I’ve never actually been “church shopping.” I was born into a congregation, moved once when I was three, went to another one for 20 years, headed to seminary, and now have been a pastor…so needing to find a place to worship is something I’ve never had to do. But, I do know what it’s like to be “new,” to wonder what door to go in, to wonder if people will like me, or want to sit by me, or want to talk to me.
This article really captures what it’s like to be a new person walking into a strange world. Please read it…think about how, in small ways, you could make someone feel more comfortable, less “new,” in a place where all are welcome. I’d love to hear what your ideas are; how you might welcome someone differently this next Sunday morning. Email me, text me, stop by…we could dream of great ways to be hospitable together.
BE CAREFUL, ONE OF US MIGHT JUST SHOW UP
I love worship.
It is a time when I can admit that I am not in control and God is in total control. I am a traditionalist, I love the tone and feeling a pipe organ sings. I love the liturgy and the idea that we participate to teach our hearts the words of our faith. I love leaving every piece of technology at home so that I can sing my heart out for Jesus. I love the Bible and I love talking and learning about the stories of our people. I’m a dream member, I’m a 30-something newlywed who has been on church council, building committees and WELCA. I would gladly help hand out bulletins, shovel snow or plunge a church toilet, because I know that sometimes that’s where real church happens.
You know what I don’t love? Church shopping. I’m in the lost generation that doesn’t go to church. To be completely honest, if I was not as tied to the church as I am, I probably would’ve given up by now to stay in bed reading on Sunday mornings. It’s daunting… Which door is locked? Where is the sanctuary? It’s intimidating. How do I find a seat without taking someone else’s? But it’s a ritual the Holy Spirit drives me to participate in each week.
On the weekends I haven’t been working, I’ve attended five Lutheran churches in Nebraska in two months. For the most part, I get in and get out without anyone talking to me. I specifically arrive early, sit in the middle of the pew and ask questions that start with, “I’m new can you help me find…?”
Do you know what problem I’ve found? No one talks to me. Sure there are a couple people every week who know me before I walk in that will nod or say hello, but for the most part I sit in a worshiping community desperately hungering for interaction. Every time I sit in a pew I’m crushed by silence when all around me is sound. Laughter, joy, hope… except in my pew. In the pew I sit in it’s just a 30-something reading about all the worship activities I’m not a part of.
Here it is folks, our Lutheran truth.
It’s not the screens or the bands.
It’s not about Lutheran theology or how you say the Creed.
It’s not the eloquence of the sermon or the strength of the paraments.
It’s not the beauty of the music or the complexity of the worship space.
I’m to the point where I would trade my traditional roots for any worship style where people would talk to me after the service. The scary part is, I realized why we aren’t coming back. We don’t come back because it doesn’t feel like anyone even noticed we were there.
I wonder, is it that the 30-somethings aren’t coming back, or if we are not noticing them and driving them away? I don’t write out of anger, but to share my new simple knowledge. I never would’ve guessed that this would be the result of church shopping. I know it’s not about me in church, but we hold up a dramatic inconsistency when everyone around is in community and we leave others in silence next to us.
This last weekend I was at our mission congregation in Holdrege, Spirit of Grace. I learned a simple question that anyone can ask that immediately connects us. I’ll warn you, it’s earth shattering, kingdom coming, come to Jesus shocking. Want to hear it?
“Who are you praying for today?”
You see we all have hurts and worries and someone we want to lift up for our Lord’s care. It equals all of us and lifts up mutual respect. Ask it and respond with conversation that ends with, “I’ll pray for them, too.”
For thousands of years we’ve been the church, why is it so hard for us to act like the church?
Please be careful this week at church, one of us just might show up.
Pastor Juliet Hampton
Director of Evangelical Mission
Nebraska Synod, ELCA