Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Does it Matter Where I Sit?

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.

Flickr pictures

11 comments:

Songbird said...

I hope you'll have an opportunity to reflect this back to the congregation, kindly. Do you have a Teaching Parish Committee (by whatever name), a group of laypeople who relate to you? Somewhere down the road I hope they will hear the contrast.
I would say that, on the whole, singing has taken a sharp downturn in most churches. Sad.

Ivy said...

Thanks for your input, Songbird. That's one reason I didn't post earlier about Teaching Parish. I have a wonderful relationship with the pastor who is a great mentor/teacher. We also have a classroom piece with this, Integrative Seminar, which is helpful. Blessings.

Beth said...

Your Teaching Parish experience sounds like my own, right down to the pastor's advice on the first Sunday I attended. The congregation I currently serve is similar in its (non)hospitality to first-time visitors. Many other mainline (not just Lutheran) congregatiosn also struggle with knowing how to reach out to visitors. I wish there was a magic 'fix' for this difficulty! Good luck and God's blessings as you journey with them.

Ivy said...

Thank you, Beth. It was a shocker for me because the last three congregations I've been a part of all worked very hard at hospitality. Anyway, we just keep praying. Thanks for stopping by. Peace.

LawAndGospel said...

May you continue to grow and be molded by the Spirit in the midst of this experience.

Ivy said...

Amen.

Pastor Eric said...

I have always been tempted to have a friend visit (that no one at Salem knows) and see how they are treated. Maybe even have them dress down like maybe they are off the street or something. Even more interesting would be to have this person come when we have fellowship time after worship and see what people do when this friend shows up downstairs.

I people have been saying, hospitality is vitally important.

LawAndGospel said...

Amen, Eric. Indeed many congregations, my home parish included might be surprised.

Ivy said...

Too true Eric and Law and Gospel.

David said...

Given the location of my church and the interaction I have with the community, we tend to get some visitors who one might call "street people." I am always happy and inspired by the way the congregation welcomes them into our place. I know that's not the norm, for I have visited far too many churches and been given the silent treatment. Still, there is hope. Continue to observe, even when you are in front of the congregation in an alb. That is when you will have the bird's eye view and recognize such behaviors.

Ivy said...

Thank you for your encouragement, David. Even after my 4th Sun., my second assisting, I still feel like I know the people so little--at least from any information or glimpses they give, except for a couple of people. I'm keeping my eyes, heart and mind open.