Thursday, February 24, 2011

Invitations

There's a Wellness Center at a hospital near where I work; it has a little gym, and I go there to do some weight work and to take spin classes. I joined up thinking I'd do more yoga, but to my surprise, I've been able to do spin class. In fact, I love spin class.

I get to the hospital early and walk quickly through the halls--it's quite a hike from the parking garage to the elevators that will take me to the Wellness Center. On weekdays, I'm usually the only one in the hallways. I try to get there early enough to get my weight work done before spin class--so I'm there at 6:00 a.m.

Yesterday, for a change, I wasn't the only one. It's obvious where I'm going, because I have a water bottle and I'm dressed in workout clothes, not scrubs, like the rest of the hospital. The woman down the hallway said, "I keep meaning to get up there, but I never do."

I said, "Some day, I hope you do."

The woman dressed in scrubs shook her head and said, "I wish I had your energy."

I said, "It's the work out that gives me the energy."

As I got to the door where we would part ways, I turned to say, "Come up and join us some time."

On the elevator ride to the 8th floor, I thought about the encounter. Why is it so easy for me to invite someone to spin class or to the Wellness Center and so hard to invite anyone to church? I would never invite a complete stranger to church, but it was easy to issue the invitation to the Wellness Center to a woman I've never met before.

I've met enough unchurched people (and spent some years as a woman without a church home myself) to know that the invitation to church can feel invasive. It can feel insincere.

Of course, the woman had expressed interest in the Wellness Center before I even opened my mouth. It makes it easier to issue an invitation where there is interest.

Which leads to the next logical question: amongst unchurched people, what would make them interested in church? What would lead them to start up a conversation similar to the one I had with the woman in scrubs?

I realize there can be a zillion different answers to that question, where the attraction to the Wellness Center only exists on a few levels (getting fit, getting/staying disease free, losing weight).

And then the harder question: just as my exercise clothes set me apart in the hospital, are there signifiers that set me apart as a Christian?

I'm thinking about more than the cross that some people wear around their necks or the bumper stickers that people plaster on their cars.

Would people know me as a resource, should they want to have that conversation with me?

As I write, I feel my deepest fear bubbling at my edges. I don't want to be seen as a hypocrite. The largest danger with being open about my faith is that people will have certain expectations--and it's all too easy to fail. Then the unchurched will see me as just one more person who can't walk the walk--and that may do more damage than staying quiet.

But I also need to do a better job at realizing that some people are hungry for invitations. I, who am so afraid of being rejected or of failing to be Christ's light in the world, I need to work on offering invitations.

2 comments:

Di said...

I just read Jan Richardson's post on the people who have changed the way she preaches, and this reference to an unchurched friend stood out: "I would imagine preaching with her in the room. What would make sense to her? What would sound like baloney?" SO MUCH of our language as Christians is exclusive (and unfortunately, some of it's divorced from real meaning even among regular churchgoers), and that gets in the way of my offering invitations.

I KNOW the spin class would be relevant. Church can be a crapshoot-- and it's often not set up to accommodate outsiders.

MC said...

It's through my friendship with you that I've become interested in Lutheranism. I think some people get scared off by religious language, feeling that religion divides (and sometimes it does) instead of bringing together, which should be the ultimate intention.