Wise Hospitality: What to do with “Unusual Guests” at Church?

This is from a First Impressions Team Letter I sent at my church.  From the positive responses I received, I realized it is likely other churches could benefit so I am posting it here on the blog.  Feel free to reuse and edit as you like, no need to credit the source.  I am happy to answer emailed questions as I am able. heathercurleenovak@gmail.com

We had "Unusual Guests" this past weekend. I greeted them, welcomed them and chatted. I heard their story and they asked for $5 for gas. I said we did not give out money, but they could come speak with the pastor and get some help during the week.  I showed them where the coffee and donuts were and invited them to relax and enjoy themselves until the next service began.
We have discussed safety measures and responses in the past and the question was, "What Are we supposed to DO with an Unusual Guest?"
The short answer is SERVE THEM. Make them feel welcome. Ask their name, tell them yours and show them where the donuts and coffee are. Invite them to enjoy the service and show them where they can get questions answered. Be hospitable no matter how they sound, smell or appear. Period. Imagine they are your best friend's favorite person.
1) If you feel physically unsafe, they are yelling, angry or brandishing a weapon. RUN. Call 911. Alert others immediately.
2) If they ask for or about money, appear under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You are kind, you are welcoming, and you are assertive. Bring another person over to meet them. Get their name. Do all of the hospitable things AND....
1) Alert the Ushers, First Impressions leader(s) and Coffee Team that we have "Unusual Guests" so they might be alert and attentive in all the ways but especially with loose money lying around.
2) Keep them engaged and introduce them to other people so they are KNOWN and attended to.
3) You have permission to speak the truth in love. Someone let me know our Unusual Guests were asking individuals for money and I went right over to them. I again told them they were welcome here, when the service began, and that I heard they were asking people for money. I said "It is not ok for you to ask people here for money. You may come to the office during the weekday business hours and we can refer you to help, but we do not give out money here. We are glad you are here, thank you for understanding."
NEVER give out CASH. Just Never. We have brown bags with snacks at the Welcome Desk and you may give those to people. You may give out the red sheet with all the local resource options on it. You can sit with them for service, have coffee together at church or pray with them. We do not give out cash. That is dangerous and puts other people in danger too.

Our church is a place to connect to God and each other. Churches are a magnet for everyone who is broken and some of them are not ready to be fixed. Our job as Christ Followers is to show God's Love to everyone we meet. Especially the Unusual. Church is not a place for us to simply dress up and laugh with friends. There is work to be done. We look for the sad, the alone, the awkward. We try to make other people feel important and know they are valuable to God, to us. It is hard work, it is important work, and it is what matters to God. Thank you for serving God together as believers. I am honored to serve with all of you. I hope this helps you to love others by offering Wise Hospitality.

Love Better: Speak Peace (Thoughts on Martin Luther King Day, a Tumultuous Inauguration and Connections)

I am reeling today from the social media frenzy of friends and fake news and divisive politics and all of the powerful words at this mornings' Martin Luther King Day workshop at Valparaiso University.  Forgive my fumbling through a few of these thoughts as I try to figure out how to live well in our current world and circumstances.

There were four well prepared and insightful speakers & topics: "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries" by Dawn Bartsch, "A Christian in India" by Alex Ramani, "How Lawyers Balance Justice and Faith" by Derrick Howard, and Joy Moore PhD offered "Purposely Provocative".  Derrick Howard made a statement "When those who are not injured feel as offended as those who are, that is Justice".  The idea is based on the Ben Franklin quote,  "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." 

This little bitty sentence  brought to my mind all the conversations I have had recently when my white privileged friends express dismay about the political climate and (to my personal subjective interpretation) beseech us all to just get along, to be positive, to accept things as they are.  It reminds me of when the wife of a councilman for my district said she didn't see that we had any race relations problems in our city.  I said many other white, privileged people would agree with her and not see the depth and breadth of racism around us. It has been easier to not see it in the past but it is a grave mistake to not see it now.  

We are all racist.  This is an idea I grappled with when I taught Fair Housing Classes for a property management company I worked for. We all see differences in each other including skin color and basic physical appearance.  It is human and perfectly acceptable to see the difference, to have thoughts or personal opinions about the difference.  What is troubling is when we believe and act as if those differences make us or them more or less of something.  

(From Art Installation Brochure)
As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbor as myself.  I am a clumsy Christ Follower. I say swear words and judge others' choices and buy cheap things from China.  I have so much food in my house I sometimes decide we should just go out to eat because I cannot decide what to make or do not feel like making the effort.  I say that to say this: Once upon a time ten years ago or so I was traveling for work and ended up at a Denny's.  As I waited for my carryout order I looked over the patrons and was surprised by something unusual: They were all ugly.  The people at Denny's were each fat or funny looking or old or toothless...I began to feel smug and amuse myself in my mind at their expense.  Then I heard God.  (NOTE: No matter your personal thoughts on God or the lack thereof, this is my story.)  God showed me this is how he could see every single one of us if he chose to.  Me included.  He could see my ugliness as I sat there but he chose to love me instead, knowing I was mean and ugly inside.  

Derrick Howard mentioned a quote he likes "Ugly people know they are ugly when they wake up in the morning."  He said most people know what holds them back in life. Most people know their ugly and pretty sides, and often this knowledge is where they speak and live from.  He encouraged us "Don't be ugly."

I work hard to write to 'us and our' to avoid lecturing so please forgive me as I speak to YOU.  I assure you I am included in this word.  I need it.  I am working to improve alongside any of you who step up to the challenge. And so to my friends fighting on social media  I say these things:

1) Do. Not. Be. Ugly.  If we belittle someone and call them names no-one will want to hear our words. Your mother was right, when you speak badly about another person it says more about YOU than them.  Be a mature adult and control yourself.

2) Everyone should get a chance to be LISTENED TO.  Yes, even Those People. Spend more time listening to other people and less time trying to speak your point.  Ask them questions.  Dig deeper with everyone's best interests at heart.  In the safety of being listened to, they may be able to hear our words differently.

3) Do NOT slip into a cocoon with only like minded people.  YES have your tribe, but do not discount and close off the opposition lest they react the same way.  Conversation in a bubble is worthless. Stop blocking and unfriending folks.  Doing that says your beliefs cannot stand against or beside opposing beliefs. (And If they cannot, are you sure you want to hold them?)

4) Everyone is loved by someone.  Everyone wants to be well thought of and everyone wants to be right. Remember this before interacting with them.  Treat each person you come into contact with with love and grace and kindness REGARDLESS of how they interact with you.  When they go low, we go high.(Thanks Obama!) THAT is the hardest thing to do and takes the most strength.  Be strong.
Relevant copy from VU Art Installation Brochure

Let us Choose to live well each day.  Be kind.  Be involved.  Help people daily and your life will be worth something...both when it is over and each day you are living in it.  

May God bless your mind and every effort you make to Live and Love Better. Speak Peace.

Church Humor? "Thankful for Bacon" (Stewardship Sermon from First United Methodist Church of Valparaiso October 2014)

I'm not a normal church girl, which I think is the bestest kind. I was stoked to deliver a sermon on BACON during Laity Sunday at  my church.  You may be  amused at the topic, but you may find useful things when you listen to it. Click and listen.

"Thankful for Bacon" Sermon

NOTE: I am sorry Dear Reader for one thing; I cannot give you the scratch and sniff bacon stickers we handed out to go with the sermon!

If you have a nasty bacon habit, you may also enjoy "Bacon Before Husband"

If you have an issue with KID FOOD you could read this!

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Creative Scripture Journalling and Washi Tape Bible Covers!

This past week at Valpo FUMC Modern Moms we had the lovely Cherish Edwards as a guest speaker to talk about creative scripture journalling in the bible.   She teaches the Bible Journalling class at "Cafe Crop" in Merrillville, Indiana and my friend Kathryn suggested I track her down.  Scripture journalling is a creative and colorful way to get into reading the bible for the first time or after decades of bible study.  With Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and magazines and cable shows there are so many beautiful things to drink in around us, why couldn't our bible be just as gorgeous?  Doesn't the word of God deserve some sparkle and adornment too?  

I do not accept that the bible needs to be this dry, heavy and mirthless tome.  The bible is alive, a love letter to us from God, a place to seek refuge; I want mine to be colorful and fun to spend time with.  I want to WANT to spend time with it. Creative Scripture Journalling is a way to enjoy your bible study or devotional time even more.  In color.  Even if you are not naturally artistic.

Besides, I am colorful.

I have begun creative scripture journalling  in color and with stickers, washi tape and markers,  but in a blank notebook, not a bible.  I underline and highlight and sometimes write notes to myself in the margins of my bibles, but this bible journalling is a whole new deal to me.  They actually sell creative scripture journalling bibles with huge margins for journalling.  I think after I have worked through my other bible this year I might be interested in one of those!  I love anything that refreshes me in the word and is pretty to look at to boot!
I thought I would share the two simplest creative scripture journalling  I learned from Cherish, and the pictures to prove it.  

FIRST she had used washi tape along the edge of her creative scripture journalling bible pages indicating where a new book of the bible began.  It was prettier and more durable than bible tabs, and although it didn't letter out which book it was, even knowing where the new chapter started is helpful.  

SECOND, Cherish  had an awesome creative scripture journalling tool that was basically a hard plastic sheet to place in between pages you are working on...I found one online for $6 but I decided to try just making my own...I used a pieces of packaging cardboard, covered it in washi tape and slid it into a plastic sleeve from a sheet of stickers!  I used one piece of packing tape to seal it and off I went.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on creative scripture journalling and if you have done any scripture journalling feel free to share pictures below in the comments!

Are Local Elections a Waste of My Time? NPR WVPE 88.1FM Michiana Chronicle

You can Listen to this piece on NPR station WVPE.org 88.1FM as a Michigan Chronicle by clicking here.

Before getting married, I rarely voted in local elections.  I would vote only for presidents and when I voted it was usually straight ticket. I was raised to care about elections, I just didn't.   I got a kick out of my Grandmother Lutes' joke that she was a Democrat and Grandpa Willard was a Republican (or vice versa?) and so when they voted they canceled each other out. I thought, "Why bother?"

I was raised to care about elections, I just didn't.

After getting married, I usually asked John what he thought of political candidates because I knew he was smart and paid attention.  And he cared. I began voting in local elections because I was apparently a grown up and it was the thing to do.  I read apathetically about pending candidates and voted.  I voted.  And I voted.

NOW....after going door to door to get John on the Valparaiso city council ballot, after campaigning beside him, meeting other candidates, going to the forum and actually READING the newspaper articles about the upcoming election:  I care.  I know how foolish a person sounds who says "Ohhh... I don't vote". I want to ask if they have other people make all of their other decisions for them.  I realize that in not being aware and informed, in not caring much for politics, I let other people speak for me and they rarely get it right. 

I now realize my apathy makes my parents and family look ignorant, as if they hadn't coached, prodded and cajoled me to care about my own civic engagement.  After this campaign I realize how hard a candidate can work just to get their name on a piece of paper. And then again how much work and money can go into asking enough people to notice their name, to read that name and to mark the box next to the name. I know how important it is because I have done the work.  I have called voters, asking them to check the box next to my husband's name.  I know what I think of the person who says, "Oh, I don't bother voting in local elections."  

This man I married doesn't want fame;  he is an introvert.  He doesn't care about popularity.  He got a taste of public service in college and grad school  and he liked the deep work, thought and honor of it.  I love this about him even though I did not share his passion when we began.  After our adventure, after voting early with him this past Friday, after all the friends and family and neighbors handing him their money or their time or their encouragement, I share his respect for politics.  I am interested.  I am no longer apathetic.

I talked today about the change in me. I said I thought if people who do not care worked even a tiny bit on any campaign they might see it differently.  Please consider volunteering on a committee or helping a local or national candidate at the local level.  We feel so removed from politics that we think it doesn't matter anyway.  

My husband recently wrote, 
      "There have been a number of people I have spoken to over the last couple of years who express being disenfranchised by the local political process.  They feel their vote and their voice doesn't count.  Indeed in 2007 voter turnout in Porter County for local elections was 32%.  In the last local election in 2011, the voter turnout dropped to 25% in the county.  That kind of voter apathy could signal a type of learned helplessness that people feel when they have no say in our local representative democracy.  In fact, local elections probably have a larger impact on the voting public than any state or national election."  

John inspired me not just by his words but by his actions.  He put his passion into action and put his desire to work and it affected both of us.  Even our four and six year old daughters have stump speeches.  Just this afternoon I considered collecting signatures at the polls Tuesday to get Bernie on the ballot for President.  I decided to take this one election at a time.  

John wanted to run for office to serve his city, his neighbors, and to make a difference in all of our lives. I hope he knows the difference he has made in my life.  See the adventure we have had in pictures and video here.

Please vote wherever you are, for whoever you believe in, day after tomorrow, November 3rd, 2015.  It makes a difference.  You can make the difference.  Your vote counts. My vote counts too.

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