A voice in the wilderness: Big
Do you remember the first time you walked into St. Paul?
It’s so…big. The building, the crowds, the organ. Big. If you walk in by yourself and you don’t know anyone around you, it takes a lot of courage not to turn around and walk back out the door.
There are a lot of things about church that we can take for granted: how to read and follow along in a bulletin, committing to listening to a pastor preach for more than ten minutes (sometimes closer to twenty), knowing that the flour-based wafer during communion is going to taste like cardboard. If you are experiencing all of those things for the first time, you might feel confused and uncomfortable.
So many of us love St. Paul. For so many people, St. Paul is a voice in the wilderness. But for countless others, church can be the wilderness itself.
What I hear often, though, from people who have visited is that this is a “big church that feels small.” I chalk that up to hospitality and genuine relationships. There are friendly greeters at the doors to welcome you when you walk in. There are ushers who can help you find a seat in a crowded sanctuary. There are smiling strangers who are eager to pass the peace with you. And there are tons of new faces to meet while you eat a donut in the gathering area.
It is the people – it’s you – that provide the welcome and encourage new folks to come back or even join some mid-week small group activities. Real, human relationships make the wilderness of St. Paul less overwhelming.
John the Baptist is a voice in the wilderness in the gospel of Luke, and he cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” When St. Paul is at its best, I think this is what it is doing – preparing the way, making space and inviting people to know the love that Jesus has for us. I hope that as this church continues to grow, it will still “feel small.” And I hope that it will always be a place where anyone walking through its doors will feel safe, comfortable, and loved.
Josh Kestner is a pastor in residency at St. Paul. He’s excited for the Clemson Tigers to win another national championship in college football this year.