Evangelism is Paying Attention

May 2010 Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Article Melissa was new in the Denver area, on temporary assignment with her employer. She had only been on the job a day or two. She had met a total of maybe 10 people. Her car was giving her fits. And she did what she always does on a Sunday morning: she headed out in search of an ELCA congregation where she could spend some time in worship.

She pulled up to Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Greenwood Village at 10:35 a.m. – about ten minutes before the start of the congregation’s second service. The Pastor greeted her as she pulled into the parking lot entrance – he has taken to greeting worshippers there each Sunday as a reminder to himself and to the congregation of how important it is to be a welcoming community. They exchanged greetings, and visited long enough for him to discover that she was new in town, and having car trouble.

She parked her car in one of the “Reserved for Sunday Guests” parking spots just outside the main entrance, and as she stepped up from the parking lot to the sidewalk, one of Saint Peter’s volunteer hosts extended her a hand and welcomed her to worship.

As she entered the Narthex, she was greeted by another set of hosts. They welcomed her to worship, handed her a weekly newsletter and invited her into the worship center.

At the close of worship, when new worshippers were invited to identify themselves, the Pastor briefly introduced her to the congregation, and the hosts presented her with a gift: a Saint Peter coffee mug filled with goodies (a flier created for new members with information about the congregation, a coupon for a free latte at the High School Youth coffee cart, a Saint Peter ballpoint pen, a packet of hot chocolate and some candies… all wrapped up with festive foil and a bright ribbon).

When she received her coffee mug, Jerry – a long-time member with a sharp eye for newcomers – greeted her and visited for ten minutes after worship. He found out what she was doing for her employer, and offered to connect her with some contacts he had in town who might be helpful.

Surprisingly enough, on her way home her car broke down again – right in front of a Saint Peter family’s home. Allison, who had been serving as Assisting Minister that morning, recognized Melissa (who was talking on her cell phone with her father in Illinois, trying to figure out what to do). She and her husband helped Melissa get her car to a repair shop, and gave her a ride to where she was staying.

Melissa wrote her e-mail address on the welcome pads during worship, so the Pastor sent her a quick note thanking her for joining them that morning. He then phoned Dick, another long-time member, who owns a car repair shop. Dick sent Melissa a quick note, offering to help her get her car back in shape. She was already set up with the shop that Allison helped her find, but was very grateful for the contact, and the support.

Monday afternoon, Melissa sent the Pastor an email that began with these sentences: “Wow, what a warm welcome I received at St. Peter yesterday. It is pretty obvious that I have found my new church home :) “

It takes a village. In this case, six faithful, attentive villagers. And when there is a village in place, nobody has to do anything extraordinary. One just needs to pay attention, and connect. Notice the newcomers. Show an interest in them. Discover what is going on in their lives. Help them to realize how welcome they actually are. By graciously welcoming the newcomers in our midst, we have an opportunity to help them experience the same grace of God that drew us here in the first place.

God’s peace to you all,

David J. Risendal, Pastor