Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.

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Beth Taylor, Bear Creek’s chair of our God’s Hands ministry, shared a quote with me this week that continues to inspire me.  It’s a quote by Paul F. Davis that says: “Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” 

As I ponder this quote, I like to think of this as a quote that moves us not just to look for places where we are celebrated, but one that moves us to create a community that learns how to celebrate others!   One of the coolest examples of this is the attitude change that has happened recently in understanding hospitality in churches.   We used to call people who came to church for the first time as “visitors.”  In the past 10 years there has been a concerted effort in churches and anyone else in the “hospitality” industry to use the term “guest” for someone who has come to the church for the first time.   You might think this is a small thing, but it is key to who we are! There’s a difference!

A visitor is someone who visits a place, regardless of whether they were invited (like a tourist). A guest is someone who visits a place, but they have specifically been invited (by the host, who is the person inviting them). If you were to telephone me, and I said "I cannot talk, I have a visitor at my house" it might mean the mail carrier, or a delivery person (someone I feel neutral about). If I said "I cannot talk, I have a guest at my house" it might mean the neighbors are having tea or my aunt is visiting me from out of town (someone I intentionally want to be there, and who is welcome).

One is merely tolerated, the other is celebrated!   Recently, I read an article that encouraged us to see guests as a special gift from God!  Again, celebration!

This fall we have two great opportunities to live into this new way of being!  On September 8th and 15th, we are celebrating “Back to Church” Sunday at Bear Creek UMC!  We are sending out invitations to people in the area who might be looking for a new church home.  We will be asking each of you to consider inviting guests to worship.  Take some time to think about your attitude towards guests at Bear Creek.  A couple of years ago we had a guest who had been looking for a new church home.  She shared that one of the churches in the area made her feel so unwelcome.  She had gone to the church early to scope it out and find a good seat, and five minutes after she sat down, someone came up to her and told her that she was sitting in her seat!   Needless to say, she never went back!

The other opportunity we have to live into an attitude of celebration in the life of our church is Camp Unity Eastside!  Camp Unity is a homeless “tent city” (or village some say) that homes in local area churches.  On September 13th and 14th, Camp Unity Eastside will be moving into the Bear Creek UMC parking lot.   Close your eyes for just one moment.  As you focus in on Camp Unity Eastside and the issue of homelessness, consider the clothes you are wearing over your heart.  Are they clothes of tolerance or clothes of celebration?   If they tend to lean towards tolerance, what are some things that you might do to move that attitude towards celebration?  

Last night, after choir rehearsal, I was visiting with Simon, our Choir director, about Camp Unity and his eyes just lit up.  He is actually considering doing one of his doctoral papers on the relationship with choirs and homelessness!  He suggested that we try to do some things to connect our choir with the Camp Unity Eastside community.  He even thought it might be possible to include Camp Unity in creating an original song that we could share together!  As I watched Simon’s face light up at this new opportunity, and witnessed his animated hand gestures, I couldn’t help but think that these are the natural actions of someone who is ready and willing to celebrate others!  

My hope and prayers all of us is that we can learn to put on the clothes of celebration as we welcome others into the life of Bear Creek UMC!

Your friend and pastor, ready to “party” with Christ and all of you this September, Brook 

Tim Schaaf