The Pastor's Pen

Dear friends,

It’s been just over a month now. About 9:00 am on a Monday morning, the phone rang at the parsonage. Since this was my Sabbath and because I usually don’t pick numbers that I don’t know since most of them are robocalls, I don’t know why I answered the phone, but I did. There was an unfamiliar male voice on the other end asking, “Is this the pastor at New Zion United Methodist?”

“Yes,” I responded hesitantly as I thought, “Why did I answer the phone on my Sabbath day?”

“I just called to let you know that I was at your church yesterday at 10:00 o’clock in the morning. I got out of my car and saw the number of cars in the parking lot, but I didn’t see any people. Your website said worship started at 10:10 am.”

“That’s correct.”

“I didn’t see anyone coming in so I wondered if church had already started. So I went to look for a sign board to confirm the start time. The old wooden one against the building said worship was at 11:00 a.m. I was thinking, ‘I know the website said 10:10 and there are a lot of cars here, but no people visible. So what time is the service actually?’ I walked around front, there are no times on the big marquee sign by the ramp. Also, which door goes where. I don’t want to walk in if they already started. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by being late, so I left. I wish your church was as welcoming as your website.”

I didn’t know exactly what to say to this man other than to invite him back and to thank him for his feedback and apologize for his experience. As far as I know, he hasn’t made it back to worship with us and I don’t know if he ever will. Then, I started thinking, “How many others have done the same thing and we don’t know about them?”

We all know our building and we know where to park and where to enter. We’ve all been here for years. But what if you had never been here? What if you felt God calling you to return to church or come for the first time in your life? You’re already stepping out of your comfort zone to even try or retry church. You’re concerned if you’ll stand out from the crowd. You’re not even sure why you’re coming in the first place and there is no one to follow in so I can act like I know what I’m doing. There are no signs to tell me where to go and the signs that are there say nothing or the information contradicts what I read online. How brave would you be? Would you plow ahead or would you turn around and go home?

The lesson that was reinforced for me, and I hope that we all learn, is we need to look at our facilities through the eyes of the outsider and realize that our Christian hospitality needs to extend beyond our doors. We usually do a great job of welcoming people once they find their way inside. We have the table spread and greet people with a smile and are willing to give directions though better signage inside could help with that as well.

So how could we make our facilities more hospitable? How could we make people more comfortable once they pull into the parking lot? How can we show the love of Christ to them even before they enter what they might see as our holy club or possibly clique?

How many angels have we missed meeting?

Grace and peace,

Pastor Rick

Rick Stuhmer