March 27, 2012

Church Smackdown? Not in this Town

What if we didn’t see other Christians as competition but as fellow collaborators in the kingdom of God?

It was our church’s turn to host the monthly meeting of the community welcome wagon.

But this isn’t a Chamber of Commerce, coupon-begetting group. Rather this welcome wagon is comprised of volunteers from the local churches. About three decades ago, a few clergy had the idea of banding together to welcome new people into the community. It quickly moved from clergy to lay leadership, where it has lived and thrived since.

The volunteers scour the local papers for new residents (mostly they look at property transfer listings). Then they gather once a month to go out and visit the new residents. They welcome them to town and then give them a brochure with listings of all the local churches, including service times and contact information. If the newcomers indicate a denominational preference, their names (and kids, if they have any) are passed along directly to the local church. If there’s no preference, then the group sends the information to all of the churches as a gesture for equal-opportunity evangelism. 

The foundation of this group is fascinating to me. First, there’s a clear understanding and commitment that community involves faith, that a proper welcome to a new town includes an invitation to get plugged into a local church. (I think this is an ecumenical, not interfaith, effort). 

Secondly, a faith community is placed before any single church. Helping newcomers find a place to call a faith home is more important than making sure that is the Methodists or Roman Catholics or, frankly, Episcopalians. Instead of each denomination fighting to attract the new family on Highland, the churches say that collectively we welcome and we’ll help you find the right spiritual home. 

In a day and age where we spend a lot of time gnashing our teeth and worrying about the future of our slice of the Christian pie, this group has found a way forward, a way that lives and models a theology of abundance. 

I suppose in this community it’s true: They’ll know we are Christians by our love.