"So how's the new call going?"
I'm hearing that a lot. It's a good reminder that all kinds of people have my back during this new beginning at Zion. People are praying for me as I figure out what it means to be a solo pastor, as I strive to define 3/4 time my own way, as I learn the ropes in a different church and neighborhood. And that's comforting.
The truth is, I've been overwhelmed by the underbelly of "All Are Welcome". Lots of churches describe themselves as "friendly" and "welcoming" and "hospitable" these days. We all want to grow. We want to be open minded and inclusive of all kinds of people. We want be more diverse and we're hoping it's as easy as a smile, a church wide resolution, and a snazzy website.
This month I've been thinking about my biased assumptions in welcoming people to church. I've been hoping people come who are educated like me, share my sense of humor, and are able to make financial commitments like I do. I'm hoping that their differences are trendy - that something about my church community attracts someone of a different theological or cultural background. When the Nigerian immigrant is intrigued by liturgy, I feel validated. Maybe even smug. When the young couple decides to give my church a try two Sundays in a row, I pat myself on the back for nurturing an intimate environment where people are noticed. Gag.
Those things are still true at Zion. We still welcome people who, it turns out, validate my faith and practices. There are some people who are able to give financially or eager to dive in as leaders. But it's not the norm. More often than not, people show up at Zion who are wildly different from me. Their lives are more complicated or their brokenness is more explicit. They struggle with addiction or mental illness. They've run out of food stamps this month. They need diapers for their newborn. They don't have a car and can only come to church if a member gives them a lift. They live in group homes or tell the same two stories over and over.
And they are all lovely. The pensive, thoughtful, and the funny ones. Even the trouble makers and instigators. Even the ones who rub some the wrong way or need a lot of extra attention. Because I am new to inner city ministry, I am in awe of all kinds of things - especially their desire to make Zion a priority. I am struck by their commitment to community and their faithful attendance. Thanks to these saints, I am learning a lot.
Every day is hard because we are tiny. Our budget is tiny. And people come finding welcome who require great gifts. Printing braille bulletins (not the music, just the words) for one member who is blind costs about $700 per year. That's a huge chunk of our worship and music budget. How can we make him feel welcome if we can't provide a bulletin every week that suits his needs?
But there is abundance, too. When this member gets lost in the neighborhood because his cane can't distinguish the difference between sidewalk and street in the ice, our members go looking for him. They pick him up and bring him into the banquet room and heat up a heaping plate from the community dinner his just missed. And then they drive him home safely.
I am witness to this kindness day after day at Zion. It is rubbing off on me and changing my own sight so that it's more difficult for me to tell who is different from me. My categories of brokenness are crumbling and I am fed by the wonder of this hodge podge community.
Of course, I nervously pray about sustainability every now and then. I know that we will need more people and a delicate balance to keep this strange and lovely ministry afloat. People who give generously in some ways will need to come and love it and dig in their heels and make things happen. And people who give generously in other ways will need to keep coming and feel welcome and change the whole church for the better.
"So how's the new call going?"
It's wild. It's weird. It's completely wonderful. (Thanks for asking.)