Lent is almost here!

Although the joy of Christmas and the anticipation of the New Year have hardly faded it is time to start thinking about Lent and Easter. This year we are adding in new traditions and rekindling some historic events. I hope you will join us as we celebrate the fullness of life, from the joy of Fat Tuesday, through the shadows of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and finally to the rejoicing of Easter morning. This is a robust and meaningful season in the life of the church with many opportunities for worship and service. Here are several dates to keep in mind:

  • – February 9th, 6pm – “Fat Tuesday” Pancake Supper
  • – February 10th, 7pm – Ash Wednesday service
  • – February 12th, 8am-3pm – Bread of Life Food Distribution
  • – February 19th, Noon-1pm – Lenten Luncheon
  • – March 4th, Noon-1pm – Lenten Luncheon
  • – March 11th, 8am-3pm – Bread of Life Food Distribution
  • – March 18th, Noon-1pm – Lenten Luncheon
  • – March 20th, 10:30am – Palm Sunday service
  • – March 24rd, 7pm – Maundy Thursday service
  • – March 25th, 7pm – Good Friday service
  • – March 25th-27th – Easter Prayer Vigil
  • – March 27th, 7am – Easter “Sunrise” Service
  • – March 27th, 8am – Easter Breakfast
  • – March 27th, 10:30am – Easter Sunday service

New Faces

Many of us have been a part of this church for some time, which is a good thing! However, sometimes we become unable to see ourselves through the eyes of a stranger. While we are familiar with the order of worship, the pacing of responsive readings, and the way in which we partake of communion, not everyone is. Walking into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces is difficult at best and could be downright anxiety producing.

One of the most important things we can do each week is to look out for unfamiliar faces (or even familiar faces that we don’t know very well) and go out of our way to greet them. I recently heard a story from my friend, Anna, who was able to be that welcoming presence in church. She said;

It began as Mom and I were walking toward the church. “Is this where you go into the sanctuary?” was the question of someone we didn’t recognize. She was a visitor. We asked her name and invited her to sit with us. She immediately accepted our invitation. As we walked through the sanctuary, Mom introduced her to everyone in our path. It was great! (Now to figure out how to ask Mom to stop introducing a first-time visitor as a prospective member!) Mom is hilarious (without knowing it).

Anna and her mom got it right! Instead of just telling the woman where the sanctuary was and going about their routine, they took the extra step to invite her to join them. That way they had even more time to build a relationship with her. If she comes back to the church I would be willing to wager that it is because of Anna and her mom. And if she doesn’t come back, at least she was welcomed and showed that she is important (not only to God, but to the people of that church). But, Anna is right. Introducing every new face as a prospective member seems a little bit forward. It is like introducing the young man you’ve been on two dates with as a prospective husband to your parents… Can we say “Uncomfortable?”

Thom Rainer, author of I Am a Church Member, recently listed nine things that encouraged guests to return to a church they visited:

  • They had an umbrella for me in inclement weather
  • A member invited me to lunch
  • The kids area staff were friendly and helpful
  • There was a time of meaningful prayer
  • Someone walked us where we were supposed to go
  • There was genuine friendliness outside of the stand and greet time
  • People followed up on my prayer requests the next day
  • I had the opportunity to speak with the pastor
  • I received a gift at the end of the service

None of these items is all that hard to do. Some of them we are already doing. It isn’t hard to be genuinely friendly, or offer a seat to someone we don’t know. It isn’t hard, but it IS essential. It is so critical not because we are trying to grow the congregation. (We are, but for me that is not the main reason.) We are welcoming of others because God welcomes us. We serve others because Jesus served the disciples and instructed them to go and do likewise.

While we all need to strive to be agents of love and welcome in the church, there are some specific tasks with which I could use some help. We are out of welcome bags, and we need a few people who would be willing to make sure we have some on hand every week. Our “fiddle folders” have seen better days and are out of date. A few people who would be willing to make copies, and keep the folders up to date (or devise a new way to be welcoming to our younger church members) would go a long way to making our church a welcoming place. And, I’m sure there are other things we can do. What are they?

Please give me a call, on my cell phone or at the church office, or send me an e-mail so we can work together to make this church the community of welcome we are called to be.

 

New Beginnings

Every new year brings with it a list of expectations, hopes, and dreams. Often these take the form of New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to do this differently in the coming months. We resolve to start something new, or to end something old. We do all of this with the very best of intentions. But, as the saying goes, those good intentions are nothing more than paving material on the road to destruction.

Still, if we are honest with ourselves, there are things about our lives that we should aspire to change in the coming year. And, changing the calendar gives us as good of a reason as any to get started on those transformations. The problem is this; for many of us those good intentions will fade when the euphoria of newness wears off, boredom sets in, and adversity rears its ugly head. Most of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve made have withered and died on the vine by the time Lent comes around, usually in February.

So, what are we to do? Why don’t we stick with our resolutions? After all, we probably know we need to change. We may even sincerely want to change. So why is it so hard?

Well, if you’re like most people I know, New Year’s resolutions tend to be “big ticket” items. We resolve to lose 25 pounds. We resolve to stop smoking. We resolve to keep the house clean. Whatever the resolution, they tend to be substantial changes. Well, a few weeks down the road, when we have changed our eating habits and started exercising regularly but we don’t see any results on the scale… That can be HARD to take.

One problem with resolutions is that they are those big things we want to change about ourselves. They are monumental tasks, but they take time. Losing weight, or quitting smoking, or whatever the resolution, doesn’t happen because we decide it is important. We make progress not because we make the big decision to change our lifestyle. We make progress because we choose to get out of bed a little earlier today and go for a walk, or a run. We make progress not by throwing away a carton of cigarettes, but by deciding that I don’t need to smoke right now. Our success is tied to the small, seemingly inconsequential, decisions we make a hundred or more times a day. It is by making those small decisions and winning those little battles which leads us to eventually win the war.

But, wait! I don’t want to say that those big decisions aren’t important. Because they are VERY important. Without the big, resolution-like, decisions we would never make any changes at all. What is critical to sustainable change is balancing the big picture decisions with small changes in how we think and behave.

This isn’t just true for us as individuals, either. As a family we make similar big decisions which must be backed up with countless small choices. The same is true for our church. We make big plans to become this, or start that ministry… But, unless they are backed up by a myriad of small choices, little tasks that are easily overlooked, the large initiatives are doomed to fail.

We simply must be looking well ahead of where we are AND managing the minute details of life together in the here and now. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities before us in 2016 and beyond. As this days-old year unfolds, I hope you will join me in praying for God’s guidance both in the long-term, and in the near-term, as we seek to follow God’s call on our community of faith.