Dear Stranger In The Pew,

I am sorry I did not get the chance to greet you personally over the Christmas season.

It is hard to shake every unfamiliar hand that ventures into church over this holiday season, even more difficult to forge any sense of meaningful connection. You were among a number of faces I have never seen before and expect I may not see again until perhaps this time next year. I hope one day we can connect.

I wish we could sit down and really talk.

I would love to ask you what it was that caused you to take an hour and a half out of your busy seasonal celebration to enter the unfamiliar territory of church, sing carols, listen to scripture readings and a sermon, and come forward, or maybe not, to receive communion.

What suddenly motivated you to search on the internet, find a church and then enter this unfamiliar land with people who are to you mostly strangers?

I wonder how it felt.

Did you feel welcome among us?

Did our words and our practices seem strange, esoteric, and anachronistic?

Was there anything we did that you found particularly awkward, difficult, perhaps even offensive?

Is there anything you experienced among us that might cause you to contemplate the possibility of returning, perhaps sometime other than Christmas?

As I reflect on your presence among us, I wonder what I hope you might have experienced in our midst.

I suppose the one thing I most hope you might have sensed as you worshiped with us is that we who gather regularly as church, come together before anything else, to acknowledge the wonder, mystery and beauty of life that transcends the grasp of our senses and that, in Christian tradition, we believe we see embodied in the person of Jesus. We gather, not because we believe we are in any way superior to anyone who does not meet with us on a regular basis, but because we feel compelled to acknowledge the power that is the source of all life and that sustains all existence.

Church is not primarily a support for good values. We approve of good values and want to support the compassion, tenderness, self-giving, and grace that we believe are our highest calling as human beings. But these values are not our first reason for being church.

Church does not even exist first of all to change the world. We are eager to share in bringing about the peace and goodwill to all about which we sing at this time of year. But changing the world is not our starting point.

Church exists before anything else to help us join the

multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ (Luke 2:13,14)

In church we aim to open to the numinous reality we believe resides at the heart of all existence. We hope only that our hearts may be responsive to the transcendent reality we call “God,” and that we believe was at work in the strange events we commemorate in this Christmas season.

Most of all I hope you did not feel that we wanted to do something to you, or that we needed something from you.

Please be assured, we are simply happy you chose to spend a bit of your Christmas among us. We do not need you to respond in any particular way. You do not have to believe anything in particular, sign any statement of faith, or conform to any unusual pattern of behaviour. As much as we would love to see you again, we are happy you ventured through the door even this once.

We hope only that, in our midst, your awareness of that strange force that drew you to be among us, might deepen and grow. We trust that goodness, beauty, and love are at work in your life. We hope that you found something in our midst that helped you open to that which is deepest and most true in  your life.

God bless you. I hope we meet again and have a chance to talk.

 

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