Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

It’s getting close to Christmas, which means more newcomers than usual in Sunday morning worship. They need to make a showing now because they want to come to the Christmas eve service and don’t want their friends to make fun of them as “Christmas and Easter” Christians. Sort of an inoculation.

There was a time in the church some years back when we were implored to have programs of “radical hospitality” to take advantage of these “seekers.” That involved identifying people who had come to church for the first time and waking them up from their Sunday afternoon naps to present them with hot baked pies or bread. The “program” people said this would endear us to them and they would want to come back.

I wasn’t much into that. It seemed too much like bribery. Also, I try to practice The Golden Rule, and what I wanted others to do unto me on Sunday afternoon was leave me alone to take my nap. Furthermore, I was busy and didn’t want to bother with that sort of “radical hospitality.” I can give you more reasons if you really need them.

I was satisfied with telephoning those people during the week and telling them we were happy they had come and we would like for them to come back. [This was before the possibility of texts and email and such.] Except that sometimes I got busy and forgot.

Also I don’t like to talk on the phone. I don’t know what to say if I can’t see a person’s face. But it seemed I should call, because a card or letter was impersonal and probably looked like it was churned out on some remote assembly line.

A new family in town came to church. Met them at the door after worship. Nice people. I intended to call them. Every day. Every week. Until it had been so long, and they had not been back, that it was embarrassing. So, to get it off my conscience, and my dog-eared to-do list, I finally called them, told the woman who answered who I was.

“Oh, I’m so glad you called,” she exclaimed. “We’ve decided we want to join your church.” “Really? But you haven’t been back since that first time you came,” I said. “Yes, we’ve been visiting the other churches in town, and they were all so intrusive. Came by the house with pies and all sorts of stuff. You were the only ones who respected us enough to leave us alone to make up our own minds.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s why we didn’t contact you.”

Actually, I did not say that. I didn’t even think it. What I thought was, “I don’t deserve this. I’ve been neglectful of my duties, and I’m being rewarded for it.”

Or maybe not. For those folks, I did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

I once pastored a church of a thousand members. Shortly after I got there, it was discovered that we had a really big financial hole. The board decided to lay off all the staff except for me and a half-time secretary and a half-time custodian, whose time was mostly taken up with a 65 child day care center that used our facilities. I knew I had to be efficient. I wouldn’t have time even to telephone newcomers, yet along go see them. So anybody who showed up for the first time, at the door after the service, I said, “Would you like to join the church? We have a new member class starting in my office during Sunday School hour next Sunday.”

Actually, we “started” a class every week, including folks who might come several weeks because they hadn’t made up their minds, or just because they had nothing else to do, or had made a bet on how long I could keep this up. And every week, anybody in that class who said they were ready to join, we received them into membership during the following worship service. [1]

Sometimes I got replies like, “Well, yes, but we live in Kansas and are just passing through.” “That’s okay,” I would say. “We have an associate membership…”

We received over a hundred new members that year, none of them from Kansas, the most, I think, in the history of the congregation. All because we didn’t have anybody on staff or anybody in the congregation willing to do a program of “radical hospitality.”

The most radical hospitality possible is inclusion, no questions asked, no baked goods necessary. Just come and be a part of us. We can work out any details later.


1] Church handywoman Joan Gregg sat in on all those classes and took down names and information and later sent off for transfer letters or whatever administrative stuff that needed to be done.

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.

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