The sentiment included is well known but bears repeating. In my travels over the last few months, I have visited a few churches in different countries and can again reiterate that hospitality and welcoming the strange visitors is the greatest evangelism asset that a congregation can possess. The size of the congregation, the clergy, the choir, the worship experiences all pale in comparison to the simple act of welcoming and providing hospitality to someone as they enter your church. The experiences varied across the churches. Some greeted with smiles and handshakes while others did not acknowledge until introduced by the clergy. Some did not offer a glass of water, while others provided food in abundance from the little they had.
This month we offer five resources on radical hospitality. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
ECF Fellow Sarah Barton discusses the varying degrees of welcome accorded adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in her article Welcoming Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
This month we offer five resources on Welcoming Families in Worship. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers, blogs, and the monthly digest.
Much of what we see in the Gospels happens around a meal or in general food. Whether it was Simon Peter’s home, the wedding at Cana, the feeding of 5,000, Zacchaeus’ house and many others; sharing of food was a common means of sharing the good news of the Kingdom. There is food involved in every resurrection account and Jesus founded the church in a sacramental, covenantal meal. If Jesus had a Day-Timer recording his activities, we would see that he prayed, taught, performed miracles and healings, and he ate.
Somewhere along the way the church lost the centrality of the meal as ministry. Since the Reformation, church became a place you went on Sunday to primarily be taught and sufficiently catechized.
I will never forget a sweet widow I interviewed during a feasibility study for a capital campaign in a parish in Pennsylvania. As we discussed the various proposed projects, it seemed she had a story for each one. Her children were baptized in the sanctuary, she taught Sunday School in those classrooms, she donated china tea cups for fellowship in the lounge. There was no hesitation when asked about her support for the campaign. Of course she would give.
Nothing in the conversation surprised her until I asked if she thought the campaign would be successful. “What do you mean?” she wanted to know. When I explained that questions are being asked to determine how much money could be raised, her bright face suddenly faded.
“What were they thinking?” is often the head-shaking lament of congregational leaders surveying the obstacles inherited from architects and renovators in previous decades. Up three steps to get to the nave, down a flight to reach the fellowship hall, through a narrow hallway to get to a restroom with even narrower stalls.
Recognizing these barriers, many churches really, really try to make changes to increase accessibility. For most of us, our first thoughts are of stairs and restrooms, but there is so much more.
There is a growing movement of food awareness in our society and in our church. Fruit is being added to school lunches, soda machines now include water and juice. Movie theaters now provide information about the calories in every snack they offer -- a small popcorn often runs over 500 calories, and a soda more than 400. And then there is the sugar content…
But our growing food awareness isn’t just about calories and fat content. Nor even about healthy diet, though that is part of it. More and more, we are also becoming aware of the source of our food – where it comes from, how it is grown, the treatment of the laborers who harvest it. It is certainly a secular movement, with the health food stores of the 1970s becoming substantial chains, and leading grocery store chains without health food heritage are finding ways to get on board with the trend. Foods are promoted as organic or fair trade, and some small sections of the market are set aside for local products or produce.
This month we offer five resources on generous hospitality. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practicesto receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1) Do you take notice of members who aren’t at church? How can we practice mindfulness in caring for our church family? In his blog, Who’s New and Who’s Missing, Peter Strimer shares his method for keeping everyone in the loop of ministry.
Whether you think it’s merely a fad or you know someone who has been severely affected by Celiac’s Disease, many Episcopal faith communities have made the decision to make certain accommodations for those who abstain from any food products made with gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). Though most coffee hours haven’t yet made the leap, many an Episcopal Eucharist boast they have gluten-free wafers upon request. Which is great. Sadly, though, the accommodations fall short.
Though I, myself, am gluten intolerant, I don’t feel ill if I ingest gluten. One of my daughters, on the other hand, has a severe gluten allergy and can get pretty sick. Consequently, Mama Bear pays attention. Since most of the internet traffic on gluten-free (GF) accommodations at churches were about how the Roman Catholic Church has banned gluten-free wafers (a non-wheat host is heretical in their eyes), I decided to share some best practices for our Episcopal friends who want to be truly hospitable to those with gluten allergies.
There once were young parents who decided to find a church family with whom they might raise their family in the faith. Though they’d attend the occasional Christmas and Easter service, they wanted to be more intentional. They committed to attending regularly, and after a little, they began being recognized as regular church attenders. People began to learn their names and that of their little girl. They eventually met with the priest and decided to have their toddler baptized.
As their little girl grew, they began looking forward to when she could participate in Sunday morning formation. It was about that time when they learned they’d become parents to a second child.
This month we offer five resources on community outreach. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. What does a New Orleans magician have in common with the early church? In Street Performers, Strangers, and Community, Alan Bentrup makes the connection that the early church drew people to it by virtue of what that smaller community was doing for the larger community – caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, etc. What could our modern church learn from that experience?
The resident in the church house was getting tired of cleaning up the mess left behind by field mice in the kitchen. She also wanted some company. So she asked if the church might get a cat. The altar guild was having similar challenges with mouse detritus in the sacristy and was ready to support the idea. With the altar guild on board, the vestry was quick to assent.
The resident and I started visiting the local animal rescue. We knew that any cat we adopted would need to be tolerant of kids, so once we narrowed the possibilities down to two or three, we invited a 5 and 9-year-old from the church to go with us. Each cat was given the kid test for playful interaction and kindness.
The result was Smoke, the Advo-cat.
I figured the Memorial Day concert and cookout would be a good way for folks to experience the hospitality of the church.
We had invited Will Parker, now a student at Yale Divinity School touring for the summer, to provide a concert “for kids of all ages”. We debated about hosting an event on a secular holiday (unlike Independence Day and Thanksgiving, Memorial Day does not appear in the church calendar). But while we knew that many would be out of town for the Memorial Day weekend, we also knew that those who were still in town would be looking for something to do. We promoted the concert among the folks of the church, encouraging them to invite their friends. We promoted it on social media, paying a bit extra to send the ad out into the 10-mile radius of the church. And, for the first time, we posted it on the “Next Door” list serve. Neighbors near and far are welcome, we said.
For over thirty years, The Episcopal Church was part of my self and soul. I was baptized as an infant with an Episcopal liturgy in a Methodist Church. I don't know how that happened either.
I’m one of those millennials. Sometimes it feels like we’re THE mystery the church must solve in order to not die. I think there are more important things to discuss, like how to follow Jesus. I used to love this slogan that dominated my childhood and young adult years: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." It was true because we said so, no question about it. The statement was dramatic - and innocent - enough to be fallibly infallible, and because we seemed to want to mean it. Years later, I realized I never questioned it because those who weren't universally welcome already knew not to come, and if I didn't see a problem, it didn't exist.
Over the past few years, I’ve leaned into what it means for me to live as authentically as possible in every area of my life. By no means is this a practice that comes easily or without fear. Authenticity – to open ourselves to the world as we are – can be scary. It requires vulnerability, humility, and courage. What will people think? Will they still like me? Will I be welcome?
The scariest place to do this can be the church. For all the talk of being a welcoming place where we worship a loving God, many folks do not experience church as either of those things. I have friends and acquaintances who want nothing to do with the church for this reason. They think Jesus is pretty cool, but often they don’t see people who call themselves Christian acting like Jesus. What they see is judgment, rejection, and hate. To compound the matter, when enacted by people claiming Christianity, these three things are justified by certain theologies and interpretations of scripture. Essentially, “God tells me it’s okay to hate you,” or, “My beliefs allow me to discriminate against you and here’s my supporting argument for why you should be okay with that.” Who wants to be authentic when the risk is finding out that self-revelation can mean rejection?
In the plush yet homey lounge of our small stone-gothic church, I sat across from two men in their late 20’s whom I have had the joy to know for the last year or so. In just a few months, theirs will be our first same-sex wedding at this urban Ohio parish, an occasion welcomed and celebrated with great fanfare from the congregation, with scarcely an inkling of opposition. Glowing with delight, they shared the readings chosen for their nuptials – two from Holy Scripture, and a selection from the opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the landmark 2015 Olbergfell decision affirming same-sex marriage nationwide.
The generation that has come to be known as “Millennials” has been both forcefully criticized and lustfully sought after by countless voices within and outside the Church. We’ve grown used to the endless portrayals as phone-connected disbelieving libertine avocado toast-eaters, often followed by the hand-wringing plea for “more young people” in the pews. Those of us born between 1982 and 1996 (or thereabouts) continue to take the heat for so much that’s “gone wrong” in the world of religion, not least of which because of our characteristic disinterest in the Church the way it’s “always been.” And yet, we aren’t willing to toss the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater of countless manifestations of bad church throughout the ages.
As a young adult, I yearn for a Church where all young adults experience unforgettable moments in ministries that are their own in some way. I yearn for a Church that offers young adults the tools, the love, and the patience they need in their journey of understanding themselves, their faith, and the world around them.
The Church that I hope for is the type of Church that I have glimpsed through individuals who took chances on me, encouraged me, challenged me, prayed with me, and helped form me to be the person I am today. My life as a disciple has been enriched by opportunities to both lead and learn to follow; whether I was co-chairing a diocesan commission, preaching at Nuevo Amanecer, speaking up at General Convention, serving as camp counselor or a youth leader, or helping to develop a companion diocesan relationship between Texas and Costa Rica. I am a different kind of friend, daughter, mentor, and woman of faith today because I have been invited to walk into some strange and beautiful places to find the Spirit at work there.
A member of the congregation asked if we might have pronoun buttons made for folks to wear in church -- simple pin buttons that would identify the pronouns with which people identify, such as he or she or they. Even though we don’t have non-binary or trans folks in the congregation (that we know of), Hannah explained, if any came to visit, they would likely feel more welcomed if they saw people wearing pronoun buttons. It would be a sign of hospitality. It would also help us all to be more aware of what gender identity is and how it varies. And it would cause us to be more mindful that we welcome all.
I knew the idea would be welcomed by many who truly want to broaden and make known our inclusive welcome. I was also aware that the idea would cause some to feel uncomfortable, or to question why it was necessary. And I had to confess my own ignorance of the nomenclature and terminology.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation prepare for Christmas. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. This Advent Parish Checklist by Cathy Carpenter is a great tool for churches preparing for Christmas, ensuring they are ready to receive and welcome visitors (among other useful ideas). Check out this handy resource and learn new ways to be better prepared for this festive and important time.
We go to great lengths to welcome people in our homes - but those folks we invite all too often are people that we know and love already. Most folks who come to my house know me, and understand my worldview, and we probably get along socially.
And I think too often we do the same thing with our congregations?
That’s being nice; that’s not hospitality.