January 23, 2012

Will You Give Me a Hand?

Like most people, I like to be helpful, and I’m usually happy, and sometimes flattered, when I’m asked to give someone a hand. Perhaps this is the reason I keep showing up at St. Lydia’s. I arrived one Sunday and I was immediately put to work – cutting vegetables, setting out silverware, washing dishes. As I explained in an earlier blog entry, St. Lydia’s is a dinner church, which combines liturgy and a meal. It’s a small congregation and everyone participates. It’s the kind of church that doesn’t allow anyone to sit in the back pew because there are no pews. This understandably makes some people uncomfortable, but the community is warm and welcoming, and instructions during the service are clear.

In any church, we participate in the work of the church when we worship on Sunday morning, though I think we all agree that Jesus calls us to more than that. Jesus, we should all remember, didn’t say to his disciples “Nice to see you. I hope you come back.” Instead he asked them to give up all their possessions and get to work spreading the good news. I’m not suggesting that the ushers start quoting Jesus’ most difficult parables to newcomers, but I think the church shouldn’t be afraid to ask its congregation to do some hard work, including it’s fairly new members. Not only does this engage them in the work of the church, it makes them feel like they are needed. Which of course, they are. 

The church, at its best, matches its member’s skills and talents to the needs of the church and the world. My girlfriend, Denise, attended a church in Manhattan a few times. After a few weeks she went to a young adult brunch, where it came up that she liked to write. By the end of brunch someone had asked her if she’d like to write a couple blog entries for them. There is always work to be done at the church, whether it’s working on the altar guild or the youth group, greeting people or writing for the church newsletter. If you don’t have opportunities to get involved, then you’re dying.

There is always more work to be done in the world, and it seems to me that human beings want to work. As Nehemiah writes of the Jews as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, “The people had a mind to work.” Even Jesus’ teachings require work: he spoke in parables more often than commandments, leaving us to struggle with the implications and meanings of his teachings in our communities. We are happiest with a job or a hobby or community that demands something of us. Community that asks nothing of us is shallow, a theology that does not challenge us will never hold us, and a savior that does not ask us to work will have few followers.