Monday, August 05, 2013

"No One Needed Me There"

This evening I had occasion to talk with a former Grace parishioner who moved away for a new job.  She talked about her search for a new "church home" in her new city.  She went to a large parish that looked like a good match, and she went there for several weeks.  But she didn't stay.  She went to a smaller, struggling parish.  I had thought the first parish might be a good "fit" for her, so I asked, "Why didn't you stay?"  She responded, "I felt no one needed me there."  

I know the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church is doing big-sky stuff for our church writ large.  But I find myself haunted by this friend's observation. 

When visitors come to our parishes, what are we doing to welcome them?  My parish has been working on this. 

But what about those visitors who come for several Sundays, so that it looks like they might stay around?  Are we giving them something to do?  Or do we convey a message that we're doing quite fine and "we don't need them here"?  

My friend's observation hit me between the eyes.  I think we generally do a good job of welcoming folks in my parish.  But in this age, where going to church is not socially expected, maybe we should think that newcomers want to be given a chore and put to work?  I know that's how it worked for me when I moved into this small town.  After a few weeks of inviting me to join them for after-church breakfast, they nudged me into "tasks" around the parish, and I loved working with and (thus) getting to know more people, while serving Christ. 

Are we being too gentle with our visitors, who might want to be put to work?  Maybe it's a "Mary and Martha" thing.  But I know it was the "being needed" and "being put to work" that solidified my place in my parish before I had been here very long. 

I wonder . . . 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Ministry of Denim Meets Ministry of Pearls

I wrote here about why I choose to wear jeans or shorts to church, instead of “dress-up” clothes. Today was a new riff on that old theme.
Today was a remarkably cool day for August.  So I wore jeans and my bright red Episcopal Campus Ministry t-shirt.
And I was to serve as usher.
Now, the way “being usher” works in my parish is this:  Ushers have a role in greeting, liturgy, and safety.  We greet folks in the narthex and distribute the service leaflet.  Two ushers carry the oblations [bread and wine] forward, receive and pass the offering plates during the offertory.  During communion, two ushers guide folks forward to the altar rail.  Here, we recently designed the church space so that the nursery is visible across the narthex from the back of the nave.  When I’m usher, I stand at the back of the nave through the whole service, so I have a view of the front door, narthex, and nursery.  (You can read more about why here.)
Ushering is a two-person responsibility, since it requires two folks to bring the oblations, pass the offering plates, and direct folks forward during communion.  Sometimes a married/partnered person is assigned to be usher, in which case s/he has a ready-made partner.  If you’re a single person (as I am), you pick someone to work with you as usher. 
So there I was today, in my jeans and t-shirt, and needing someone else to help me.  I nabbed my friend Jeanie Bryant when I saw her arrive, partly because she truly does it “decently and in order,” with a beautiful sense of reverence.  But I also chose her because her dress is the direct antithesis of mine: She’s always dressed beautifully: dress, heels, hose, pearls or other accessories. 
After the service, some friends commented on what an “odd couple” she and I made – she in her lovely dress and pearls and me in my jeans and t-shirt.  My response: “If we want to claim to welcome everyone, we need to make that visible.” 

This summer, we’ve had an unusual number of visitors in our parish.  I hope folks today saw that they truly can “come as you are.”