Radical Hospitality

Dr. Furrer, preaching with help from several congregants in an effort to help members know how to be more effective in reaching out to visitors and truly welcoming them. With special attention on what NOT to do. This is also a perfect lead in to the class taught by Nicole Duff & Aisha Hauser starting January 28.

“Radical Hospitality: Opening ESUC’s Warm Window of Welcome”

Intro: 2 aspects:

(1) Practical à guidelines to follow that’ll make you more welcoming to visitors, & (2) philosophical à the Seattle Freeze is a heart problem

Growth Goal—Budget Goals: we need NEW MEMBERS if we want to keep this church, which has been so meaningful in so many lives, going for another 70 years. This is not just a financial calculation. Sharing our good news. Mission centered. Evangelical.

The Protestant church is very Evangelical. So were we, back in the day. Never revivalist, never hyper-emotional, but outward looking. And this was even truer among the Universalists. Since the late 19th century, however, Unitarians and Universalists have refused to proselytize (i.e., aggressively try to convert others to the UU viewpoint.)

Now resisting the urge to proselytize is a good thing, but being so cool that one never testifies about all that this church means to you, this is hiding our light under a bushel. We have to more welcoming than that. And most of all, we have to pay attention to everyone who’s in our midst, especially those whose name we don’t know…

SKITS (for Worship)

Visitor walks up

Member (GRACE): Welcome, are you new here?

Visitor — NICOLE: No, I’ve been coming for a year.

A better approach might have been

Member (GRACE): Hi. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you. I’m Grace.

This has the added benefit of not embarrassing you when you find out they’ve been member since the ‘60s. Another way we put people off is by prejudging what they’re doing here, often by virtue of their clothing or their accent.

Visitor (DENNIS) walks up

Member (AIMEE): May I help you? Are you to deliver something?

Especially if you’re an introvert, it takes an incredible amount of energy and courage to risk visiting a church where you’re unknown. And this is especially true if you’re going through a crisis at the time. The last thing you want is to be singled out or made to feel even more alone…

Visitor (NICOLE) walks up

Member (DENNIS): Welcome…. You’re a young adult. That’s great… we don’t have a lot of them around here anymore.

I guess it was considered quasi-appropriate back in the ‘50s, but nowadays commenting on anyone’s physical appearance is recognized as intrusive and rude. 

Visitor walks up

Member (NICOLE) : Aww, I see you are expecting. When’s the due date? We have a great religious education program here.

Visitor (AIMEE): That’s great to know… however I am not pregnant….

Lonni Collins Pratt, the author of today’s READING, asks us to remember: being welcoming is not a talent we acquire; it’s an attitude that we cultivate. It’s a spiritual attitude. And practicing being welcoming is a spiritual practice. This jives with a lot of what’s been happening in our Right Relations Circles facilitated first by Pam Orbach and now, more recently, by others—ESUC members—whom she has trained. What “jives,” what synchs up, is the notion that one thing we’re involved in here at ESUC and that’s close to the heart of our mission and raison d’état, is (as it says in out Third UU Principle) “…encouragement to spiritual growth….” And this is our main task: learning how to reach out to others because we genuinely care about them, want to meet them, and to invite them to make us an even better congregation by virtue of their interest and participation. But first, you have to try to get to know them. Not whom they look like or who we think they are, but who, in fact, they are as honest-to-God human beings with thoughts and dreams of their own….

Somewhere in Carl Jung’s voluminous published work he states that all relationships begin as projection. When we first meet someone, they remind us on some level of a favorite uncle or teacher…or maybe someone we didn’t like or who scared us. Once hormones get involved, we see Adonis or Aphrodite, Mick Jagger or Moll Flanders, again at first. When, sometime down the line, our beloved is revealed as all too human…well, many relationships cannot survive. And that’s because some relationships never progress beyond the projection stage. We project our ideas and personal mythology onto others. Maybe it works, kind of, for a while. But usually not for long. People change and projections they were willing to accept once often become burdensome later. In any case, Carl Jung goes on, sometimes one’s interactions with others progress beyond projection and into relationship. You actually begin to see one another as an equally unique and valued human being.

In the workaday world we are not taught how to get beyond projection. Indeed, modern politics and marketing are all but built upon it. People are subtly and not so subtly taught to “otherize” those who are not quite like them. Housing and many workplace practices exacerbate these tendencies—tendencies within us that are essentially the internalization of white supremacy culture. When we project these warded-off aspects of ourselves onto others, it can make us come off—at the very least—as awkward and silly looking. As when a person of color walks up…

Visitor of color walks up

Member (AIMEE): Welcome! What brings YOU here?

Visitor (DENNIS): Thanks, I found you online when I was looking for a place that fit my passion about stopping global warming.

Member (AIMEE): Great, and we have a great Black Lives Matter group! Let me introduce you to one of our few black members because you would have so much in common with them. Hmm. I don’t see them, but they are great people.

Visitor walks up

Member (GRACE): Welcome! We are so glad you are here. Our Music Director is gay, too!

Visitor (DENNIS): Ummmm I’m not gay…

Visitor (DENNIS) walks up

Member NICOLE): I see by your “Save the Orcas” button that you’re a conservationist. Good. Everybody here is pro-environment. We pretty much all hate conservatives, to boot!

Visitor (DENNIS): Humm…. Guess that leaves me and my significant other out.

When we put visitors first and reach out to them, we are asking them to tell us something about themselves. What are their interests? What they looking for? They also want to know what gets the members here excited about this place? What do people love about East Shore. Now, after years of parish ministry I’ve come to the conclusion that some UUs—not all of them or even a sizable minority, but some of us—like complaining and whining, and sometimes even bickering. OK. You know who you are; pair off at some point during the week and bicker away. But try to avoid greeting newcomers with news about everything over the last several years that you found upsetting or sad….

In coffee hour

Visitor (NICOLE): I really enjoyed the service today.

Member (AIMEE): Yeah… but the guy preaching is just a “developmental” minister. We USED to have a different minister who was better at everything.

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In Coffee Hour

Member (GRACE): Welcome. I’m Dennis, nice to meet you

Visitor: (DENNIS) Nice to meet you too.

Member (GRACE): So where are you on the controversial issue-of-the-moment that we’re currently fighting over? I can tell you all about the controversy. And which side you need to be on.

If any of you have never had the occasion to visit a mega church, I encourage you to try it sometime. The theology is off-putting for almost all liberals, but the systemic effort to reach out and connect with every visitor is very impressive. My colleague Dan Hotchkiss took up his first call in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1980. He and his wife had a few weeks upon arrival before Dan had to start preaching and so they decided to go check out the Reverend D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale. The service was rowdier than either one of them expected, but the folks were all very friendly. Dan’s wife was pregnant at the time and within three days she had received both written and telephone invitations to join a newly forming first time parents group. For political reasons they did not sign up, but they were strongly tempted to. The members at Coral Ridge Ministries met them, paid attention to their stated (and unstated) needs, and offered appropriate programs to meet those needs and initiate friendships. We can do the same. IF we all agree to make the first order of business every Sunday outreach to visitors and guests. Let us agree not to schedule any meetings until at least one half hour after worship is over. Our guests are here curious and eager to find out who we are—let us make every effort to meet them openly and caringly. At one of the community circles late last fall a participant visiting from Vancouver, B.C., Leonie Smith, spoke of how wonderful she has felt in certain communities where she’s experienced “the warm window of welcome” opened on her behalf. When we focus on church business instead of outreach, we all too often carelessly slam that window shut.

In Coffee Hour

AIMEE: Hey Grace, this is Nicole who is visiting today!

GRACE: Nice to meet you, Nicole…. Aimee, are you going to that ESJCC meeting to discuss ECAM and BRJ? It starts in 5 minutes.

AIMEE: Oh yeah. We also need to talk about how PBG requires our charters to be continually updated.

NICOLE: Gee, what’s that about? Can I come, too?

GRACE: No, it’s a planning meeting. You don’t seem to know any of our weird UU acronyms, so you wouldn’t be of value. Once more, we are running late and have to go.

AIMEE: Bye!

Both members leave Nicole standing there.

This brings me to an important point. Over the years I have observed that many of our strongest members joined when their children were in Sunday school and ended up staying long after the children moved on. Something kept them involved, but initially it was Religious Education that lured them in. Their kids had fun and felt welcome here, it spilled over to the parents, and the next thing you know the whole family’s part of our community for three of more decades. But that will never happen if the initial interactions between members and visiting families are not friendly and cordial. This is critical.

From 1988 to early 1991 I served the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod. Their Sunday school was moribund and, despite assurances that everyone would join to make it thrive, it soon became clear to me that children really were not welcome there. As soon as it became professionally acceptable, I left the Vineyard for a church on the village green in the central Massachusetts town of Berlin. And there were there, in the Berlin congregation, several babies. Their mothers would hold them while sitting in the rear of the sanctuary and sometime—as babies are wont to do—they would sometime fuss a little bit and maybe even cry. That happens here, too. It happens in every church I’ve ever served…except Martha’s Vineyard. And here’s the thing. Crying babies are music to my ears. That’s the sound of every church with a future. No children = no future. It’s that simple. Also, please don’t come up to me with a request that I get involved preventing the children from eagerly angling for their favorite cookies during coffee hour. They’re kids. That’s what kids do. The only thing you really don’t want is kids not wanting to be here because then in no time their folks won’t want to be here either.

We welcome families of every configuration here at ESUC and offer a lot more than just Sunday services. Among East Shore’s favorite attributes is our connection to the Seabeck Conference Center over on the Hood Canal where weekend and summer programs attract UUs and others from across the Northwest. But if we don’t share our resources with those trying to get connected, we come off as cliquey snobs.

In foyer/coffee hour

DENNIS: Hey Aimee, are you going to Seabeck?

GRACE: Of course, the whole family is going!

NICOLE: What’s Seabeck?

DENNIS: Oh, it’s this great all-church retreat. I’ve been going for years. I’m so happy you are going Grace. I wanted to make sure all my friends were going so I’d have people I like there to hang out with.

NICOLE: Sounds great, how do I sign up?

GRACE: Oh, it’s full. You’ll have to wait until next year. So, Grace, what workshops are you planning to go to?

Much as we all love East Shore and are proud of being part of it, it always behooves us to be modest about its virtues, or risking coming off as arrogant….

NICOLE: Oh, so you’re new to the area. That’s great. What do you do for a living?

DENNIS: I work at Microsoft.

NICOLE: Great. We have quite a few people who work there. You know, this is a very intelligent congregation. EVERYONE here has AT LEAST a Master’s degree.

DENNIS: I have a Master’s in Computer Engineering.

NICOLE: Yeah, but are you in Mensa?

Finally, keep in mind that, while you may be doing pretty well economically, vibrant churches have members from various walks of life and social locations. Indeed, that’s what we’re looking for—more diversity. Always try to be sensitive about the cost associated with various church activities. And remember—especially among younger folks—not everyone around here is thriving economically.

GRACE: Oh, so you’re new to the area. That’s great. Where do you live?

AIMEE: We are still looking for a place. We are looking at maybe renting an apartment in Bellevue.

GRACE: Forget about renting! You should buy a home, preferably with a water view… or you can always get a second place on one of the islands in Puget Sound. We have A LOT of members who have two houses.

AIMEE: Yeah, that sounds great, but housing around here is pretty pricey. Maybe someday.

That visitor may someday buy a house on Mercer Island. Without a crystal ball, we have no way of knowing whether that will happen someday or not. But here’s what we do know: That on this day, today, they showed up among us looking to make a connection. We either met them warmly and with curiosity, eager to learn what makes them tick, or we don’t. We either share our liberating, healing message, or we don’t. We either carry on the work of those who, over the last 70+ years, bequeathed to us this beautiful church. Or we don’t. Now let us do our best to pass it forward and pass it on. We can be the antidotes to the Seattle Freeze. But only if we make it our business, our sworn task, to do so.  Let us so resolve!