Word of the Week

Gum on the Floor, Cotton Stuck in the Toilet and What Living in Community is Really Like

No matter if a church really means it, it's been a rarity that I've found a church that doesn't say it is welcoming to the community. They want newcomers. They want new members, preferably those who tithe or bring in income. They want (or at least just appear) to be open to using their building for the good of their neighbors.

But, yet with all of this true, when push comes to shove, it is always harder than it seems.

In my father's church I that grew up in, I can remember a time when the congregation made an over-the-top gesture to allow the neighborhood Boy Scout Troop to meet in the fellowship hall for free. Everyone was excited about it. I mean, who doesn't want to help out the Boy Scouts? And if the church got new members out of it, even better!

This enthusiasm ended, however, the Sunday morning when the church parishioners arrived to find that not everything was in order.  Several of the scouts had taken the costumes for the children's Christmas play and re-arranged them. They moved Ms. Faye's cheese (i.e. the props for the children's play) and she didn't like it one bit . . . the sheep wool was gone.  Later it was found out that the unsupervised boys had removed the cotton stuffed in the sheep's costumes and tried to flush it down the toilet. The downstairs bathroom was overflowing and talk of "those Boy Scouts" was on the lips of everyone in the sanctuary that morning. The chairman of deacons (who was married to Ms. Faye of course) demanded that the church kick the boy scouts out immediately.

But what about Christ's welcome? What about living in community with neighbors?

On Sunday morning at Washington Plaza, as a group arrived to set up for our Sanctuary on Sabbatical worship series in the Plaza Room, we too had our limits of welcome pushed too.

God has blessed our congregation with facility whereas many churches in our area do not. We are happy to open up our building to the community and are grateful that the income received from this helps to support our mission and ministries. We are eager to be of support to any community group that can be blessed by our space, including new church starts.

One of the churches that meets in our building seems to continually have a supervision problem when it comes to their children. They meet on Saturday and Sunday evenings in the Plaza Room. It's a normal practice to walk in on Sundays and find food left out from the previous night's fellowship, markings on the wall, or one of locks in the children's ministry cabinet broken. But, usually it isn't too bad. We keep trying to teach, being forgiving and kind.

But the thorn of this problem keeps returning and getting worse!

This Sunday, we found gum on the floor, caked dirt on the floor and carpet in the entry way, children's supplies, stolen, and locks taken off the supply cabinets. Can I just say the word, gross!! It looked like a scene out of Pippe Longstockings.

We too wondered what we should do. Of course love of neighbor always means boundaries. The question is: "Where are those boundaries?"

But, these are some of the hardest questions that churches, especially urban ones wrestle with every week. For to be loving doesn't mean you get to be abused or kicked to the curb either. So, where is the line?

Know that our relationship with this congregation is being prayerfully examined by our Trustees and we would ask for your prayers too as we try to work out what is best for both of us.

I guess, I'll add Sunday's adventure in pre-church cleaning and conflict management to the list of things I never learned in seminary that community building is all about: gum on the floor, cotton stuck in the toilet and all.