How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

This is it for our summer sermon series on hospitality!  This week is Rally Day and the beginning of a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which will bring us through Thanksgiving.

It was fun to look at hospitality this summer – I actually had a lot of great feedback from people who gave me tangible ideas and suggestions of ways that we, as a church, can improve.  I hope this is one of those sermon series that we keep talking about, long after it’s over.

The question we answered in this final week was, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 1, 2019

1 Kings 6
Acts 2:37-47

How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

I have to be honest, I thought about cutting some down some of this scripture from 1 Kings and only reading part of it this morning (a decision many of you may have wish I made!), but every time I re-read the passage in its entirety, I got caught up in this beautifully vivid description  of King Solomon building the temple – of Solomon leaving no details unturned as he constructed this place where the Israelites would worship God – and I could not bear to cut any of it out.

You see, I was raised to believe that the details matter.  All of them.

I am the daughter of a director; a director who would spend hours creating lighting designs that not only looked cool on stage, but that also complemented the scenery, music and choreography and were timed perfectly to create a dramatic affect.

I understood from a young age that you do not have to do things like sell light-up wands to kids in the audience to wave around when the beast transforms or when Cinderella goes for a ride in her magical carriage, but that it sure looks amazing when you do.  Or that bubble machines and confetti canons might make a mess, but they are totally worth it anyway.  Or that bringing an actual pony on stage is risky, but it is always a risk worth taking because who doesn’t want to be remembered as the theater group who brought an actually pony on stage?

I came to realize quickly that the atmosphere we created in the lobby, the first thing people saw when they walked in – music, headshots, photo displays, a wide array of snacks and cold drinks, people welcoming patrons with smiles on their faces – created an excitement and energy that everyone carried into the theater.

Because the thing is – when it all came together and the lights went down and the curtain went up, magic was created as we told some of the greatest theatrical stories.

And it mattered.

So you can understand why I obsess over things like soap and coffee and nametags here at church.  Because I want to create an excitement and energy that people bring into the sanctuary with them for worship.  I want to create an experience that people will remember.

Here at this church, we have the privilege of telling one of the greatest stories that has ever been told – the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining work in this world.  And so when people come to church and hear us tell this story, I want to create magic.

Our first scripture reading comes from the first Book of Kings, which can be found in the Old Testament.  There are two books of Kings; first and second Kings were originally a singular literary work.  They give a continuous account of Israel’s history from the death of King David and the ascension of King Solomon to the release of King Jehoiachi, who was being held in prison in Babylon.  This spans the time of approximately 400 years.

The content found in these books reflects the theological concerns of the laws found in the book of Deuteronomy – namely that the Lord is Israel’s only God and that all of God’s covenantal laws must be followed, including the requirement that God may only be legitimately worshiped in one place.

You can see why this temple that Solomon is building is so important.  It is not just a structure; it is a place of worship – the place of worship, the place the Israelites believe is the only place worthy of worshipping their one God, who will dwell there.

And so while this might not be about soap or coffee or nametags, there are 38 verses describing every single detail of this temple that Solomon is carefully building.  Solomon believes that this is important; that the building, the furnishings and the artwork are coming together to create an experience where the Israelites can hear the story of God’s creating work.

Our second scripture reading comes from Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the formation of the early Christian Church; it begins with Jesus’ ascension and goes from there.  The cool part about looking at the book of Acts alongside this passage from 1 Kings is that Acts tells the story of the church before it becomes the church that we know today.  It starts in people’s homes, with the apostles sharing the message of Christ’s resurrection from city to city.

Acts reminds us that we do not necessarily need a church building to worship God; but this particular scripture shows the, sort of, natural tendency for human beings to eventually find themselves in intentional spaces of worship.  The apostles are breaking bread together at home, but also spending “much time together in the temple.”[1]

The thing is, we do not need a physical church building to worship God.  But the building represents something, right?  It represents our faith, our hope, our desire to create love in this world. It represents our community, the cloud of witnesses that came before us whose lessons we are carrying with us and whose legacy we now uphold.  And I think history teaches us that space matters, that when we have a designated and carefully designed space to worship God we do so with intention and reverence and enthusiasm.  The details of our space not only matter, but they help us tell a beautiful story of the love we have for our God, of the pride we have for our community and of our desire to welcome others into our space.

I am not suggesting that we build a temple that is 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high with recessed windows and three stories.  But I am saying that our space matters.  Because I want people to walk through our doors and not only hear the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, but I want them to experience magic while they do so.

Earlier this week, I went on our Facebook group and posed the question that is the topic of this week’s sermon:  How can we create a space where people feel welcome? The responses were wonderful and thought-provoking and gave me so much pride for our church in the village and the spirit of hospitality that we are trying to foster here.  They ranged from talking about what we are already doing (physical access, nametags, delicious food) to simple ways that we can improve (hearing devices connected to our sound system, making fans available in the summer).  They talked about what happens when we leave our physical space and then extend our reach out beyond our walls (the Hillside Takeover, the Memorial Day Parade). Multiple people talked about the ways we extend our ministry beyond our membership (the bazaar, the bike blessing, your grace in giving me the time to preside over funerals for nonmembers).

What I love about these responses is that they are not specific to one area of our church and community – they span the gamut – which means that every single person in our church can participate in our ministry of hospitality; that no matter who you are or how long you have been attending RCC or how much time you have available or what you are interested in, you can help create a space of bold and extravagant welcome.

So how do we do this?

I said in my Facebook post that I hoped this sermon would start the biggest brainstorm session we have ever had – and I am going to start!  I have five suggestions.

#1.  Nametags, nametags, nametags!  I preached a whole sermon on this so I am not going to bore you again, but Rally Day is NEXT week, which means we might have some new faces in our pews.  If you have not been wearing your nametag this summer, dust it off and put it on next Sunday (and if you lost it, I will make you a new one).

#2. I want everyone to try to put yourself in an “outsiders” position and think about what our worship experience looks life. Coming to church and being in worship makes sense to all of us, because we are used to it, but is it easy for someone coming for the first time?

Is our signage clear and thorough?  Is there always a place for a newcomer to park? Do we make people feel welcome when they first walk in?  Are our worship bulletins easy to follow?  Do we approach first-time guests after worship and invite them into fellowship? Do we use language that new guests will be able to understand or do we use insiders language?

The thing about all of these questions is that if we are falling short there are simple and immediate solutions.  We can buy new signs, create designated parking and reformat the bulletin.  We can change our language.

We need to make it easy:  Easy to find out what time church is, easy to get here, easy to participate in worship and easy to get involved.  If you have a tangible suggestion about how we can make something more welcoming, please share it with me!  I will ask that you please try to share it with me using a kind and constructive tone, but remember that I am the worst offender of getting caught up in what we are doing because I am so deeply embedded into it.

#3. Let’s all look at our space – our physical space.  Is bright, fresh, clean and functional?  Does it give you a sense of calm and comfort?  If the answer to any one of those questions is, “not really,” then take the initiative, come up with a solution, talk to the Executive Board, maybe put together a group of people and make it happen.

Some of the church school classrooms got a fresh coat of paint this summer because two or three people took the initiative, came up with a solution and made it happen.  And they look fabulous!  There are so many little projects around our building – inside and outside – that might seem daunting for one person, but we are not one person, we are a village – the body of Christ.

#4. If you see someone that looks like they might be new, say, “Hello!”  Introduce yourself.  People always tell me that they are worried they might go up to someone they think is new and accidentally introduce themselves to someone who has been attending for months or even years.  But honestly – who cares?  If you do not know someone’s name, they are new to you.  If someone has a confused look on their face, ask them if they need help. When we have New Member Sunday, make it a point to talk to the new members in the weeks that follow; get to know them and find ways to integrate them into our community.

#5. Remember that it is the little things that make a difference.  If you know it is going to be hot, maybe offer to bring bottles of cold water and have them available for people in worship (who else was totally psyched when Bonnie Meagher was making root beer floats the Sunday the heat index was over 100°?). If it is going to rain, show up to church early with an umbrella and walk people in.  If it is going to be cold, offer to start people’s cars during Fellowship.  If you have not seen someone in awhile, contact the office for their phone number or address and give them a call or send them a note to let them know you are thinking about them.

Friends, this is it for our mini sermon series on hospitality.  I have to say that I am thrilled with the response that I have gotten to this already. From donations of nice-smelling soap to offers to help fix our front steps, people are carefully discerning ways that they can give back to this community that they love so much and to help to create a more hospitable space for others to be welcomed into.

So let us, like the first apostles that laid the foundation for the Christian church we love so much today, praise God and have the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day, may God use us to welcome others so that God can add to the number of those being saved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Acts 2:46, NRSV

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To Call The Church Into Being

Hi Friends!

We were off the Year of Mark this week for Pentecost.  There was no denying the Holy Spirit was present on Sunday when you walked into church!  We had a big fabric installation and a cake with sparkler candles and everyone wore red.

Sunday was also Children’s Day at RCC, so it was a really short sermon before the older kids did their “memorable moments” skit, where they each talked about their most memorable moment at the church this year.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

To Call The Church Into Being

I was texting back and forth with Abbie St. Martin this week about my ability (or lack thereof) to make a Pentecost cake and she said, “You could just make any old cake and set it on fire.”  She then immediately followed it up with the text, in parentheses, “That’s Pentecost, right?”

As a pastor, I have never been more proud.

This morning is Pentecost and it is the tradition of the Church to use the color red to symbolize the fire and the might movement of the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully not long after my conversation with Abbie, Jen Healy texted me and said she and Matt would be happy to make an actual Pentecost cake, one that we would nothave to set on fire.

Pentecost is the day when we commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the apostles and the earliest followers of Christ and called the Church into being.  This morning, before we move to this year’s Church School skit, I thought I would talk about what it means to call the Church into being today.

Last Sunday was New Member Sunday.  With joy in our hearts, we officially welcomed 11 new people into our church family.  Leading up to last Sunday, one of the new members asked me, “What is it that you expect of us, now?”  I have thought about that question all week.  Of course, with congregational polity, it is a fascinating and not-easily-answerable one.  Because I guess, technically we don’t expect anything; but when people join the church they areaccepting our invitation to help us call the Church into being today.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Today is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a celebration of what the Holy Spirit has done in our midst, a celebration of what we do when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and our lives and a celebration of the Church that the Holy Spirit has called into being today.

And what a Church is it.

Perhaps we do not expect anything “official” of our members, but when we call the Church into being, we are doing something powerful and bold and life-changing.

To call the Church into being means creating a safe space where we can learn and grow in our faith.

To call the Church into being means singing together and praying together and sharing the peace of Christ with one another.

To call the Church into being means gathering around a table and breaking bread together, remembering Jesus every single time we pass around a tray of bread, grape juice, turkey, pasta or lemonade.

To call the Church into being means hearing prayer requests offered up by those in our church family and earnestly pray for them; sharing in both their joys and their sorrows.

To call the Church into being means asking hard questions and not being afraid of what happens if someone has a different answer than you do.

To call the Church into being means making meals for people when they are sick, recovering from surgery or bringing a new baby home.

To call the Church into being means rescuing the first row of worshipers from a falling speaker.

To call the Church into being means sometimes entering a peaceful space and sometimes being surrounded by chaos.

To call the Church into being means celebrating all generations – young and old.

To call the Church into being means knowing that you are not alone.

Today we celebrate the Church that was, that is and that will be in the future.  We celebrate God who created us, Christ who redeems us and the Holy Spirit that sustains us always.

Today, with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we make a commitment to continue to call the Church into being.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Hi friends! It is my tradition on Confirmation Sunday to write a letter to the Confirmation Class for my sermon. This year’s class was amazing and I was so humbled by the authenticity of the statements of faith they turned in.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Pentecost! It is crazy to me to think that last year I didn’t get to preach Pentecost because it was late (first Sunday in June) and I was in the hospital with a new baby! The year went fast …

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Here’s a picture of our altar from Pentecost!  I loved the way it turned out.

Have a safe holiday weekend!

Sarah

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21

A Letter To The 2018 Confirmation Class

Dear Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric,

I have to be honest – I was not sure how Confirmation was going to go this year.

First of all, I was a little out of practice. Not only did we not have a Confirmation class last year, but I was also fresh off of maternity leave – slightly sleep deprived and not sure how to balance this whole ministry and motherhood thing.

Second of all, the church was in a bit of a transition. Lauren and Jordan had just moved and we were getting ready to vote on a new governance structure. A lot felt like it was up in the air at the church; it was hard to teach about RCC history when I felt like we were, instead, living it out in very real time.

And lastly, the demographic of your class is unlike any one I had ever experienced here before. All four of you live in different towns and attend different high schools; not one of you attends Dighton-Rehoboth High School.

On a small scale, I think your class actually represents a shift happening in the demographic of our church community right now. More and more, instead of just coming here because people live in town and that is what they are supposed to do, people are coming from different towns to intentionally be part of this church and this community. People want to be here! It is an exciting time to be part of the Rehoboth Congregational Church; and I am so grateful, not only that you decided to be part of the confirmation class this year, but also that you are making the commitment to join and become a member of this church.

But that being said, the four of you did not really know one another when we started our time together. So, rather than just jumping in, we started with a covenant. We sat down and brainstormed what we wanted to get out of the year and what we wanted our classes to look like. Here is what the covenant said:

As members of this year’s confirmation class, we promise to create a safe space where we are all welcome and free to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We promise to be active listeners and contribute honest participation with mutual respect for one another. We will joyfully include music and worship into our classes and hope to have fun, maybe learn something and possibly even teach something. We will create a comfortable space, bringing delicious food and fostering fellowship and fun. Laughter will fill our space and love will always win.

I can say with confidence that we did all of these things. We talked, we sang, we laughed and we turned to Google when we were confused. You told stories and taught us about school, pop culture and what is actually cool (versus what we thought was cool). We respected one another, genuinely cared about what was going on in each other’s lives and followed up on things we had talked about in previous months. We had conversations that were relevant to our topics of conversation and also occasionally got sidetracked. I have to admit, that, in achieving the delicious food portion of this covenant, I have a new appreciation for the loaves and fishes story. I realized this year that perhaps God might not always provide by multiplying the loaves, but in having me conveniently schedule class on days when we had a luncheon after church and plenty of leftovers for our evening meal, otherwise one evening dinner might have consisted of meatloaf, potato chips and jello that hadn’t set yet.

Every month, I started off our classes by asking you the same thing: What are three things you’re loving? And while I am sure you are grateful to no longer have to come up with three new things to love every month, I do hope you appreciated and learned something from the practice, itself. It is good to force yourself to think about the things in life you love; it is good to find and see joy, even when things are hard.

Because the world, as imperfect as it is and as hard as it can be to live in it sometimes, is beautiful. There is so much to be thankful for. There is so much to appreciate. There is so much to love.

But I hope you know that it is also okay to say, “You know, it’s been a really hard week, so I’m going to need to go last so I have more time to think of something.” If you remember, the adult mentors groaned as much as, if not more than, you did, when I asked this question. Sometimes I had a hard time coming up with three things and I was the one that ASKED the question! The truth is, life can be hard; you will face challenges along your journeys and you will not always love life.

I wish in confirming you I could protect you from these challenges.

But here’s the thing: This is why you have a church community. This is why you surround yourself with people who love God and love another. This is why you have safe spaces, like our worship, bible studies, committee communities, community events and missions activities, where you can be the most unapologetically authentic version of yourself, no matter how whole or how broken you happen to feel.

Because this church can and will be your spiritual tribe. This church will love you and love you hard through all of the challenges of life. This church will pray for you and share your burdens. This church will show up with meals, prayer shawls and the occasional sing-a-long. This church will laugh with you, cry with you, celebrate with you and share in your sorrows and frustrations.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on “doing church,” and I talked about the fact that church is verb, not a noun. And so today, I invite you to “do church” with us. As of today, you are no longer children of this church; you are members of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

And I want that to mean something in your life. I want this church to change your life. I want this church to open your eyes and your minds and your hearts to the Gospel; to world that is just and fair, to a light that shines even in the darkest of places and to a grace that can be uncovered in the most unexpected ways.

And I want this church to be changed by you, as well.

Julia, Cassandra, Lexi and Eric, I was blown away by the work you did in Confirmation this year. I said that I did not know how Confirmation was going to go this year, but the truth is, God did something so much cooler than I ever could have dreamed up myself. I never could have predicted how strong of a community we would create, how easily our conversations would flow and how much we would learn about one another. I truly loved our meetings this year.

Even more than that, it was so much fun to watch each one of you get involved in different ways in the wider church community.

Lexi, you faithfully sang in the choir, week after week, made delicious baked goods for this year’s dessert auction and took charge during last week’s children’s sermon, getting all of our supplies and offering to water and care for the flowers we planted.

Julia, you played your viola in your worship, made the most creative baked goods for the dessert auction and made the guacamole for our taco bar that was so good it was gone by the time I went through the line.

Cassandra, you valiantly balanced cheerleading and confirmation for most of the year. You often came running in to our meetings, still in your uniform and jumped right into the conversation, without missing a beat. You volunteered at the cookie walk at the bazaar and served at our lunches and suppers.

Eric, you surprised us all with how well spoken and poised you are. You led worship at the Easter sunrise service and last week better than most of the pastors I went to seminary with. And you were always up for a challenge, even if that challenge meant paddling a kayak in the rain at 5:30AM on Easter morning.

I could not be more proud of the young adults that you are – and the church members that you have become.

So thank you. Thank you for the community. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for conversations. Thank you for the grace. Thank you for the food. Thank you for sharing the things you are loving. Thank you for making this a year of confirmation I will never forget.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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