May 8, 2015

Awkward Grocery Store Conversations

You may not know this, but I am the undisputed king of awkward grocery store conversations. 

I’m picking out cereal at Stop 'n Shop -- trying to decide whether to indulge the kids and get them that box of Fruity Pebbles -- and a parishioner who hasn’t been to church in a long time sees me and is suddenly stricken with guilt. If he or she can't duck into the frozen food section fast enough, I'm greeted with an embarrassed look and peppered with excuses that would make an elementary-school teacher blush. 

Most clergy have this experience in the communities they serve. These less-than-satisfying encounters take place at the town pool or the gas station or the coffee shop. Basically anywhere people interact with one another. It's awkward, it's uncomfortable, it's annoying.

I can't speak for other clergy but I do like to make it clear that I'm not the church's CGO -- Chief Guilt Officer. Despite any outward appearances to the contrary (like that collar I often, but not always, wear), that's not my job. 

I don't take attendance at worship. I don't cruise around town hiding in shadows like a private eye seeking to expose and guilt wayward parishioners back into the fold. I don't haunt local sports fields on the rare Sunday off while I'm in town to glare at people watching their kids play soccer rather than coming to church.

So you don’t have to explain your absences or make excuses about your life's priorities. I’d love it if you were here more often. The community is diminished when you’re not present at worship. But I'm not Big Brother, or even Big Father as the case may be. 

People are adults (well, unless they're children) and can make their own choices. I explain the importance of communal worship and am passionate about our responsibility as Christians. But I'm not an ecclesiastical bounty hunter.

My role is one of invitation. I'm more fling open the gates than gatekeeper. And there's personal and vocational freedom in this. So I will always encourage and invite but the rest is above my pay grade.

Know this, however: Jesus, is patiently and diligently seeking you out. Calling you by name; lovingly beckoning you home. Reminding you that the door is always open.

And Jesus doesn’t just sit around twiddling his thumbs waiting for your return. Jesus goes out to find you. He goes to the unsavory places of your soul and calls you back. He enters your sometimes apathetic heart and calls you back. He chases you down wherever you may be and whatever trouble you may have found and calls you back. Lovingly and persistently. 


Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Haha! This is so great. We pastored a small church in a small town for 10 years and the same thing happened all the time. Drove me crazy! Can't we just have a nice little chat instead of 10 minutes of explanation why you haven't been to church?

When we first started there, a guy came up at safeway and said he was a backslider and used to go to our church. So awkward!!

Unknown said...

I once had a parishioner confront me for not checking up on them when they hadn't been to church in a while. (?!) I said that "I don't take attendance" line and she shot back that maybe I should. "What if we had been sick and in the hospital?!" she shouted. I replied--calmly--that I would hope someone would have let me know so that I could visit them. I think sometimes these conversations are a way to see if we care enough to notice. It's passive-aggressive and sick, and I'm not saying we need to play the game--only that there may be more to it than just their excuses.

Relling said...

I think Nancy Moore hit the nail on the proverbial head. I don't always think that it is so deliberate as she suggests. Sometimes I suspect people begin to feel disengaged,then they start coming less, and look at what the reaction is. I do think there should be a group in a parish that has it as their charge to follow up on members. especially during transition times like change of rector. Perhaps, Tim, if you could just introduce a topic in those conversations that focused on their kid or on some other topic than church attendance, that might turn the conversational tide into a happier place.

Robert said...

Great post Julie! If a carabiner isn't available, I have always used the infant straps you can find attached to shopping carts to attach my reusable bags. ​online grocery and vegetables