What About Easter? A Message From The Tomb

Dear kindred,

I am keeping vigil for my mother who is the hospital in South Carolina and (barring a miraculous recovery) at the end of her life. This is my message to you who are wondering “how do we do Easter?” The first ten minutes or so are me talking about my own story, if you want to skip to the more relevant-to-ministry section. Be well.

Church Website And Welcome Rant: Advent Edition

HEY! HEY YOU GUYS!!!!

Yours Truly has been looking at multiple church websites in the past weeks looking for Advent services and programs, and for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Please go right now and do a website audit!!! People like me are actually looking for your church! Go RIGHT NOW and check if your church website has the following:

Your actual physical location, including a street address I can plug into my GPS. You’d be amazed how many churches think it’s enough to announce themselves as the Central Congregational Church and don’t even tell me what STATE you’re in, let alone the city. SOME OF US TRAVEL A LOT. Be clear and explicit.

Clear, obvious information about your SUNDAY services on the front page. Yes, it’s great that you promoted your Christmas Eve services, but I had to click through with a magnifying glass in hand to figure out what was happening on December 22 or December 29th. Don’t make seekers do that.

Information about parking. Where can I park? Tell me right on the website! Last Sunday I stupidly parked in the church driveway and got blocked in by oher cars. It would also be welcoming to know what door I should enter through. How many of you serve as pastors in buildings where many of the exterior doors of your big ole buildings are locked? It’s a miserable physical and emotional experience walking around a church trying doors, especially when it’s cold out.

Genuine Welcome

I recently walked into the foyer of a church and stood there for a good two or three minutes being aggressively ignored by the ushers/greeters. Of course I am perfectly capable of asking for an order of service and seating myself, but I wanted to see how long it might take before they paid attention to the newcomer in their midst. After the few minutes, I took a couple of steps closer to the chatters. I didn’t exactly clear my throat but let’s just say that I looked expectant. One of the women looked me up and down like I was an errant cockroach and said “YOU LOOK LOST.”

That may be the single most terrible thing I have ever heard a church greeter say, and I have heard a lot of off-putting “welcomes” (ex. “Is your husband joining you?” and “Are you here with your family?” — to which I responded, “The Christian community is my family,” which flummoxed that Nice White Lady pretty thoroughly). I responded to this woman with a plastic smile, “I’m standing in a church foyer ten minutes before your worship service. I am a visitor to your church and have clearly come to worship with you. No, I am not lost. Perhaps you could just say ‘good morning’ and give me a program?”

I get bitchy because one rude person can undo the work of an entire community with an unkind comment that may turn away an anxious newcomer. How do we not realize in this day and age that the act of walking thorugh the doors of a house of worship for the first time is a risk, an act of courage borne of deep spiritual yearning or other serious need? Ushers, greeters, clergy, and the community need to remember this at all times and hold it before us as our commission: acknowledge those brave souls with a kind word!

Maybe the woman greeting that morning who stared me square in the face and said, “You look lost” and later stood at the Communion rail literally scowling at those queuing up for Communion and not offering a whispered word of instruction to this confused visitor has poor social skills or is neurodivergent. Whatever the case, she is almost certainly at least capable of not insulting or neglecting visitors. You, the Minister, must break the dysfunctional family system that too often indulges silence around this kind of issue in the name of Christian love and acceptance. It is not loving to leave someone in a position of offering hospitality on behalf of the church who has not been nurtured and trained to do a good job in the role. Not everyone is a natural! Greeting and ushering and offering hospitality can also be awkward, scary and challenging for good folks. Help them do their best. Do not neglect this pastoral obligation.

Happy ending, though: a lovely, smiling and relaxed church member helped me to know where to stand during Communion, lots of people passed me the peace, and later, a teenaged girl who was wearing Crocs under her choir robe spotted me in the corridor to the restroom made direct, friendly eye contact with me and said with utter sincerity, “Hi, I hope we’ll see you on Christmas Eve!”

Because of that invitation and the other beauty I experienced in this church, I will be attending their 4PM Christmas Eve service tonight.

Now, sugar plums, go check that website, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Make sure you leave no detail out. Tell them about the time, the place, the door, the accessibility, the accomodation for children and infants (Are they actually welcome, merely tolerated, scowled at? Is there a nursery?) and also please don’t fail to include information about December 29th. You may not be preaching and it might be a “low Sunday,” but worshipers need to know what’s going on through all of Christmas, which is not one day.

Also, KEEP BREATHING!

Mwah, kiss of peace.

Christmas Eve Checklist

Review lighting cues with ushers. Go slowly, review it twice.

Candles check. Make sure you demonstrate how to tip the unlit candle to the lit candle, not the other way around (dripping wax!).

Extra thank the choir!

Have all readers do a sound check. Remind readers to quietly get in place a few second before their piece so as to avoid dead lulls while people walk up to the pulpit or lectern.

Hankie in robe pocket. Cough drops. Water at pulpit.

Cut and paste the carol lyrics into your document so you don’t have to fumble with the program.

Don’t thank everyone after reading and singing. It’s not a talent show. Respect the liturgical flow.

Remind people to take poinsettias but don’t do it during the service itself.

Poking fun at Christmas legend is not sophisticated. It’s the opposite. Don’t be a mythbusting asshole; what are you, fourteen?

Don’t generalize. Not everyone has children, is traveling, exchanging presents or looking forward to tomorrow. Speak for your own experience but remember those whose Christmases don’t look anything like yours.

Do not under any circumstances have a drop of alcohol before your service. ‘Tis NOT the season for working under the influence, and if you argue otherwise you should see someone about your alcohol dependence.

If you have an allergic reaction to the pine wreaths hanging directly behind you at the pulpit, take the first possibility opportunity to CALMLY walk away from the offending greenery, take your papaers and a handheld mic (if possible) and conduct the service from the chancel. Do NOT announce what you’re doing. During a carol, calmly speak to the ushers to have them remove the wreaths so you can resume as you had planned.

(Yes, it is possible to get through a Christmas Eve homily while having an allergic reaction to the wreaths hanging in the pulpit.)

Attire: Shine shoes. Trim nose hairs. Wash face, at least. Style hair. Do a booger check. Straighten stole. Smile, baby!

Be beautiful. And God bless us, every one.

“Interfaith” Thanksgiving Services

I’m gonna lay down a BIG opinion here, and you can either appreciate it or just roll your eyes and go back to making pies. I kind of hope you’ll appreciate it and make pies but that may be asking for too much.

PeaceBang’s Big Opion On Interfaith Thanksgiving Services

1. If Christian churches are the only ones ever hosting this service, it’s not interfaith. It’s Christian and the other religious communities are guests.

2. If the structure of the service strongly resembles a Protestant liturgy and always has and no one has ever suggested that leaders from the other communities recommend a completely new kind of structure, it’s not an interfaith event. It’s a Christian event at which other religious communities are represented as respected guests. But they’re still guests.

3. If the group of people planning the service have not set aside time to discuss the intention of this service; eg, why are we treating Thanksgiving as a religious holiday when it is not, how may this service promoting a kind of benign nationalism, and that kind of question, it is not an interfaith service. It is a subtly and in oh-such a benign manner promoting the notion that America is a Christian nation.

4. If the people planning the service are always Christian clergy and the meetings or e-mails reminding everyone that it’s time to plan the service are always generated by Christian clergy, that should tell you something. It’s a Christian service. The other faith communities are responding to an invitation, they are not equal partners in the process and they do not feel ownership of the event.

5. If the service consists of Christian ministers and Christian lay people in the most prominent liturgist roles and the representatives of other faith traditions are there to add “diversity,” it is not an interfaith service but a Christian service featuring “our interesting neighbors.”

My recommendations: if Thanksgiving seems a great time to gather the community together, let lay people initiate the planning. Be willing to totally reconstruct the structure of the event. Focus less on religious tourism (“Now we’re going to stop in JewishLand!”) and more on community. Break bread together if you aren’t already doing so. Include a service or justice-making component to the event. And if you really want to be interfaith and relational, make plans to get together again sooner than same time next year.

Who’s doing this in a way that you really love? Tell us in the comments!

Love, TurkeyBang

Negotiating a Letter of Agreement

Hi, darlings!
I know it’s Holy Week, and we’ll be addressing the beautifulosity of ministry in this most important of moments in the Christian liturgical calendar… but it’s also PICK-ME WEEK, where congregations and ministers in the Unitarian Universalist Association choose each other to take the next step in the search and call process. So much to think and talk about! Auntie PB is here for you. Stay tuned, and ask your questions in the comments!