UCC church knows an 'extravagant welcome' requires intentionality

UCC church knows an 'extravagant welcome' requires intentionality

So, with that in mind, the Rev. Stephanie Weiner, pastor of Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., started to work on her weekly sermon. But, when she looked to the lectionary, she discovered that "the bouncer" - as portrayed in the church's ad -was, in many ways, much like John the Baptist: muscular, tough and not a warm, fuzzy character at all.

So Weiner changed her plans.

Eventually, she found her sermon pointing to the message found in the UCC's second, soon-to-be-released ad - the little girl who found the joy in "all the people" during her recitation of the traditional children's poem, "Here's the church, here's people. Open the door and see all the people."

Discovered Weiner, quoting an Advent text from Isaiah, "A little child will lead them."

Weiner told her congregation that Jesus, the one who always looked at a person's heart, welcomed everyone. He invited people in.

"He never turned anyone away," she said, "and neither should we."

During the congregation's "second hour" conversation, many parishioners talked about the networks' decisions not to carry the ads. Predictably, the parishioners offered little sympathy for the television executives. Words and phrases like "censorship" and "First Amendment" were used.

"How shall we respond?" several asked the group.

Fortunately, the church's membership committee was prepared in advance of the much-publicized ad controversy. In October, committee members attended a meeting of the UCC's New Jersey Association where the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland, described her welcoming congregation and shared how hospitality had played a part in the urban congregation's renewal.

Montclair's UCC contingent took heart, and they attended a "God Is Still Speaking" training session in order to discover more concrete ways that the congregation could demonstrate its "extravagant welcome" more effectively and efficiently.

Soon, members had re-worked their church's name-tag routine, and they got a new banner for the front of the church. And, along with three neighboring UCC churches, they began running supportive advertising in the local papers.

This way, they were ready and waiting - and pleased - when a couple showed up who had seen the ads, visited the UCC's website and decided that Union UCC sounded like "the church we've been looking for."

In the coming weeks, the church plans to be ready for additional visitors, because they know that an "extravagant welcome" takes some intentionality.

The new "All the People" ad may be viewed at www.stillspeaking.com.

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