Søren Aabye Kierkegaard’s work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. Over a hundred years ago, he told the parable of a man who was walking down a city street when he saw a big sign in a store window that said, “pants pressed here.”
Delighted to see the sign, he went home and gathered up all of his wrinkled laundry. He carried it into the shop and put it on the counter.
‘What are you doing?’ the shopkeeper demanded.
‘I brought my clothes here to be pressed” said the man, just like your sign says.”
‘Oh, you’ve got it all wrong,” the owner said. “We don’t actually do that here. We’re in the business of making signs.” We don’t do these things, he was saying. We just talk about them.
And that, said Kierkegaard, is often the problem in the church.
The Episcopal Church advertises itself as a place that is showing Christ’s love and doing Christ’s work. But when people show up looking for real love and real Christian action, they don’t see it. It can be said that the message of the church today is “Oh, no, we don’t love people here. We just talk about loving people here.”
(Yeah I know. I’m in BIG trouble now. And yes folks, there ARE loving people in churches. Let me continue though).
Have you ever visited a Presbyterian church or perhaps a Lutheran one? Did they make you feel welcome? Could you feel joy and love during the service? (Sometimes Anglicans can seem a bit cold to me. When we stand for the Creed, we often say it without any feeling, which must make our visitors wonder if we REALLY do believ those things). Did they take you by the hand and lead you to the coffee hour afterward?
When I began an internet group for lgbt Anglicans years ago there was I need I think, because lgbt people were so often excluded from the Church. Much has changed since then. Maybe we have gotten better at loving. I have always been amazed at how much love there has been there in that group - people who had been rejected and unloved, are still good at loving!
I think we really can make a difference in our own parish church too. Take an extra minute to say hello - not just to your friends, but to those you never talk to. If there are visitors, make sure they feel welcome. Do special things for people - you would be surprised how good it feels to have someone tell you they prayed for you last week, or they missed you in church when you were ill.
“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” says the sign. Is this another case of “We don’t actually do that here. We’re in the business of making signs?” I hope not. I pray that we can all extend the love that we have to all who come through our doors. We are the church after all and it is up to us to do that welcoming and to show that love!