February 25, 2008

Looking Ahead to March 2, 2008 -- 4th Sunday of Lent

This Sunday we will have a report from last weekend's Presbytery meeting.
The Scripture Passages this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Genesis 18:1-15
  • Psalm 15 (VU p.736)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Hebrews 13:1-3
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 25:31-40

The Hymns this week are:

  • #374 Come and Find the Quiet Centre
  • #117 Jesus Christ is Waiting
  • MV #1 Let Us Build a House (verses 1, 3, 5)
  • #593 Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love

The Sermon Title is Who is the church? Who isn't?

Early Thoughts: Looking at the people who are and aren’t here. How do we make the “unchurched” feel welcome? How well do we live out the duty of hospitality?

Likely the most important question asked by the Emerging Spirit campaign. is "How well do we welcome newcomers/visitors?"

Many, if not most, congregations describe themselves as welcoming and friendly. Many visitors and church shoppers have a different experience. So we have to ask ourselves if our self-perception is accurate and also need to ask ourselves what it in fact means to be welcoming.

One of the traps the church falls into is thinking that "yeah sure we want to welcome people--but they really have to conform to how we operate". Some churches will even name this out loud and admit it. Many more keep it unspoken but make it plain in other ways. But of course the reality is that this is unrealistic. Newcomers, even if they are visiting the area and are active churchgoers at home legitimately won't automatically know "how it works" in this place. And the onus is always on the host to adapt (within limits). THE ONUS IS ALWAYS ON THE HOST. SO you don't get upset of the people who have never been to church talk at an inappropriate time. SO you don't fret about the noise their children make. So you don't, even in jest, make comments about "that's my seat". You welcome them. You go a bit out of your way to help them feel welcomed. And yes, that might mean that things aren't quite what they always are. So be it.

One of the truths of welcoming ministry is that it is almost always several times easier to make people feel unwelcome than we suspect. Unfortunately it is usually easier to drive people away than to actually welcome them in for the long term. A chance comment may be overlooked by a long-time attender but could well be a deal-breaker for the church shopper. Add in generational and other cultural differences and the chances for appearing unwelcoming grow fast.

Being welcoming of new people means changes. It means changes in becoming more openly and intentionally welcoming. It means changes when those we welcome stay on and become part of our community. New people bring new things. Abraham and Sarah welcomed three strangers and their life was changed totally. When we welcome the Divine unawares we open ourselves to life and all its changes. And that is a good thing.

Come join us on Sunday as we explore what it means to ask who is here and who isn't and how to welcome the latter group.

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