What does it feel like to be on the “outside” of a group? Last Friday I had the opportunity to lead worship and communion for the board of Wespath (who handles our pensions benefits). They were meeting at a hotel in Tucson for their board meeting. To be quite honest, I had a busy week with little time to think about Friday. I arrived home around 9:00 PM on Thursday from Appointive Cabinet meetings and finished my preparations. I had to be at the meeting room in the hotel by 9:00 AM. Two things struck me as I arrived. The first was most of the men were wearing ties (for those who know me, what are the chances I was wearing a tie?). The second was I didn’t recognize anyone. I was highly aware of not being a part of this group.
I was impressed with the ways the Wespath board welcomed me, along with welcoming Andy, the musician playing for our service. People made an intentional effort to introduce themselves. One man who came over to me looked familiar. The same time I said this to him, I read the nameplate he was holding in his hand. This turned out to be Bishop Robert Schnase, chair of the board. For the first time I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Boigegrain, the General Secretary and CEO of Wespath. Several other board members spoke with me. Renee, who invited me, made sure I had everything I needed as the time for worship approached.
Although I’m not a part of this board, it helps to be able to speak United Methodist (I’m quite fluent). My credentials also helped, especially since they were meeting in my district. I wonder how it would have felt to be a non-United Methodist, and be in the midst of this board?
As I consecrated the communion elements, I hesitated talking about this being an open communion table. Everyone there was a United Methodist. Did I really need to spend much time on the invitation? I felt nudged to give the full invitation anyway, even though I couldn’t see a good purpose for doing it.
My original plan was to have everyone (about thirty people) form a circle and serve each other. When I saw how small the room was, I decided to find a Plan B. I ended up having them serve each other around their round tables, taking the elements from one table to the next. As I moved the elements towards the back of the room, suddenly I realized there was one person in the room who might not be a United Methodist. This was Omar, the hotel employee operating the sound board. I met him when I received my microphone. I watched to see what would happen when we reached the very back.
A couple of people sitting in the back came forward right away when the last table finished. I looked at Omar and asked if he wanted to receive communion. He did not hesitate as he moved forward to receive the elements. I was so glad I spent time giving the invitation!
How often do we fail to give invitations? I’m not thinking just for communion, but for any of our worship services and activities. Have we convinced ourselves everyone is going to say “no”? Maybe it just feels uncomfortable. The thing is, we never know who is waiting for an invitation. The most unexpected people might say “yes”! Let’s not risk keeping people away from the church because we didn’t invite them!
Your brother on the journey, Mark