We call ourselves a participatory church, and my experience is that of one whose participation is minimal and often defined by previous church experience. It is because of this and a strange mêlée of plethora and absence of hospitality and intentionality that I find myself often unsatisfied/uncomfortable.
Upon entering this community almost exactly five years ago, I remember the intentional and hospitable actions of one individual (almost, though not quite to the exclusion of others) – Jan. Jan was kind and thoughtful, yet demanding – an uncomfortable, yet appreciated and helpful mixture of traits. I never entered the basement on a Sunday morning without being asked about my job search, affirmed in what I was seeking to do, and challenged to be bolder and to be more confidently seeking that full-time job. Jan was consistent in her intentional hospitality toward me, and that shaped my early experience of Mountainside dramatically. It was her care toward me that helped me imagine that my own prayers spoken during Prayers of the People were heard and remembered, or at least remarked upon.
Others were kind and would be engaged in conversations, but almost none with the level of intentionality and exhortation that Jan demonstrated. One other did show as much hospitality, so welcoming and warm with a smile that melted all pretense. In those early years, Heather was someone who drew me into community, despite my inclinations to passively stand by and watch. Quite likely her projects and engagements as well as my own were less intense and demanding of time and attention, so this friendship is a grace that flourished in a peculiar, particular time.
With these and other early experiences of points of high engagement in the midst of cordial, amicable, yet less intentional interactions, I slowly involved myself in certain familiar places in church life. I helped out in the worship team for a time, played soccer with the kids in the fenced-off yard, shared meals during and outside church gatherings (cooked, purchased, brought), and joined and somewhat organized the PowerPoint team. So many people joined our team and then found other ways to engage in church life: Marcus; Josh I.; Jake & Tim; Alayna; and now on the team, Michael W. & Matt C. This service has been helpful at times since it is a way I have engaged church life since my high school days, and here especially because of including the full liturgy with readings based upon Scripture passages, prayers, songs, messages, images.
However, PowerPoint has often been an isolating service as well, and, as our community has grown, this has become more and more true/apparent. I remember when I did not know who created the PowerPoint, but just that it had been made and anyone could receive the clicker to move the community through the slides of the liturgy. It was not the person with the computer who put the slides together, but usually someone else – thus making an implicit connection between the individual and the one who compiled the slideshow. Like Prayers of the People, many were connected in seen and unseen ways, and still are, but to a lesser degree.
As work became full time and others’ lives became busier and further engaged in other ways, the connections that I had or felt lessened. The hospitality and intentionality of others – and of myself – waned even more, accentuated by the vast number of new arrivals (through birth or visiting and staying) that I did not know and did not get to know. A star in the midst of this growing darkness has been Emily. She has come for at least the past year or perhaps two and has filled a great need in our church for intentional hospitality. Particularly in my own experience, she has been a grace and gift of God, rekindling some connections to my time in this community. Connected to this relationship, my hope in our imminent move and merging is that others of her generation could teach us and me to demonstrate consistent hospitality.