I recently read a story in another churches newsletter about a Christian congregation in Tennessee. The town where this congregation was located was at one time being overrun by construction workers who were building one of the first nuclear reactors in the country. The pastor called his leadership together one Sunday after worship to propose a calling campaign to invite the construction workers to join them on Sunday mornings. His proposal was met with lukewarm enthusiasm. Someone said, “I’m not sure they’d fit in here,” and another said, ...
...“Oh, they’re just here on a temporary basis. They’ll all be leaving the area soon enough.” A vote on the issue was set for the next Sunday, and when pastor and leaders gathered again, one of the church members immediately said, “I move that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” Someone else said, “I second that.” And the proposal passed.
Some years later, long after that pastor had moved to another congregation, he decided to visit and see what was going on with that rural congregation. Despite a new interstate highway being built on that side of the state, he eventually found the church and noticed something different about it. It was still white, and still looked like a church, but he couldn’t help but notice the parking lot was full—full of cars and trucks and motorcycles. Inside, the pews and the organ were all pushed to the side of the room and aluminum and plastic tables were set up in the space. At every table were people eating barbecue chicken, ribs, and pork. His former church was now a restaurant. The pastor turned to his wife and said, “It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.”
It’s difficult to be a church for others, especially if those others are different from us. It can be uncomfortable at times. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes we just want to hunker down and shut out the rest of the world. It’s so much easier to hang out with those we already know on Sunday mornings than to introduce ourselves to new people. It’s so much easier to not make an effort and do new things. However, our comfort and convenience is not why the church exists. The church exists for all those people in the world who are not yet part of it, who do not yet speak its language, who still have unanswered questions. If we are not open to those outside the church, or those we don’t know inside the church, we will not long continue to be a church even for ourselves. This was, unfortunately, what the congregation of this story learned.
If you see someone whom you don’t know on a Sunday morning please introduce yourself to them and learn their name – it’s a start. Even if you know you “should” know them or you have simply forgotten their name – please, PLEASE, reintroduce yourself to them. It’s so easier for people to feel not welcomed or not part of the crowd. I hear it far too often. Please open your hands, open your circle, open your hearts. You just never know who needs a kind word of welcome and belonging today.
May God give you the will, Pastor Julie Blum