Christ's eternal message of love calls us to nurture a sense of wholeness and possibility ineveryone we meet.
That’s a great statement! But I’m new here, and I have a lot of questions. This month, I will focus on only a part of the statement. Who is “everyone”? Where do we meet these people?
Who isn’t here yet? You probably have heard me ask this a few times already. For each church that I’ve been appointed to, this is the first question I ask. “Pastor Vangie, how are we to know? They aren’t here yet!”. Well, of course we don’t have a crystal ball. We may be gifted with statistics every 10 years about our community’s make-up, but who are the people behind the demographics? What are their names?
My first time meeting you, it was impressed upon me the depth of welcoming in our congregation. It’s a sincere, authentic welcome and not a fake one which many churches practice. The love here is profound, and needed, and rare in our world.
So, how do we bridge this welcome and love with these folks we don’t know yet? A huge part of the “where” will be outside our church building, and in the future I will nudge us to go out and make relationships in the community. I’ve spent years studying and practice of outreach to the “post-modern” world. It’s crucial to build relationships with those outside the building. As my Multiplying Ministries teacher Brian Zehr keeps telling me: most churches need a culture shift to nurture relationality. I will save that topic for future articles, sermons, and projects. Yet as we grow spiritually individually and corporately, we must keep an eye on building those relationships outside the building.
Let’s consider the “where” of here: our church building and campus is something we likely have more immediate control over. Here’s what I want us to be thinking about: How are we welcoming within our building and on our campus? What does our space say about us? Is it warm? Is it easy to navigate?
Imagine a new person entering our building. Why might they choose our church over other area churches? Perhaps they’ve been exposed to a UMC elsewhere. Perhaps they see we are an affirming church, and are hoping we’ll be truly welcoming and not condescending. All want to be loved.
I’m limited in my views of what a newcomer might notice or feel in our physical space. If you’ve been here awhile, you might be limited as well. Imagine you are a newcomer and take a stroll through our space. Better yet, grab a friend or someone who doesn’t frequent here. What are their impressions of this space? What does it look like we prioritize and what we neglect? Is there one doable thing that we can add or change?
When they enter the doors, do they know where to go? Are there friendly people to greet and show them the way? Are there signs clearly posted?
If we want more children here, how does the building show that we provide a safe loving space for kids in their joy and chaos? For parents of babies, is there a space for them to take care of their infants in a clean, warm place? For those who have felt unwelcome due to their orientation, is it clear that this space is safe and affirming?
Audrey is an amazing greeter. She has a smile on her face and treats everyone with dignity. I’ve seen visitors walk past her, though. That is no fault of her own; she’s one of our best! How might we make Audrey or her station more visible?
How does our sanctuary feel to the visitor? How does it feel sitting in the pew? Does the space feel warm and accommodating? Is the space optimum for opening ourselves up to the Spirit moving in and through us?
One space I’m particularly proud of is the fellowship hall. The decorations are delightful and celebratory. Our emphasis on that space shows our emphasis on eating together and fellowship. That’s the relational thing that Brian Zehr was talking about.
I need others to help me see what I can’t see. We all need that. We invest a lot in this space, and we do so for the Kingdom of God. We celebrate our little food pantry, our chalkboard of engagement, our art and décor. What are other ways to welcome and engage those who aren’t here yet? Feel free to share your ideas with the Christ and Community team. As we connect back to our “why”, let the Spirit ignite our vision.
Centralia First United Methodist Church 506 S Washington Ave 98531 360-736-7311