On a typical Friday morning in Renton, Wash., you can find the Rev. Ken Colman (l.), pastor of United Christian Church (UCC/Disciples), and members Carl Kever and Herb Johnston greeting passersby with grace- filled waves. "[It's] become a sacred time for me," Colman says.
The alarm goes off each Friday morning at 4:45. I quietly get out of bed, get dressed and, depending on the weather, I am usually driving to the church by 5. I put on a pot of coffee and get the signs out to the side of the street, along with the coffee table. By 5:30, two church members have joined me. Armed with a prayer, communion and a thermos of coffee—with all the fixings—we begin waving and offering free coffee to all who pass by. Along with coffee, we offer communion to any who wish to partake.
The evangelism committee took my recommendation to begin this ministry as an outreach to the community beginning in the spring of 2000, my first Lenten season here. The first two Fridays, I counted the passing cars and there were more than 1,000 in a two-hour period.
Our intention was to do this through Easter, but then something happened and here we are 4-1/2 years later—still waving and still giving out coffee for free.
What happened is that people began stopping that were not coffee drinkers. They were thanking us for "making their Fridays" with our waves and smiles.
We have a regular who is active in his own church but tells us he misses us when we miss a week. We have people telling us that they are praying for us. We had a man that worked near us stop and ask us to pray with him. A school bus driver stopped and asked for prayer. Since September 11, 2001, we have spoken with many non-church people who said that our waving gave them a new hope for the world.
Once, I was in the emergency room with my son and, as I filled out the paperwork and was asked my place of employment, the woman behind the counter saw the name of the church and began to smile from ear to ear. I could not understand what triggered that smile and then I wondered, so I asked her, "You have seen me waving on Friday mornings, haven't you?" She just nodded yes. God is speaking with a wave, coffee and prayer. It has been a blessing for all who participate.
What I thought might bring visitors has become a sacred time for me and for those who share the Good News of the Gospel through a wave. We have begun to live the life of "the welcome table" in this simple act of hospitality. People are craving to be recognized and connected into a community, and a wave and a smile have made all the difference. Evangelism has new meaning for me and for the church.
Lately, as I watch the sun rise in the East, I have come to realize that this "waving pastor" has found a new spiritual discipline. It helps me each week, and when I must miss a week for a conference or retreat, my life is not quite whole. For four-plus years, I have gotten in tune with creation by watching the changes of the seasons, and I have met people in our neighborhood that I never would have met otherwise. One never knows what will come from a simple idea, yet when we stay opened, we are blessed beyond our imaginations.
Hospitality has become a spiritual discipline for me, and I believe it is the very essence to which Christ has called us. I thank God I heard the call.
The Rev. Kenneth Colman is pastor of United Christian Church (UCC/Disciples) in Renton, Wash.