Saturday, March 26, 2011
Readings are here.
This is the reading that was the Gospel at my ordination as a priest. It is so rich with so many themes. The Orthodox call the Samaritan woman St. Photini - the enlightened one. Well stories in the Bible are always about betrothal - those seeking a wife or husband meet at the well. Does the Samaritan woman pledge herself to Jesus in this encounter? She goes to the well at mid-day - just the opposite of the parallel story we heard last Sunday of Nicodemus visiting Jesus in the dark of night. Many have speculated about why she would be out by the well at noon. Most of the women would go in the early morning and make a daily social occasion of their heavy water bearing work. Why had she had 5 husbands? Did they die? Did they put her away? Perhaps either she or her current partner did not marry because they felt it brought bad luck? She has had a tumultuous life to date - 5 husbands in the short life that most people had in those days. Whatever it was Jesus knows her deepest secrets.
Her response to encountering Jesus and his tender compassion towards her - is the urge to share it with all the townspeople. The disciples had gone to town to buy food - why didn't they bring back anyone to see Jesus? This woman shares in such a powerful way that the whole town believes and comes to learn more and believe even more deeply. Jesus uses this story to say the harvest is ready -- go out into the fields. The Pacific NW is the least "churched" of any area of the country - but what are the essentials that St. Catherine's offers that might entice others to join us?
We say we want St. Catherine's to grow - what do we mean by that? Do we mean people filling seats? or people finding a spiritual home - a place where they can join a community seeking the Holy? What do we find here that brings us back each week? What are the barriers we put up to newcomers? This church is one of the friendliest Episcopal churches I have ever attended. When our daughter came with me one Sunday - she was struck with the welcome that was not related to being my daughter - but you seemed genuinely interested in her for who she is. From that point what happens? Is there room for new people to move from welcome to finding a place with us. Where will they sit if they come through the doors. What about children? How can we build on the things people already find here? Extending the welcome -- church growth people say that a followup phone call or visit after someone comes to church is important - within 24 hours. Even more important a connection with a member - not just the priest. Those who attend 8 a.m. invite newcomers to go to breakfast - a great start to incorporation. The men invite other men to the Altar Boys-- another great way to help people find a place in our community.
Concerts for the community is one of our gifts and brings many through our doors. There is an active group who sees to this offering. Last week we had a wonderful first concert in the Mary and Paul Barthelemy series. This afternoon Jennifer Goodenberger will perform her music. In April Susie Godsey and David Carlson will offer yet another afternoon of enjoyment. But how multipurpose is our space? Could we do anything to make that experience more inviting? Are any who come to the concerts people who might join us for worship? Do we have materials available for information if they are looking for a church?
We are linked with the Center for Contemplative Arts - a place where people can explore their spirituality in a variety of ways. People who might not at first consider "church" -- can find a space to begin or continue their journeys in faith through art, meditation and other spiritual exercises. While not a formal part of our structure - many of us attend or participate in the offerings there. Do others there know we are members of St. Catherine's?
The service on Monday evening has brought us members who find worshipping in Spanish a community of welcome. Children are at ease and take part in the music and the liturgy - helping at the altar - playing the rhythm instruments as we sing.
A sign of a healthy church is one that cares for more than itself -- the Grub Club is one project that reaches out - to provide healthy lunches for children who might otherwise go without during the day. We are trying to reorganize that so the work is spread more widely. We have a current survey that says 50-60 children need this program - I am hoping that some of you will volunteer to join an oversight committee to revision how this program might continue. A committee that would also look at the other outreach projects and give oversight to those projects. There are also many of you who serve in the community in a variety of ways - teaching, running the Food Bank, looking in on neighbors, active in organizations that make the area better for all, voting.- active in government -- is your faith a motivator for these actions? Do people know you come to church at St. Catherine's? Are you ready to talk about your experiences if anyone asked. You don't have to beat people about the head with "are you saved" -- just go about your daily life and let your light shine.
To make ourselves more visible - we are revising our web site to make it more user friendly - so we can highlight current events - show who we are. Most people find a church if they are looking via the web site.
But really the most important step is invitation - most people join a church because when people show an interest - someone who is already a member invites them and accompanies or meets them there the first time.
The Samaritan woman gives us a model for sharing our faith. She tells of how encountering Jesus has changed her life. She is not afraid to say why it makes a difference. She is not thinking about church growth - she is sharing an encounter that changed her life. Perhaps the disciples could not be heard because they were outsiders - did not know the struggles of the Samaritans - the Samaritans knew her - they could see the transformation beyond mere words - they wanted what she had found.
Think about your own journey in faith - is this a place where you can "live the questions?" How did you get here - what has been your faith journey? What led you to walk in and what made you stay? Could you tell someone else about it?
As your interim vicar I have heard some of your stories of your encounters with the Holy One -- they are amazing. Maybe we might start with sharing those with each other - practicing before taking our "show on the road"? Ask someone you know at this church about their story. You will be surprised and you might surprise yourself in the telling of your story.
People are thirsty- we have a well.
Image by He Qi
The welcoming church h/t to Scott Gunn at 7 Whole Days.