Sunday worship in this inner city congregation is full of surprises. Some days, I confess, more than I can imagine. Yesterday, I left church wondering what was happening; what God was doing in the events of the morning. In our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tradition, worship includes a “Call to Discipleship” which is an open invitation for anyone to come forward to either proclaim faith for the first time and prepare for baptism, or reaffirm faith, or become a part of the congregation through transfer of membership from another congregation. The positive part of this tradition is that people can respond to the Spirit in that moment. One does not need to have gone through a class or prepared ahead of time in order to respond. The other side of the coin is that anyone can come forward to join the congregation and really have little or no idea about the beliefs and culture of this particular church.
We as a congregation and I as pastor have struggled with this tension. It often means that people state a faith commitment, but never return or leave in a short period of time, because of assumptions made about who we are and what we believe. Usually it is that someone is much more conservative than either this congregation or the CC(DoC). Or that the person is looking for an evangelical worship style, and we have more of a liturgical style.
Yesterday, at the Hymn of Commitment, two people came down the aisle. Neither person had ever been in worship with us before. I had never met either the man who was vision-impaired nor the woman who had been assaulted and was in both emotional and financial crisis. As I talked with them and then received their confessions of faith, I was uncomfortable; wondering what purpose this would have if they have no ongoing relationship with the congregation, or with the Church in any place.
Then I realized that though we want to nurture faith within the community, we also touch the lives of those who may be moving through on their particular journeys. We do not need to attempt to control the spiritual expression of those who come our way. I say this all the while valuing the commitment of the church to a faith that is understandable, socially conscious, and ethically responsible. I say it while valuing the structure and the theological basis for our way of worshiping God.
I am certain that I will continue to experience the tension inherent in hospitality to all, openness to the gifts and the faith each brings, and commitment to ministry grounded in a theological perspective that we find to be faithful.