Our latest iteration of the website has had our “Reasons People Come to OUR Church” initiative posted on our virtual fence for sometime. But we also want to use our physical “billboard,” the wrought iron fence that encircles the property. On June 10, just in time for Pentecost, our latest batch of street signs went up.
In our historic neighborhood of Old City Philadelphia, we can count on pedestrian traffic that’s used to reading various signs and markers. Neighbors walk to the subway and to work and to shop. Even if only peripherally, our titles are telling them something about Old First: “Anyone is Welcome,” “Always More Questions,” “Standing Together,” “Unity Amongst Diversity…” Tourists from across the country wander around looking for the Bell, Ben and Betsy. Seeing our fence, they might be touched by something someone has shared… and search for a UCC congregation when they get back home.
Last year, we created signs from the ‘most Old First-apropos’ StillSpeaking and “16 Reasons I Love My Church” posters. It was a joy to see people notice the signs out of the corner of their eyes, turn to read one, then dawdle along 4th and Race Streets checking out each one. Tourists were actually taking pictures in front of the “..my Church is sort of like the Wizard of Oz” sign (“…it’s about having a heart and a brain. and courage!”) People found their way through our doors into the life of this community because of those signs out front.
Now we have installed 18 new, big color portraits of real Old First folks all around the outside of the property. And we still have some more to put up. No longer is Old First such a well-kept secret… Who are the people who worship in that building? How is this faith community different? What might Old First add to my life? More importantly than the images, these signs are sharing people’s faith stories in their very own words.
Sure, we also have a few signs that list excuses people often give for not coming to church. But they just set up our signed personal stories– that our folks are willing to share with the world (ok, at least everyone who walks by).
There’s a power in finding the words to talk about your faith. Not to tell someone else they must believe like you. But instead to say in effect, “I’ve found ______ adds to my life immeasurably!” (You fill in the blank from your own life: different people, no easy answers, a community of support…) Sharing our stories publicly implies, humbly, our concern, a hope and willingness to help so others so they may find what makes their life abundant…so full they can’t help but share too.
Check the signs out on Sunday when you come to church. Or stop by another time. You can, of course, read them right here on the website. But on the computer, you never get to see others stumbling on them, pausing, and then reading each sign. It’s a beautiful sight…
And if you are motivated now to share your story, there is always room for more!
Isn’t it the church’s job in every generation to figure out how to make the Gospel of God’s love real in their time and place? Not just within the four walls of their sanctuary, but on the streets and out in the world! Isn’t part of that passing on your blessings… sharing God’s love farther?
That’s hard today. Many people have given up on the church. Not without reason: people have been hurt and disappointed by the church. The church isn’t perfect and often falls short.
But these days in the general population, more people think things they know things about who we are or what we believe that just are not true for Old First. It’s almost easier to dismiss the church as dead, irrelevant or hypocritical, then to go against the grain and believe the church could make one’s life more deeper, wider and higher.
At Old First, we are doing all we can think of to reverse that judgement… We know that faith doesn’t immunize us from all hardship or any suffering. But it shouldn’t immunize us from further exposure to the church either (thanks, Margaret, for the metaphor!)
Instead, faith is a way, a path we make by living faithfully, how to get through all life’s twists and turns all in one piece– at one with oneself, one’s neighbor and God. That’s a lovely promise. And Old First, your pastor believes you are doing a good job of sharing it…