Pastors hear everything. No matter what is said about the pastor- their church, their personal life, or even their dog (fill in husband, child, car, choice of earrings, length of skirt)—it eventually makes it back to the pastor. And although some comments are not as complementary as one would want (at a previous church it was said the pastor—that would be me—looked a lot less “washed out” when she remembered to wear lipstick. OK. I had to agree), I did just hear the most wonderful thing about Zion and inadvertently, about me. Apparently, it was said (in a local restaurant a few days ago) that Zion was going downhill rapidly because it is “filling up with poor people who just go there to get all the freebies.” Btw, the person who said this is not a member and doesn’t attend Zion.
Not everything I hear through the church grapevine makes me feel as deeply happy as that statement (i.e., the lipstick comment). Wow. Low income people feel comfortable worshipping at Zion and know they will leave with some freebies. I am wondering what those freebies are. Food? Certainly. Our food pantry is open to all people all the time–our motto: “as much food as you want, as often as you want.” Clothes? Absolutely. We recently purchased a pair of steel-toed boots for a young woman so she could take a job in a local factory. Job search? No problem. Deb will help you create a resume and apply online. Money for a water bill? Heat? Help with rent? A gas voucher? School supplies for your kids? Yes. Zion is full of freebies and for that I thank God every day. I love serving a congregation that knows the joy of giving and the gospel of hospitality. I wish I could personally thank the individual who said we were “filling up with poor people.” Can there be a greater complement given to those who follow Jesus? My only hope is that everyone sitting in that restaurant heard her and went home wondering about the church with all the freebies.
I do have one problem. The individual has the order of things confused. She implies that the reason “the poor” show up for worship is because they will go home with some freebies–as if our worship service were some sort of liturgical Happy Meal with a toy waiting in the bottom of the bag. Instead, I would say that most of our very low income people sitting in the pews first came to Zion to receive assistance (I prefer “assistance” to “freebies” but I suppose it’s all the same) and in the process of receiving assistance, they established relationship with people in the church. Then, feeling welcomed and safe, they began to attend church. In other words, these “poor people” are drawn to worship because they experienced the true generosity of an authentic church community. Naturally, they wanted to be a part of it.
We have moved through the days and nights of Advent watching and waiting for the coming of the Christ child. God’s Son given to the world in all its brokenness. The gift of Jesus. Perhaps the biggest freebie ever offered. Go to church for the freebies. Sit in the pews and listen to the voice of God. Take home a bag filled with groceries or a heart filled with the knowledge of God’s Presence in the world.
Merry Christmas Everyone,