Yesterday I chatted for an over an hour with Phil Waite, CMC’s lead pastor. In her hospital room, Rhoda was asked where we were going to go to church. She and I were visiting churches before deciding on a church to call home. and I did not know that we had yet made a decision. So she surprised me. She responded firmly that we were going to College Mennonite Church and added with a smile, “I like Phil.” In so saying Rhoda chose Phil to lead her memorial service in Goshen.
Phil continues to be my pastor. When he moved his office for a few hours onto the Greencroft retirement community campus I leaped to the opportunity talk with him.
Building bridges has been the theme of recent Sunday Services at CMC. Phil has urged each member to invite one person to our services sometime this month, and I affirmed him. I have learned a simple formula on how not to grow a congregation: merely neglect to extend personal invitations to anyone new; just trust people to respond to the a sign that identifies a building as a church and says that everyone is welcome to attend its meetings.
That reminds me of the African American who saw such a sign and muttered to himself that “I kin read dem signs.”
He knew the exceptions – everyone was welcome who was not a stranger, or different. That was a valid assumption that any ordinary person can make with good reason. The sign blandly says “everyone welcome”, but those who need the church most know they are not welcome.
It is my belief that a church’s sign can be designed that will compel attention by passersby, that is informative, inviting and warm. Mortuaries, markets, and other institutions do it. Why ought not a Mennonite church do it, too. I’ve received an email from one of our women pastors that she is coming to my Evergreen assisted living for a tea. I want to chat with pastor Pamila as with Pastor Phil. I want to tell her again how much I appreciated the story of her life as she told it to the children of the church.