Welcoming New Faces Into Our Community

15620690627_eb7a793008_kThe recently published Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2014 Survey of Episcopal Congregations, found that 50 percent of congregations characterized themselves as “a warm and caring community” and 48 percent characterized themselves as “friendly and welcoming to others.”

This combined 98 percent is not surprising to me. Frankly, I can’t remember if I have ever heard a faith community say to me that they didn’t think they were warm and friendly. And as the Bishop, even in places that were very challenging, I still found them to be welcoming.

However… my favorite example of not being welcomed, in fact I felt shunned, was when I went to a faith community in a beach resort town wearing a polo shirt and nice shorts on a 90-plus degree day. The folks gathered in their suits, ties, and dresses clearly did not approve of my attire.

And then… there was the faith community I encountered while traveling, where the ushers were in jovial conversation, and when I said, “Pardon me. May I have a bulletin?” they both gave me a look that screamed, “How dare you interrupt us!” This was the same place that at coffee hour, even when attempting conversation with folks including the Priest, we were brushed off.

And maybe my favorite… was the overly gregarious greeter who began by introducing himself, informing us that he had been in this congregation for 42 years, and then spent the next 10 minutes telling us about how great the church was in the 1960s.

However, in the end I believe we are a warm, welcoming lot. I also believe we have to continue to be intentional about welcoming new faces into our community, because if you have not been on the other end recently, it can often feel like joining a group of strangers for Thanksgiving Dinner. To that end, what might be the most helpful is to encourage those who serve as ushers and greeters to, at least twice a year, go visit another church.

You may be also interested in one other factoid from the study, that is: most congregations report dreadfully low numbers about intentionally inviting folks. That is clearly something that all of us can put more effort into… because we do have warm, friendly, vibrant, faith communities who are using their gifts to engage God’s mission in the world. It would be a blessing to have others joining us to do likewise.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Myself with friends and theologians theologians Barbara Brown Taylor and John Philip Newell

Myself with friends and theologians Barbara Brown Taylor and John Philip Newell

Native Minnesotan Bob Dylan wrote these familiar words:

“For the times they are a-changin.”

This was during a significant amount of unrest in our country, and it was clear that a new reality was emerging. As is the case with the birthing of new things, this time was very challenging for a lot of folks.

Theologian Phyllis Tickle talks about how every 500 years the Church holds a rummage sale to figure out what it will hold fast to and what it will let go of. She, as well as many others, have identified that we are clearly in the midst of one of those times.

Now, if your family is even remotely similar to mine, when it comes time to determine what we put up for sale and what we keep in our garage, it is often a challenging conversation. It would be so much easier if the lovely Mrs. Prior and I could clean each other’s side of the closet.

This last week, I was blessed to spend a couple days helping lead a retreat with good friends and good theologians Barbara Brown Taylor and John Philip Newell. Both, in their own respective way, are imagining and exploring what the Sprit might be up to in our midst. Their musings were thought provoking, intriguing, and deeply soulful.

What I know to be true is that the Holy Spirit has always poked, prodded and pushed at God’s people. Whether it be the “every 500-years” yard sale or my 50-plus years in the Church, it is always dynamic. With that said, there has also been a constant: what we often refer to as tradition is foundational to who we are.

Bob Dylan was (and still is) right, particularly with respect to the Church. The times are a changing. With an understandably interesting mix of anxiety and anticipation, it will be interesting to see what God is up to next.

Click here to view Barbara Brown Taylor’s appearance on Oprah, as they talk about embracing darkness and facing the unknown.

Give to the Max Day 2014

Students of Bonne Nouvelle learn about Minnesota snow.

Students of Bonne Nouvelle learn about Minnesota snow.

Next week, we Minnesotans are being invited to “Give to the Max.” Of all the things I love about Minnesota, this is very close to the top of my list. To come together as an entire state to make a difference in so many possible ways is truly a blessing.

For the first time since we began offering Mission Opportunities within ECMN, you will have the opportunity to “Give to the Max.”

To remind you:

Mission Opportunity 2015: Engaging the Spirit in Haiti

“For more than two decades seven faith communities in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota have been involved in five partnerships in Haiti supporting education, worship, economic empowerment, health care and environmental sustainability. Mission Opportunity 2015 offers the opportunity to build on these relationships and engage other faith communities in this ongoing work.”

Incredible work by some very dedicated faith communities within ECMN has really made a difference in the lives of Haitians. Yet, as importantly, our good sisters’ and brothers’ lives have been significantly transformed by the relationships and partnerships that they have formed. Mission Opportunity 2015 is an opportunity for our faith communities to experience the transformation that springs forth from entering into a relationship with the wonderful people of Haiti.

The Mission Opportunity team has put together an amazing array of ways that your faith community can Engage the Spirit in Haiti. And one of those opportunities is to consider participating in our Mission Opportunity Give to the Max Day next week. I hope you will take advantage to engage God’s Mission in Haiti.