionally someone will do something annoying: they’ll talk too loudly or bump into me because they aren’t paying attention or say something rude for no apparent reason. 
Even if you don’t live in a large city, you may travel and have to deal with grumpy fellow passengers (or maybe you are the grumpy passenger), or you encounter strangers through Facebook and the blogs that you read. 
Modern life now puts us frequently in contact with people we know nothing about, and I think the distance between us, both literal and figurative, can make it difficult to have empathy for each other. It takes work to have compassion on the fellow commuter who is cutting in line at eight in the morning or the acquaintance who is posting disagreeable diatribes on Facebook. These people have histories we do not know and may be facing problems we cannot imagine. But we should try. 
Love requires a bit of imagination. It requires imagining another person’s life in the kindest possible light. (David Foster Wallace covers this territory pretty well in his graduation speech, This is Water.)

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Topics: Hospitality
June 2, 2014 by Richelle Thompson

Maybe it’s because we’re in a new place, in some ways like Blanche Dubois and xxx the kindness of strangers, but I keep experiencing how body language and hospitality are linked.

Our vacation began with a put-upon clerk at the airline counter. She didn’t quite eye roll, but close; her voice was curt and clipped, with a tight smile. Even her posture spoke clearly: I don’t want to be here. And I wish you weren’t either.   

My mom needs a wheelchair for the long walks in the airport. The first attendant was convivial, chatting about the trip, offering helpful tips, and a friendly shoulder pat. The second huffed and grunted, clearly annoyed with the work..

Body language matters. It matters when we greet people at the open red doors. It matters when we pass the peace. It makes a difference during coffee hour and the potluck. How we engage with people with our eyes, our faces, our hands, even our posture is part of hospitality.   

In some ways, this is a hard lesson to put into practice. Some of our gestures and actions are almost instinctive, and we act without being consciously aware of what we’re doing. But I believe that we can also train ourselves to behave differently.

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Topics: Hospitality
May 22, 2014 by Richelle Thompson

Does your church have a theology of gratitude? Is this “attitude of gratitude” more platitude than practice?

The state of Kentucky held its primary election on Tuesday. Signs in patriotic blues and reds littered most street corners. Pamphlets were tucked under windshield wipers and into front-door handles. Our home phone got some action in a mostly cell-phone world.

On Wednesday I noticed a curious sight. A few of the people who had been elected added a note to their signs: “Thank you.” These notes weren’t highly branded in fonts that focus groups said would evoke confidence in the candidate. Rather, they were handwritten, some in all caps, on slices of white poster board and duct taped to the original sign. 

And even though this might be contrived too, and perhaps I’m a Pollyanna in the world of politics, seeing those homemade thank you signs made me feel good, like the candidates meant it. Like they were truly grateful.

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Topics: Hospitality
April 23, 2014 by Greg Syler

I'm not at all certain that church is competing with soccer, as I’ve heard it argued, or any number of Sunday activities (where, once upon a time, nothing was open or scheduled). Church, especially Sunday morning Christian worship, especially for young adults, I believe, is competing with the relationships in which people find meaning and their honest quest for peace. 

Exhibit A: Sunday brunch.

Sometimes breakfast isn’t just breakfast. It’s about who we want to be sitting down at table with. It’s about those relationships that matter and the ways people find peace and meaning, especially if both members of a couple are working and the week that looms ahead is way too stressful. I suspect the reason so many people and, especially, young adults are “doing brunch” every Sunday morning – and not “doing church” – is because they’ve found, at those tables, a community, a family, a source of refreshment which is not merely bodily.

At St. George’s, Valley Lee we offer breakfast on at least one Sunday each month. Obviously, it’s not such a new idea (people do tend to eat in the mornings), although the fact that a lot of us aren’t doing it may be one of the reasons people have such a hard time coming to worship on Sunday mornings. I’m not talking about coffee hour or nice people; that kind of goes without saying at churches (hopefully). I’m talking about a breakfast café, not just putting out food, a place with the same level of excellence and attention to people’s relational and spiritual needs as is found in those frequented brunch hot-spots. Yes, on a Sunday morning. Yes, in a church.

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Topics: Hospitality
April 4, 2014 by Melodie Woerman

If you want to know how much food it takes to feed two hungry college basketball teams for nearly three weeks, just ask the people of St. Timothy’s, Iola. They can tell you, because that’s what they did in early January for the men’s and women’s teams at Allen Community College.

Sue O’Connor, who is co-chair of the parish’s Outreach Committee, said they were approached by the men’s coach when he found out that the dormitory cafeteria wouldn’t be open during the time players would be on campus for games and practices.

He knew to ask the church because in recent years members have provided some meals for the college’s cross country team when they are in town for early conditioning drills before the start of fall classes.

But O’Connor said that experience hardly prepared the church of 31 members for the challenge of feeding so many meals to 50 athletes.

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Topics: Hospitality
March 20, 2014 by Richelle Thompson

Jesus knew: food brings people together.

Breaking bread together plays a central role in many passages of scripture. Most importantly, of course, is The Last Supper, when Jesus lays the foundation for the Eucharist.

But throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew people gathered at the table for meals as an expression of hospitality and relationship. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana, surely to accompany a scrumptious feast. We have the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew, and Martha likely was fixing dinner for Jesus and the other guests when she complained about what she perceived as indolence from Mary.

In Acts, we hear about the lives of early followers: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts."

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Topics: Hospitality
January 27, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra
For the second time in about a month, I was visiting a church and was asked to stand up so that the congregation could welcome me. This time it was a large church. Afterward, someone came by to give me a flower. I was slightly uncomfortable, as I usually am at moments like this, but I also appreciated the effort. I'd rather be asked to stand up than completely ignored. 
Of course, those aren't the only choices. I liked the flower because it made me easily identifiable as a newcomer in the large church, where it's not always easy for parishioners to tell who is new. 
I’ve heard of a practice at another church (I haven’t been able to confirm if they’re still doing this in time to post this blog) in Rhode Island, where they keep a basket of votive candles for visitors to take so that they can remember their visit and that the church is praying for them. This gives newcomers a chance to identify themselves in a low pressure way as they grab a candle from the basket.

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Topics: Hospitality
January 20, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra

On Saturday morning I went to a coffee shop to write. Or possibly it was a Turkish restaurant. Or a patisserie. It was one of these things, or maybe all of them. It was mostly empty.

It could have been the dreary weather, but I think one of the reasons it was empty is related to the fact that I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. There was a little food, a little coffee, some wines and beers, and somewhere a bunch of people were baking, but it wasn’t clear that they did any of these things well.

It seems to me that a successful organization needs to know what it is, what it does, and needs to make this clear to visitors.

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Topics: Hospitality
January 13, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra

This past Sunday I went to hear my friend preach at a very small Episcopal church in Manhattan. They had me fill out a welcome card and during the announcements they mentioned my name and everyone clapped to welcome me. This was probably unnecessary because there were fewer than thirty people in the church and it was pretty clear who the new guy was, but it was sweet in any case.

The Peace was long, as it is in so many small churches, because everyone wandered about the Sanctuary shaking everyone else’s hand. I stayed in my seat and about two-thirds of the congregation stopped by to welcome me.

Growing up in a small church, I loved this. I wasn’t entirely comfortable, yet I felt genuine warmth. And, I certainly was noticed.

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Topics: Hospitality
December 19, 2013 by Richelle Thompson

I used to be a skeptic, but Hallmark might be on to something. Getting a card in the mail (the snail kind) matters.

Normally the trip to the mailbox is perfunctory, a time to collect bills and throw out the junk. But in the weeks before Christmas, there are delightful surprises. Each day, cards arrive. Even the ones with only a signature are fun. For a moment, I think of the person or family, how our lives intersect(ed), and I give thanks. But the ones that are a real joy come on photo paper, with pictures of the kids (my, how they’ve grown) on Santa’s lap, the vacation photo from Mount Rushmore, the white-shirt coordinated beach pic. It’s a delight to see these images. 

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Topics: Hospitality
December 18, 2013 by Greg Syler

Right about now, leaders in congregations are putting the finishing touches on Christmas liturgies and sermons, finding a part for everyone in the pageant and giving equal attention to clearing the office calendar so we all can take a well-deserved break after the Big Day. Up until just recently, though, there was also a lot of work on the pledge drive and the stewardship campaign and the 2014 budget …. oh, yeah, the budget. And then all that work stopped. Christmas is coming, after all.

I want to say that we’re mising the fundamental connection between what’s about to happen on December 24/25 in most every parish church and that other, somewhat less holy process called budgeting and raising money. 

The principle is simple: the vast majority of those who fill the pews on December 24 are your congregation. They are. They may not be your ‘base.’ They may not be as active as the few who serve well and faithfully in leadership roles. They may not have your ear all the time. They may not give as much or as regularly as others. And, yes, some of them are out-of-towners. But the vast majority are your congregation. They live right there, they don’t go to any other church, and when high holy days and life’s tragedies come around they come to you.

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Topics: Hospitality
December 11, 2013 by Bob Leopold

Several nights ago, I was startled by a knock at the door. While we are used to a steady stream of visitors at our house, this knock was startling as it came at nearly one o'clock in the morning. As I drew back the curtain to see my visitor, I knew who it would be. Sure enough, it was him.

I met him two days earlier when a well-spoken, well-meaning, over-churched neighbor brought him to my door. This neighbor had encountered the man on our diverse street and engaged him in conversation. In the fifty or so words of English he knows, the man – I can't use his name – told my neighbor that he had been brought to this country from Darfur, Sudan. He told my neighbor that Muslims had killed his whole family and that Christians brought him here and because of this . . . he wanted to become a Christian. My neighbor, well spoken and well meaning as he is, is done with just about all things Church (though he did make an appearance at last year's Easter Brunch and Lamb-B-Q), so he brought the man to me.

At the time, we talked briefly and I told him I would follow up with an Episcopal priest in our area who speaks Arabic. I’d be in touch.

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Topics: Hospitality