February 01, 2017

Now that we’re nearly a year past the first parts of last year’s General Conference, I’m going to share with you what was, for me, the low point of the whole thing.
    
The delegates were on break. I was in the lobby, standing near where three delegates (not from Missouri) were seated at a table. They were all intently posting to social media accounts. A young custodian approached. “Excuse me, but can you tell me what sort of event this is?” he asked. 
    
“It is the General Conference of the United Methodist Church,” the woman replied. 
    
“I thought it must be some kind of church when I heard the singing. Are you all preachers? Do the Methodists have women preachers?” he asked. 
    
“Yes, I’m a Methodist pastor,” she said, a bit curtly.
    
“My grandma used to take me to church when I stayed with her when I was a kid. It was nice. I haven’t been to church in years,” he said. 
  
All three continued to look at their screens instead of him. No one said anything. He took the hint and wandered off. As soon as he was out of earshot, one of the three said, “Whew, I was hoping you would take that one,” and all three chuckled. 
    
They seemed to have considered themselves lucky for having successfully dodged a conversation about the United Methodist Church or faith in general. Approached by a virtual poster-boy for seekers, they were able to ditch him by being only moderately rude. But wait, I haven’t gotten to the worst part.
    
I didn’t say anything, either. Here’s what I should have said: 
    
“Hi! My name’s Fred. Yeah, the Methodists have taken over downtown. The convention center looks great, by the way. You and your crew do good work. We’ve got people here from all over the world, with 32,000 churches just in the U.S. I bet there’s one close to where you live. (I’d take out my phone and pull up www.find-a-church.org.) Can I get your zip code? Wow, look, there are six churches in your area. Which one are you closest to? (I click on the link to that church). Does that look familiar? (showing him the picture on the website). It looks like they have worship at 9 and 11 on Sunday mornings. You should stop in a give them a try. I haven’t been to that church, but I’ve been to a lot of them, and I guarantee that they would be excited to have you there.”

Instead, I stood back and took in the whole scene without saying anything, aghast at the poor performance of these other three people while giving myself a pass.
    
I’m trying to do better. After visiting the church you see on the cover, I asked Pastor Scott for restaurant recommendations. He pointed me toward a Thai place called LuLu’s. While waiting to get a table I struck up a conversation with a couple who were new to Kansas City. I told them about the church I was just at, what their worship times are and how to find it. I encouraged them to check it out. 
    
Two days later I was back at the office, and I received an e-newsletter from Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project.” She grew up in KC and visits family there. I sent her an email, saying that as an urbanite New Yorker, I thought she would like the feel of Resurrection Downtown, and she would appreciate what they are doing for the city. I sent her a link to their website and encouraged her to visit. She replied immediately, saying she would be in KC over Christmas and thanked me for the church recommendation. 
    
I don’t know if either took me up on the invitations. It might take being invited by a few more people before they get up the nerve to go, but they appreciated being invited. It is surprising it is so rare.