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Metaphorical Access Ramps

I figured the Memorial Day concert and cookout would be a good way for folks to experience the hospitality of the church.

We had invited Will Parker, now a student at Yale Divinity School touring for the summer, to provide a concert “for kids of all ages”. We debated about hosting an event on a secular holiday (unlike Independence Day and Thanksgiving, Memorial Day does not appear in the church calendar). But while we knew that many would be out of town for the Memorial Day weekend, we also knew that those who were still in town would be looking for something to do. We promoted the concert among the folks of the church, encouraging them to invite their friends. We promoted it on social media, paying a bit extra to send the ad out into the 10-mile radius of the church. And, for the first time, we posted it on the “Next Door” list serve. Neighbors near and far are welcome, we said.

The concert was scheduled to start at 4 PM. And it did. But folks who are maneuvering toddlers and small children on a hot summer day are not necessarily able to move on schedule. We kept the front door propped open as a sign of welcome, in spite of the heat. And vans and Prius cars kept pulling into the parking lot, parents and children kept dribbling in. Familiar faces, for sure, and many I’d never seen before.

Turns out, about a third of the people who came that afternoon had come in response to the neighborhood list serve announcement.

After the concert, we gathered around an inflatable pool and sprinkler while the kids enjoyed the water play. Over hot dogs and chips, I heard one neighbor after the other tell how they drive by the church every day, how they’d been wanting to visit the church but hadn’t gotten there yet. They were glad for this opportunity to come and see what we were like, building and people.

Yes, I figured the Memorial Day concert and cookout would be a good way for folks to experience the hospitality of the church. But I hadn’t anticipated that it was also a way to lower the threshold a bit. It’s a lot less intimidating to pass through an open door for a kids concert on a secular holiday afternoon, than it is to enter a worship service on a Sunday. It’s a lot easier to engage in conversation with strangers and a priest while the kids a splashing around, offering distraction and interruption, than it is to walk the gauntlet at the west door after a liturgy, with the children eager to leave.

On the one hand, this seems perfectly obvious. And many churches already have something similar in their annual calendars -- spring festivals, yard sales, concerts, etc. I write with new eyes open to say “Amen” to that! The Memorial Day concert and cookout and the conversations it yielded helped me to see more plainly than ever the connection between such events and the thresholds to entry to the church. It is good, on occasion, to add a metaphorical access ramp.

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