Earlier this month, I gathered with a group of my clergy colleagues as I do on the first Tuesday of every month. The topic of conversation selected for this particular day was evangelism - how we share the good news of Jesus Christ with others and build the Body of Christ.
Sitting around a table, we were asked to share what was working well at our churches - what, specifically was helping our churches to attract newcomers. Many of my colleagues have churches that are growing abundantly, and I am always inspired by their creativity and their passion. But the answer to "what is working in your churches" boiled down to something rather simple.
"It's so simple to throw open the doors of the church," my friend said. She then went on to share how the church she serves had participated in our Conference's efforts to provide radical hospitality during inauguration weekend. Many of the United Methodist Churches near the White House and the Capitol hosted people throughout the weekend who needed a place to stay overnight and many other churches opened their doors wide on the day of the inauguration, providing a place for people to come in from the cold, enjoy a hot beverage, and receive rest for their weary bodies.
Alisa continued to share how some $1,000 had been sent to the church by people who had experienced their hospitality. She talked about the notes and the cards they had received. She said how one parent did not think she was going to be able to walk any further and then saw a member of the church open the door and say, "Please, come on in. Find some rest and enjoy a cup of coffee with me." This invitation changed everything for this woman and her son. This gesture became the highlight of their inauguration day.
It's so simple to throw open the doors of the church. People came just because the doors of our church were open!
I spend a lot of time thinking about church doors. There was a time when the church I serve had great big bars placed upon the doors of the church. Gates were installed in an effort to keep people from sleeping on the porch of the church at night. Thanks be to God these gates were removed as part of our restoration in the last couple of years. The symbolism of the doors was so jarring - borderline offensive. But I also think about the non-physical gates that our churches have installed - either intentionally or by association.
On Sunday, we had our first Church Council meeting of the year at Mount Vernon Place. During this meeting, one of our members got up and talked about his experience as a traveler in many different cities looking for a place to worship. He shared how not every United Methodist Church is the same. He talked about how he does not always know what message he might hear - how in one church he might hear a message of hate and condemnation while in another church he might hear a message of love. He shared how his gay friend, a lifelong United Methodist, had been to United Methodist Churches where he was told straightforward that he was going to hell and in United Methodist Churches where he was embraced and loved.
Adam went on to share the tool that he and his wife now use when looking for a church to visit. He goes onto a website associated with our denomination and looks for a church that is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church. He seeks a church where he knows that he is welcome and where he knows that his gay friends are welcome. Adam wants to be sure that the message he hears is one of grace and love and compassion.
Adam shared his journey with us on Sunday. As a result of his faithful leadership and courageous vision, our Church Council agreed to appoint a Task Force to consider what it means to be a Reconciling Congregation and to truly struggle, wrestle and be educated on what it means to be gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual and more importantly, what it means to be a place of radical hospitality - a place with doors wide open to all people - to all of God's children no matter what - especially those living in the margins.
We will start this conversation on Sunday, March 29 with a viewing of the film, "For the Bible Tells Me So" in our church's undercroft theatre at 1:30 p.m. The film viewing will be followed by a panel discussion of clergy and laypeople who are willing to share their story. I am looking forward to this conversation and to our congregation's willingness to struggle - to really struggle - with what it means to be followers of Jesus, disciples of Christ.
It's so simple to throw open the doors of the church!
And yet, we sometimes have a hard time just opening the door. Sometimes, the keys are hard to find.
The door is open. Please, come join us. Please come be part of this holy conferencing. Please come be part of our journey. And if you cannot be here, then please keep us in your prayers.