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Newcomers Provide Key Insights into Church Traditions

For the past several months, a refugee family from Asia has been visiting our church. Despite the obvious cultural and language barriers, many of our members have been gracious, accommodating and often very generous in the gifts of their time and resources for this family’s many needs.
 

A part of our desire to minister to this family has been to answer any questions they might have about our church or, more importantly, the Christian faith we celebrate and share with one another from week to week. The husband felt he understood most things about Christianity, but there was one question that was puzzling him.

 

“Why,” he asked, “did a special group from the congregation during worship sit on the stage and wear different clothes?” We quickly realized he was talking about the choir, but his real question was whether or not they had some kind of elevated status or importance in the life of the congregation because of their visible, distinctive and prominent seating arrangement in the sanctuary.

 

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It is a good question and prompts our worthy struggle to be intentional and reflective about the theology we proclaim verbally and nonverbally in our worship celebrations. It also reminds me of another recent question from a child who is newly attending our church from another congregation. She wanted to know where the Graham crackers were. It seems this practice was her favorite from the other church, and she wondered when we were finally going to pony up and provide them.

 

Questions arising from a new vantage point are always refreshing, sometimes humorous, and reveal how easy it is for us to mistakenly assume we are clearly communicating what we believe about God’s love discovered in Jesus Christ or clearly understanding the person with whom we hope to share it.

 

These questions also invite us to re-examine our practices and welcome us into a deeper discussion about why we value certain traditions, customs and habits over others. They prompt us to figure out what truly concerns those around us and how we can improve our ministry to them.

 

Yes, children will make a beeline to the doughnuts before they care about who built the ark. Many adults will focus on what we might perceive as minutia over the substantive issues of our day. But it is all a significant ministry when we seek to invite, welcome, include and assimilate new persons into our communities of faith.

 

I really can think of nothing more interesting or exciting.

 

Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.