Teaching Parish is an opportunity to get our feet wet when it comes to public ministry. This is accomplished by "observing and listening to the congregation...by teaching and preaching...[and] by worshipping and praying with the congregation..." (Teaching Parish Reference Book 2008-2009, p. 14).
The first Sunday I attended Rural Lutheran incognito, so to speak. The pastor didn't introduce me or tell anyone I was coming. He wanted me to get a feel for the congregation the way a first time visitor would. and asked me to sit in a particular part of the congregation. Though there were only 30 + people attending, no one talked to me until the peace. Mouths moved, but no one sang around me. My overall response was one of sadness for the people.
This past Sunday I could sit wherever I wanted and I was being introduced. The experience was completely the opposite. Was it because of where I was seated? Was it because more of the committed people were there? Was it because they were expecting me? The answer could be yes to each of these.
The church is small, declining in numbers, and rural. After the first visit, had I been the average outsider, I may not have returned. If my first experience had been like the second visit, I would definitely return. The issue is one of hospitality, of welcoming. I am a Lutheran and not another flavor because the Lutherans were welcoming when I was church shopping.
Radical hospitality makes us feel like we've come home, being embraced by God and God's people. Let us welcome home all we meet today.