This was an admonition to us Portland ALCM conference-goers at the final plenary session by The Rev. Paul Hoffman. He told us about the three Bs of the traditional Church, and how this order has contributed to its free fall: Belief, Behave, and Belong. In this order, a baby is baptized into the faith, but is not allowed to partake of the sacrament until he/she goes through confirmation and perhaps stands in front of the congregation to answer questions of the faith; and then finally becomes a member and Belongs. In the church of hospitality and outreach, this order should be reversed: Belong, Behave and Belief. People need to feel that they are welcome and belong — they come to be comforted, but instead get put onto a Committee!
Since retirement from Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, Pastor Hoffman has visited perhaps 40 churches and sees many elements which might keep out a visitor and give the impression “You don’t belong here.” In the narthex, if there is a bulletin board with name tags, it gives the message: You are an outsider. If there is an instruction in the bulletin about taking communion: If you are a baptized Christian and partake of Communion in your home church, you are welcome. Well, what about people who don’t have a home church? What about churches who have a closed communion? In the church of outreach, through Belonging, people then acquire the behavior to believe.
Pastor Hoffman now devotes his time writing about the ways the church can be more welcoming, and gives training sessions on how churches can be more hospitable. He addresses things like the parking lot, the sidewalk, the narthex and the worship folder. He advocates an apprenticeship for new members — an old-timer is matched with a newcomer for a period of one year in the areas of worship, Bible study, prayer and daily life. In Bible studies of no more than six people (three pairs of old-timers/newcomers), instead of asking the question: What does this mean? he asks the “I wonder” question. How is God speaking to us in this text? Therefore everyone has an equal footing in the circle, everyone has a seat at the table.
Today is the last day of the conference, and the first day for the sun to come out! We rejoiced by visiting the Portland International Test Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden.