The last few weeks, I’ve been preaching at different sites around the western US. What an interesting experience this is, both as a preacher and as a visitor!
As a preacher, I look not only at the texts for each week, but at the congregation to whom I will preach. Who are they? Where are they located? What are their challenges? What gives them joy?
The first congregation, to whom I preached the “Doubting Thomas” text, had just moved into a brand-new building and was figuring out how they would live in this new space. The Thomas narrative concerns how the disciples are encountering the risen Christ, both in rumor and in actual encounter – a new space for them too.
The second congregation heard another story of Jesus appearing to the disciples, one in which the essentials of hospitality are emphasized. This congregation is working on “mission redevelopment” which means they are undertaking specific tasks to determine their mission in the community – and hospitality to the community is one of those tasks.
The third congregation is the smallest of the three, in a mountain resort community, and they heard the text of Good Shepherd. As luck would have it, the regional Lutheran camp was in attendance too and brought goats from their farm! I was able to use the story of how their farm dog almost sacrificed her life for the herd last year, fending off a rattlesnake – and remind the congregation that while following Jesus (i.e., their outreach work) is not without risk, it is also not without the reward of abundant life.
With each visit, I expanded my own list of questions to keep on hand for when I am in a call. Some of those questions:
*Is it easy to find the entryway?
*Are there folks present as greeters/ushers who can help someone find the restroom?
*Are there pavement issues that could be difficult for people with mobility issues?
*Does the whole congregation see welcoming the stranger as their job (not just that of who’s on duty that day)?
These Sunday visits have been GREAT. They have also been super helpful for me, who has been with the same congregation my whole life! Now I have some experience of what it feels like to walk into a new space – and my future ministry will benefit from that.
How about you? Have you worshiped somewhere other than your home church, and found that the experience helped you see things “at home” in a new way? I would love to hear about it!