Our leading evangelist is not a Baby Boomer with conversational skills honed by the Dale Carnegie school of making friends and influencing people. It is not a latchkey Gen-Xer, earnest to please or a freewheeling Millennial breaking from social media to be social.
Nope. Our leading evangelist is a 92-year-old woman with white hair braided into a ring around her head.
I have never seen newcomers enter our church—on Sundays, at spaghetti suppers, for Bible studies, or community gatherings—without Fran making sure to welcome them. And somehow, she never makes her greeting seem forced or awkward. She gives a full-mouth smile, perhaps places her hand on an arm or shoulder, and introduces herself. Then, often, she asks, “So, tell me your story.”
Fall and back-to-school season often signals an uptick in visitors – or, as we often call them, “church shoppers.”
For an experiment on how we might welcome visitors to our congregations, I wonder if we might think of them as dinner guests. To extend the concept, perhaps we cast ourselves in various roles of restaurant hospitality.
Consider these two roles:
I’m writing this post from Lion’s Camp Merrick, a beautiful camp set along the picturesque shores of the Potomac River – looking west about a mile to the Virginia shore – in far western Charles County, Maryland. This is where our diocesan summer camp, Camp EDOW – the acronym stands for Episcopal Diocese of Washington – is kicking off its fifth year. (Truth be told, I’ve just stepped in to write this blog in a lovely air conditioned cabin, an added blessing given that the thermometer’s 91 degrees actually only feels like 100 right now in southern Maryland!) This is a beautiful place to begin with, and made even more special by the happy sounds of children and counselors, ropes course elements, and the daily challenge of archery, swimming in the pool and canoeing on the river, Eucharist celebrated atop an overturned canoe, and bible study late at night by candlelight in the cabins.
But I’m also humbled and thrilled that, for one, we have this camp opportunity in our diocese and, two, this ministry continues to catch hold of kids, families, adults, and staff who feel drawn to this amazing experience and come back to Camp EDOW, year after year.
Which is to say, in short, I am reminded every summer at Camp EDOW that we can create new, vibrant ministries in our church. More, doing so doesn’t require hugely innovative ideas (sleep away camp, for instance, has been around for a long while) and it doesn’t take too much effort (there’s consistent work, don’t get me wrong, but we started with one week, five or six adults who formed a committee, and the hopes that families might send their children).
What Camp EDOW, in particular, did require was a hope, a desire, and a commitment to do something well, even if it wasn’t big or splashy; just well. I think this lesson applies to many of us who love Jesus and, to boot, love His Church.
Every Sunday at St. Mary’s, at all our services that include music, we sing the same song. I hear that the associate rector even makes the 7:30am service sing it on occasion, and they never sing. We picked it up in Hawaii a few years ago, at a meeting of the Japanese Convocation of Episcopal Asiamerican Ministries -- in church lingo, EAM JCon.
We sing the song as part of the blessing at the end of the service. It goes like this:
Ki-ri-su-to no he-i-wa ga
Wa-ta-shi-ta-chi no ko-ko-ro no
Yu-ki-wa-ta-ri-ma-su yo u-ni
May the peace of Christ be with you.
May the love of God dwell deep in your heart.
May the Spirit enlighten your way.
May you walk in the comfort of God’s care.
La paz de Cristo sea contigo
Y el amor de Dios en tu corazón
Que el Espíritu te ilumine
Que camines cuidado por tu Dios
It starts in Japanese, the language of St. Mary’s founders. The second verse, as you probably guessed, is in English, the language of our current lifelong members. The third verse is in Spanish, our own translation into one of the languages of many of our newest members. When we gathered with our Korean neighbor congregations for an event highlighting reconciliation efforts between Anglicans in Japan and Korea, we added a verse in Korean. Efforts are currently underway to produce a verse in Zapotec, another language spoken by many of our newer members.
When you start a job, you receive a handbook (or at least, you should). The handbook contains information about the company and its policies and procedures. Of course, the handbook doesn’t cover everything. There are those office culture and traditions that new employees tend to stumble upon. Oh, we celebrate birthdays by bringing in a treat for everyone to share? Oh, the office closes for the opening day of baseball? Oops, we’re not supposed to use scotch tape on the wall…
An office handbook can’t cover every situation, but a helpful human resources associate can guide a newcomer through some of the local customs. But the fact remains that this is a job, and you’re getting paid for it. When people are voluntarily coming to a church for the first or second time, they’re making a choice. And if they don’t feel welcome or included, the choice may quickly become to find another place of worship.
Some of our congregations are really good at the initial welcome (others are not, but that’s a topic for another day). But when it comes to incorporating new people into our churches, the track record of most congregations is pretty dismal.
Our congregation has been studying evangelism during Lent. It’s an unusual topic, perhaps, during this season of penitence. But the goal is to have parishioners reflect in meaningful, thoughtful ways about abiding Christ’s commandment to make disciples of all people. One interesting outgrowth of the discussions, spurred both by the Sunday sermons and Wednesday studies, is the need for a handbook for newcomers. In some ways, this handbook would be like one you receive at a job. It would include office hours and details about worship (times, childcare availability, etc.). The handbook would feature different ministries of the church, with contact information, meeting times, and a short description. It might offer a page on Episcopal basics: when we stand, sit, or kneel; an invitation to all baptized to partake in Holy Eucharist – and all people to come forward for a blessing; maybe even a short glossary of terms (sexton, narthex, etc.).
“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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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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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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."