For the past 2 weeks we’ve attended a church and both JJ and I have left happy; we get in the car and courageously ask the other, “so…. what did you think?” and wait for the shoe to drop. But, thankfully, we breathe a collective sigh of relief when the other says, “I really enjoyed it!”We’ve decided to keep going. (Unfortunately the summer is fast approaching, when our participation wavers greatly as we spend time at the lake. Each of us has a cross to bear.)
But what has been striking about this church is the free stuff. Now, I’m all about prizes and giveaways. I once shared that the free bagels awaiting me at the finish line prompted me to actually complete my second half marathon. I was one of those kids who walked around the fairgrounds collecting whatever my good elected officials willingly gave away.
However, this church has taken the gifting to a new level. H Boy got a t-shirt (which he’s insisted upon wearing, 3 sizes too big), we had a fresh baked loaf of bread, fake flowers, an entire information packet, and a beanie baby handed to us in person. The first week we got a kind note from the pastor. And a gift card for gas.
Yes, gas. Now, having sat through a multitude of staff meetings, I’m 97% positive I know how the decision to offer this gift was made:
Church Secretary: The hospitality team is running out of people willing to make pies for new visitors. They can’t seem to get the pie made in time and then dropped off because we don’t have their information and by the time the pie is ready and they have a name and address, it’s a very socially awkward situation.
Pastor: Well, can’t we buy a pie from somewhere here in town?
Staff person C: What if they’re diabetic? It’s not very nice to send them to a place they can’t eat anything.
Staff D: And then we’re just wasting money.
Pastor: Well, what about a gift card to somewhere else?
Church secretary: Perhaps Walmart? Everyone can find something at Walmart. And then they can pick out a nice gift themselves.
Staff person C: Walmart is of the devil.
Staff D: And what if they buy cigarettes. We don’t want to be enablers.
Pastor: Oh heavens. Well what does everyone need?
Church secretary: How about a gas card? It’s so expensive nowadays. And Speedway makes them redeemable for only gas.
Staff person C: How practical!
Staff D: And now, in other business. Moving the organ….
So, the practical side of me gave a bit of grace for this seemingly strange welcome gift.
But we got another letter this week from the pastor, with another gift card! This time DQ got the nod and we’re set to go for some Hot Eats and Cool Treats, or as the pastor mentioned in the card, take a friend for some fun. Which would be fun. If we had friends.
I really appreciate the lengths at which this church will go to help us feel welcome. I appreciate their hearts, so I don’t want to poke too much fun. I would venture to say the Visitor Gift might be the plight of all hospitality teams. But having married Mr. Hospitality himself, JJ raised his eyes a bit to the attempt. And we both are asking: at what point are we no longer new and the free stuff stops?
I think, in my nature of contemplating all things normal people tend to just write off, the reason it sits wrong is because a gift card – especially for something so practical – (sort of) misses the point of hospitality. We’re not looking for a free anything – we just want a church family. And in the church’s defense, it isn’t looking to just give stuff away. I think it’s just trying to figure out what hospitality and welcoming feels like now that society no longer lives a neighborly way of life. And the equation sits unbalanced. Until you’re actually looking for a church (something few to none of all pastors have done, I would guess), you don’t actually know how to walk in those shoes.
I wish I could offer something concrete rather than criticisms (because honestly, that’s not fair).
The DQ thing does sound like fun (though, to Staff Person A’s critique, we’re not eating a lot of dairy nowadays), and eating out in any form is a treat. You will always win this household with food.
But I miss the personal nature of hospitality. I think if a church – or a family – wants to be hospitable, they invite someone over for dinner. Not a grand showcase or event, but just “we’re going to put some burgers on the grill, would you like to join us?” And though we might be a bit too set in our ways to change plans, the offer will meet appreciative hearts. And JJ will probably convince me to throw caution to the wind and go. Because of the churches we’ve visited and connected to, that has been a common denominator to him feeling an allegiance to return – the overall genuine welcoming nature of the people already there.