Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“Getting To Know Others” (Pastor's Newsletter Column for October 2014)

The Boss of a factory prided himself in the heavy demands he made on his employees, and their ability to meet those demands.  So he was less than pleased when, one day while walking through his factory, he noticed a young man leaning against a stack of boxes doing nothing.  The areas Foreman wasn’t around, and apparently the man thought he could get away with a little unsupervised relaxation.  The Boss watched in quiet irritation as the idle employee yawned, checked his watch, scratched his head, kicked at some dirt, and finally sat on the floor.   

This was more than the Boss could take.  He strode up to the young man and shouted, “You!  How much do you make a week?”  The young man replied $250.00.  The Boss swooped into the cashier’s office, took $250.00 from the cash box, returned, and threw it at the young man.  “Take it and get out!” he demanded.  The young man took the money, and left without so much of a glimmer of shame crossing his face.  “We don’t need the likes of him working here,” thought the Boss to himself.

Then he tracked down the Foreman. “You know that lazy bum in front of your office,” he said.  “I just gave him a week’s pay and fired him.  What’s the matter with you, letting him get away with such unproductive behavior?”

“You mean the kid in the red shirt?” asked the Foreman.

“Yeah! The kid in the red shirt!”

“He was waiting for the twenty dollars we owed him for lunch,” the Foreman said.  “He works for the coffee shop around the corner.”

We may think we’re good at reading people, but it’s quite easy to make mistakes, and quite easy to get people wrong.  In 1931 Charlie Chaplin entered a “Charles Chaplin Look-Alike Competition” in Monte Carlo.  He only came in third.  Apparently the judges weren’t quite the “Charlie Chaplin Experts” they thought they were.  And sometimes we’re not the judge of character we think we are.

This is why snap judgments and first impressions, as essential as they sometimes are, can be misleading.  And this is also why I am appreciative of the two free meals we’ve done as a congregation.  Those two meals have given me an opportunity to meet people I never would have met, and get to know some folk a little better then I otherwise would have known them.  The meals have opened doors into the community, not just for me, but also for our congregation.

When I see people of Maple Avenue working together to make these meals happen, when I see how generously this congregation has supported the program with donations, when I see people, in spite of their honest concerns, giving the ministry the benefit of the doubt, and when I see people from Maple Avenue actually sitting at tables with others from Daycare and the neighborhood, actually chatting and getting to know them, then I’m filled with a strong sense of pride.  I do think we have a terrific congregation, and I just wanted to let you know what I think.

So a word of thanks to all who made donations and worked to make this happen.  And a “thank you” to those who helped.  And a thanks to those who came, ate, and mingled.  This is much better than relying on snap judgements.  We're really getting to know others, expanding the walls of our ministry, and carrying the light of Christ into the world.

Thanks for being part of this.

In God’s peace;

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

“Turning Wine Into Water?”

There’s an African folktale of a Chief who was getting married, and he invited everyone in the village to the wedding celebration.  He was providing a great feast, and all he asked was for each family to bring a jug of palm wine to share.  One family didn’t have any palm wine, and even though they had enough money to buy some, they hit upon a different plan.  The husband reasoned, “Rather than wine I will carry water in my jug.  Several hundred people will attend the festival, and when they get there they will all pour their palm wine into the community pot.  What will it hurt if I pour in water instead of wine?”  The day of the wedding arrived, and as each guest poured a jug into a great earthen pot.  When everyone had arrived, each guest was given a glass to drink, and as they lifted their cups to their lips there was a collective gasp.  The pot was full of water!  Each guest had thought that their one jug of water wouldn’t be noticed and no one had actually brought the needed palm wine.[1]

If there’s something important that needs to happen, and everyone assumes that someone else will do it, it will never get done.  Everyone’s presence and participation is important in the end.  Your presence and participation are important. 

With summer vacations fading away, and kids back in school, I’d like to ask two things of everyone.

First, come to church as regularly as you can.  Our average attendance figures are not horrible, but they can be much better.  If a hundred people attend church every week, average attendance is 100.  If these same people attend every other week, average attendance drops to 50.  And if they attend once a month average attendance is only 23.  It’s easy to drift away during the summer months, so I’m asking everyone to make an effort to drift back now that summer’s coming to an end.  When you’re not here, you’re missed.  I don’t say this because we only care about numbers.  I say it because we care about you and you enrich our fellowship with your presence.

Second, invite and bring friends.  One of the blessings I received from the two musicals we did this summer was getting to know quite a few folk who aren’t actually from our congregation.  What I’ve heard is this:  They love our church because we are so actively involved in making the community a better place.  I always like to hear this from people in the community, and this is one of the reasons I’m so proud of Maple Avenue United Church.  I hope you’re proud as well.  We’ve got something great to share.  Please help us share it.

I can’t believe that summer’s almost over, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner.  I look forward to experiencing these blessed things with you.  Join us, and bring your friends!

In God’s Peace;

[1] Adapted from William R. White, Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers (Augsburg Publishing House; Minneapolis 1986) pg. 66.