Augsburg Fortress
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Among my favorite things…..

November 20th, 2011 by Beth A. Lewis

I am blessed to have many "favorite things" in my life.  But, one of them is that because I travel a great deal with my work, I often have the opportunity to experience rich worship in a wide variety of places and in a wide range of styles.  

This morning, I was doubly blessed because my friend and ELCA Eastern North Dakota Resource Center colleague, Julie Aageson, asked me to join her to worship at St. Gregory's of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  I had heard of St. Gregory's, but didn't really know much about it.  And, I know that it wouldn't have occurred to me to find my way there for worship had Julie not invited me to join her.  We are both in San Francisco this weekend for the annual AAR/SBL conference of religion, theology & Bible professors from around the world.  

My original plan after Julie had invited me to join her was to walk the 30 minutes from my hotel to the church.  But, given the pouring rain, I opted for a cab.  That actually turned out to be a good thing not only because it kept me dry, but because as I exited the cab in front of St. Gregory's about 20 minutes before the worship service was to begin, I experienced my first bit of St. Gregory's hospitality.  A gentleman came out of the door as soon as I stepped out of the taxi and escorted me from the street to the church door with a large black umbrella held over both of us.  I speak and offer workshops on congregational hospitality all around the country, but I hadn't experienced this before!  

Next, I stepped into the entryway and someone else welcomed me and encouraged me to put my name on a sticky-backed name tag.  Now, I have to admit that I am a bit ambiguous in my feelings for nametags at church.  Especially when members of a congregation have "permanent" nametags (metal buttons in this case) and the visitors have throw-away temporary paper nametags.  Usually, that makes me feel a bit like a second class citizen.  But, after this morning's experiece, I am rethinking that because at this congregation they use this differentiation to truly welcome the stranger!  

As the worship service started, the pastors and members alike used the paper nametags as a signal to be particularly attentive to those of us who were visitors (and there were quite a few of us who were in town for the AAR/SBL conference who joined them for worship).  As the community lived up to the marvelous dancing saints mural on their walls by dancing to circle around the table for eucharist, they made certain that those of us who were newcomers felt comfortable with the two steps forward, one step back moves.  








And as a community that takes the importance of welcoming the stranger seriously, they are very clear about that welcome through their careful explanations of "what we're doing next" throughout the worship service.  It doesn't feel contrived….just helpful.  

The worship service was serious and fun.  Solemn and lively.  FIlled with the proclamation of the Gospel, warm sharing of the peace, interactive and the arts were woven throughout in the music, the dance, and the artwork in and around the worship space.  As a Lutheran, I felt quite comfortable with the liturgy and ritual.  But, as a visitor, I felt a bit off-balance by not knowing what would come next.  It is a credit to this community that the latter feelings passed quickly.  And, as I have thought about this worship experience for the rest of the day, I think that even if I hadn't been a Lutheran who was comfortable with liturgy, I would have found myself at ease in this place.  These are people who take the mandate of welcoming the stranger to heart.  

When I return to San Francisco, I will be back to St. Gregory's for worship.  If you have the opportunity, I hope you will make your way to their community, too.  

Thank you to everyone with whom I interacted this morning for such a joy-filled worship experience! 





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Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

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