hospitality

An Inviting Environment (No Longer Welcoming, Pt. 4)

A few weeks ago, I posted on this site that my congregation is no longer going to emphasize “welcoming.” Instead, we are going to emphasize “inviting.” This is a move from passivity to activity, and was to be done in keeping with God’s missional activity in our neighborhoods. Get the vision, theology, and definitions that are the foundation at: We-Will-No-Longer-be-a-Welcoming-Church. There, I wrote that we are making this change with three emphases. The first of those is Motivating-for-Invitation. The second emphasis is Inviting-in-Bite-Size-Chunks. This post is the third emphasis, “An Inviting Environment.”

It started with coffee. Very few worshipers were staying on Sunday to share a cup or a piece of cake or a slice of cantaloupe (we always have good treats!). Virtually no visitors in worship stuck around. Granted, our “coffee area” was less than conducive to invitation. It was pushed into an available corner back by the kitchen. Though visible from the worship area, it was small and not very accessible. If one person filled their cup and then began a conversation while still in front of the urn (because there was no other place to move), the coffee’s availability to anyone else was cut off. Because we have no narthex (lobby) area, this was really the least bad option for the placement of our sacramental coffee. Yet it obviously wasn’t working.

As our council talked through our “Invitation Initiative,” it became clear to us that our environment was far from invitation-friendly. Some changes in our worship/fellowship space would be required if all those people being invited were to feel welcomed.

Now I know this sounds like “welcoming” instead of “inviting.” And, in fact, that’s partially true. Bear in mind, we weren’t giving up on welcoming; we were just placing invitation as a significantly higher priority which would get our best energy and focus. Beyond just the “welcoming” aspect of our space, however, there was a genuine invitation issue around worship and the follow-up coffee and treats.

For us, relationships are everything. We believe that the Triune God is God-in-Relationship. We believe that as beings created in God’s image, we are relational people. We believe that authentic relationships in the broader community are the best way we can reveal the reign of God and participate in God’s missional activity. Relationships are key in our congregation’s statement of purpose. Therefore, this “coffee time” comes out of our core identity. It is here that we have a chance to share, to talk, to get to know new people, to laugh together, to strengthen relationships. It’s not the only way, but it is an important way. Our configuration wasn’t allowing this to happen. Invitation, particularly to the relational coffee urn, was being unintentionally discouraged. We needed a more invitational environment.

So we looked at our overall space and considered where the most invitational place for coffee et al would be. For us, it turned out to be in a large open area that was adjacent to our worship space. By adjacent, I actually mean included. Right up the right hand side. That would be fine, except for setting up coffee and the treat table toward the end of our first worship service each Sunday would be a bit distracting, to say the least.

Someone asked why don’t we reconfigure the worship space so that new coffee area would be in the back rather than along the side. That would be fine, but now we’ve got a back lighting issue from large windows there. Plus the projector and screen used for portions of worship would then be in the wrong place and not easily visible. Lots of other small issues kept emerging.

It was discouraging. These obstacles could have piled up and overwhelmed us. But instead, we took this as an opportunity to enhance our worship space, making it work better, be more inspiring, and be more attractive than before. With some imagination (and some unused memorial money) we have a much more attractive worship space and a much more invitational coffee space. The difference in the environment—physically, spiritually, and invitationally—was amazing.

On the Sunday morning when this was all unveiled, we pointed out that the change in environment also serves as a tangible reminder of our emphasis on invitation. The environment wasn’t changed just for you, it was also for those who aren’t here. Our environment is invitational for the neighborhood’s sake, so each of us could invite others more freely. Oh, and as long as you’ve invited them to worship, make sure you invite them to coffee, too.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, hospitality, medium church, missional church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Kingdom of God Breaks Into Our Lives In Ordinary Ways

3rd Sunday of Epiphany (B)

1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

 And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day. I was in my office just finishing up a sermon, Bible study, Confirmation class plan, council report, or maybe something really important. Linda, our office manager, comes back and says someone wants to talk with me. Nothing unusual, this happens every day. So I go out in the hall and meet “Luke,” a man I’ve never met before. He’s African American, wearing clothes indicating he was probably used to working outdoors. I introduce myself, invite him in to the office, and he begins to tell me why he needs money to feed his two children. Again, this isn’t so unusual, it can happen several times a week.

Usually in this situation, I struggle to balance someone needing help vs. me being conned. There are almost always elements of both. As I generally do, I invited “Luke” to share his story. I ask questions in order to figure out what’s really going on and if we really can help. I’m asking questions and Luke is answering them. This goes on for several minutes until he stop me.

“I don’t mean any disrespect, Pastor Moss, but as hard as it is for me to come here and ask for help, it’s even harder for me as a black man to come to a white church, and to put the fate of my family into the hands of a white man.”

This isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve heard all kinds of approaches. I figured I’d push back a little and see where this went. “Luke, I’m wondering if you’re playing the race card on me here. Here’s my concern; if I don’t provide you with the help you want, you’ll chalk it up as one more white racist holding power over black people.”

He was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Well, to be honest pastor, yeah, that’s probably what I’ll think.”

We spent the next 45 minutes sharing our experiences as two human beings who happened to be different colors. We gained deeper understanding of one another. Now, I consider myself relatively aware racially, but I realized during this conversation that in ways I either forgotten or never knew, I am quite content to reap the benefits of being white in a white-power culture. I have continued doing that without questioning it or challenging it; in so doing I have been contributing to a racist society. Now it’s not all my fault, but I haven’t put any effort into reconciliation either. If the Bible is clear about anything, it’s that God is about the business of reconciliation, of peace, or repairing that which is torn.

Luke, sitting there in my office had brought an opportunity for a small piece of reconciliation. Here was an opportunity to take part in what God was doing right in front of me. The kingdom of God broke in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. I was being offered a chance to repent, to believe in good news of reconciliation. Jesus was here, and was inviting me to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It was an ordinary day for James and John, in their boats on the shore of the Sea of Galilee fixing the tears in their fishing nets. A man walks by and shouts at them. Well, people do that all the time, giving advice on how to fish and where to fish—as if James and John hadn’t been doing this all their lives. Amazing how everyone believes they can do your job better than you.

The shouting man kept coming, and they saw fellow fishermen Simon and Andrew right behind him. The man came right up to them, looked first at James, then at John, and said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

They looked at each other, this didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. But they realized, that in ways they weren’t even aware of, that their lives were going to go in a completely different direction. The kingdom of God had broken in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. They were being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God was making a difference in the world. Jesus was there, and was inviting them to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . . Follow me.”

It’s an ordinary day at Lutheran Church of the Master. The kingdom of God breaks in without warning, in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. We are being offered a chance to change direction, to believe the good news that God is making a difference in the world. Jesus is here, and is inviting us to join him in this kingdom work.

And Jesus came to Lakewood, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. . . Follow me.”

Categories: Church in Context, faith practices, hospitality, kingdom of God, racism, Sermon, suburban church | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Hospitality as a Beginning, but at the Heart of Worship

I went to the Service of Holy Communion at St. Andrew and St. George Parish Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, just off St. Andrew Square. It is a beautiful and historic building. Though small by Scotland standards, the building is significantly larger than most U.S. church buildings. As I walked in, I saw there were about a dozen chairs gathered in a circle around the altar in the chancel, half of them occupied. It looked like they were having a meeting, so I hung back in the tiny foyer area, waiting for the meeting to break up so people could gather for worship. I soon realized no one was talking up there–apparently there was no meeting; this was worship. So I went up and prepared to sit down. Though not in obvious prayer, no one looked up or said a word. It was rather uncomfortable, even for this church geek.

I noticed that they all had bulletins, so I asked someone–startling him, apparently, by speaking to him. He mumbled something, and pointed back out in the little foyer. I went back and found a small stack of bulletins, fairly well hidden on a table with several other flyers of sorts.

Returning to the circle of silence, I took an empty chair on the opposite side (the first 6 people had taken the closest 6 chairs, causing me to have to walk around behind them). From this vantage point I could see a few other people coming into the foyer area (unseen by the “members,” who, in taking the premium seats, had their backs to the door). These visitors saw our “meeting,” apparently assuming the same thing I did when I entered, so they turned around and left. I was actually embarrassed.

As I was trying to figure out what to do, recognizing I was a guest in their house, I saw a couple come into the foyer, look quizzically up front, and begin talking together–pointing toward us. I caught the woman’s eye, and waved them in. They smiled, and came up front–without bulletins. Now knowing where they were, I left my chair and went out into the foyer to get them some.

As I passed them in the aisle, they thanked me for welcoming them into my church. I just smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” I think my accent threw them off a bit, but they at least were inside. While I was back there, someone else came in, so I handed her a bulletin. Apparently, I’m now the host.

I returned to my seat, noticing that there were now only two chairs left. And sure enough, three people came in the door. What’s the practice in this place when there are more people than chairs? Do they move out into the regular worship area? Do they bring chairs up and start a second row? I waited to see what the members would do–though not really expecting anything. And I wasn’t disappointed. Finally, in frustration, I got up and grabbed a chair from the nave, bringing it up into the chancel area around the altar. The others scooted chairs around until there was room in the holy circle. Some of the other visitors (the ones who thanked me for welcoming them into my church), did the same when others came in. This process was repeated until there was a full complement of 20 people. Still, the members, though watching all this, hadn’t moved or spoken. The visitors were acting as hosts for one another.

The pastor came in through a back door and looked surprised at the “crowd.” Come to find out, he was a guest preacher, as the regular pastor was on vacation. He was welcoming, gracious, informal (“call me Tom”), and made sure we all knew that the communion table was open to everyone.

The service was wonderful, though only about twenty minutes total (no singing). The sermon alone was worth coming for. And communion was, in fact, for everyone who had gathered. Once the service was underway, I, with bulletin in hand, was fully able to participate. The only thing that seemed unusual to me during worship was that eye contact during the sharing of the peace is apparently prohibited. Either that, or everyone was noticing some unusual pattern in the carpet they hadn’t paid attention to before. Or perhaps that is simply Scottish cultural procedure. I’m open.

Afterward, I spoke with a couple of people who were slow to leave (most members bolted for the door as if the building were on fire–or maybe it was just their waiting breakfast that was burning). These dawdlers were somewhat interested in where I was from and why I was there. The pastor, who had gone to the back to try and greet the hasty retreaters, then joined us and continued to be gracious and hospitable. We spoke for a few minutes, until he had to get ready for the next service (someone had since quietly arranged chairs in a small circle down in the front of the nave).

Authentic worship is just that. It is open, it is inclusive, it is unifying when done with an awareness of its inclusive nature. It is, after all, reflective of the God we worship. But the very nature of its inclusivity cannot happen apart from those who gather for it. Corporate worship is public, therefore those on the “inside” of a particular congregation are obligated to be hospitable. It isn’t extra, it isn’t for the ushers and greeters, nor is it reserved for those with special gifts. It is mandated by the nature of this inclusive God. In the words of the hymn, “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.” It is up to us, as the insiders of a local congregation, to make sure everyone who comes in the door knows this, and experiences this.

I wonder how many people have to come to this or other churches this Sunday needing the community of believers gathered in Word and sacrament, and were turned away by the “members'” unawareness of their role as acting hosts? Hospitality isn’t added on or plugged in, nor is it everything God calls God’s church to be. But it is at the heart of worship.

Categories: church growth, Church in Context, hospitality, medium church, small church, suburban church | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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