A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
— Proverbs 11:25
Each year hundreds if not thousands of people enter the side door of Roberts Park United Methodist Church with hearts, half full, seeking God’s grace, love, and connection. They are rarely seen in the chapel or the sanctuary on a Sunday morning before service; however, that amazing grace is found in those side rooms and the basement under the fluorescent lights every day.
It took me time to deconstruct my idea of church. I always thought it was only on Sunday mornings where we would sit in the same pew, greet one another by saying “peace”, sing hymns, listen to a message inspired by the Gospel, and talk about the previous week’s events, as well as the week ahead with people we know and feel comfortable with during times and space throughout the worship service that allowed for intentional fellowshipping and reconnecting with our neighbors.
It wasn’t until I started as choir director at Roberts Park that I began spending time after church on Sunday and in the evenings during the week that I realized how many people enter through the side door. There are many!
Many people come to our church for a purpose. They come to continue on their journey to remaining sober, some in hopes of receiving a warm meal, some come with their children to participate in Messy Church, some to receive assistance or aid to help them get back on their feet, and others come through the side door in order to forget about their pains and struggles through song.
As the Indiana Conference continues its effort to be fully missional by 2020, how can we be part of the lives of our neighbors who come to our churches? Particularly those who enter through the side doors, either intentionally to avoid being seen as they are simply seeking a space to rest, recover, restore themselves and the hope they may have lost during the previous week. I believe the easiest way to get to know these neighbors is to engage in conversation, making sure to always listen more.
There is an opportunity to be in community and conversation with people we don’t know – even on Sunday, right after church. At Roberts Park, it’s during Soup’s On!
Last spring, I attended the Mission and Justice Summit at Franklin Grace United Methodist Church. Rev. Jeff Newton, Director of Kokomo Urban Outreach, shared how we can be in ministry with our neighbors during a meal. He referred to it as singing in scat-like style “do-be-do-be-do.” At Roberts Park, we have our “do’ers.” They cook, clean, mop, take tickets and take the trash out. We are blessed with the outpouring of willing and devoted volunteers each week. What we are often missing are “be’ers”. People who are there to share a meal and engage with neighbors – that’s it! No cooking, cleaning, mopping, taking the trash out – just lending a listening ear and encouraging one another. Sign me up!
I invite you to bring the love of God to the side rooms and the basement at Roberts Park, as well as your own church. Start this Sunday! You’re welcome to walk side-by-side with a neighbor through the lunch line, sit awhile, and chat with our neighbors, but we encourage you to listen more. Tip: Ask for small portions, so you can go for seconds and sit with someone new.
May God’s love pour out upon each of us and encourage us to be in conversation and connection with those around us. Amen.