I love “cheesy” lines from movies. Can you remember movies where people are “lost on an island” or waiting for help to arrive and someone suddenly stands and shouts, “Wait! What’s that on the horizon?” I had one of those moments earlier today. I looked at my calendar, only to think to myself, “Wait, what’s that on the horizon?” Not a ship or a person on a galloping house…no, it was ADVENT! How did that happen?
I know, I know, (perhaps said gruffly under one’s breath) “We are not even to Halloween, and you are talking about Advent?” Well, because it is on the horizon. I suspect in each of our churches there are people working to make, finish, or enact plans for your Advent celebrations. Advent ad Christ are times when a lot of people feel a call back to church. This year, I wonder who those folks are? I would encourage you, as you make your plans, to think about folks like this.
- People who are new to your area and want to check out a church. For these folks, do your Advent plans include clearly welcoming and invitational efforts? I asked once in a meeting, “Is your church welcoming?” The answer came from a grim-looking man on the opposite side of the table, “Of course we are welcoming, it is a church for crying out loud. Everyone is welcome.” Well… Make sure folks who come know they are welcome and are greeted warmly and genuinely.
- People who are facing the holidays for the first time after the death of a loved one or a divorce or break up. In your planning have you made allowances for people who are grieving? In your worship are there spaces for sighs and groans? Of course, Advent and Christmas are celebrations, and everyone does want to celebrate, but folks also want to know you see them in their pain.
- People whose churches disaffiliated. It takes a long time to heal from wounds by the church. I sort of thought that most people whose churches have left them were probably settled. I was wrong. They are still healing. As Advent comes, some of these folks may find their way to your church. It would be great if your church would be praying for those folks. Also, welcome them with the love of Christ. For more information on how to welcome well, check out this link about “Lighthouse” churches. https://www.inumc.org/umc-a-place-for-you/
You know what the great and wonderful and weird thing is about writing newsletter articles, you never know who is going to read what you wrote. To that end, if you are reading this and you were part of a church that disaffiliated, know that we love you. If your disaffiliated church is going great and you are feeling the Spirit and presence of God, then we rejoice for you and with you. If you are not in that place, if you feel hurt or wish the church had made a different decision, then we want you to know we are here and there is a place for you.
Let me go a step further, I invite everyone who has been hurt, left behind, pushed aside, or who just feels lost, to join with us at one of our United Methodist Churches for Advent to prepare for the celebrations of Jesus’ birth. You are welcome. Some of you may feel these things due to disaffiliation; but maybe, you have just been hurt. Hurt by the church, by the world, by people you love, by people who you never knew. We hope you will join us for worship and fellowship. We hope you find healing, connection to Jesus, and the welcome of people of grace who share God’s love with you.
What’s that on the horizon? Advent, yes! Healing, yes! Hope, yes! Blessing, yes! What’s that on the horizon? It is a celebration that will welcome the Christ child again into our lives and welcome all people into our churches and into a relationship with Jesus. Praise be to God.