Devotions from Tri-City ELCA Churches – Pastor Tia Pelz

Devotion for November 3, 2021, from Pastor Tia Pelz of Christ the King:

Dear Saints!

Every Friday night, we have family movie night. We make caramelized popcorn, open a soda for the kids, pour a drink for the adults, and chill on the couch. During Covid, we learned that we are not the only family with that tradition. Who would have thought? Our bubble family happens to have the same routine. So, we started hosting joined movie nights. The kids and I would walk over to their place half a block from us. Four kids would cuddle on the couch, scream and laugh hysterically at the old Disney movies. Us adults would watch, drink wine and reflect on the past week. Simply wonderful.

After about 6 months, my kids started saying that they didn’t really want to go over to the other house on Fridays anymore. Or at least not every week. Every Friday morning, they started asking: “Who’s movie pick is it tonight? (It’s a rotational system among our bubble family.) What’s the pick?”

By about 5 pm the other bubble would text the choice to us, and my kids made their decision accordingly. While they love our bubble and aren’t getting tired of basically spending most of the weekend with them and us, Friday nights started to change. It took me another 4 months to figure out why!

My kids and I are always welcomed at our bubble’s movie nights. But Toni and Theo never got included into the rotation of who gets to pick the movie. They are welcomed but not a part of that particular group holding the power to decide what to watch. They are welcomed but their presence doesn’t change anything about the way Friday nights are held. They are welcome, but they don’t belong. (Interestingly, they don’t have that feeling on any other day during the week at our bubble’s house!) Their presence doesn’t affect the routine at all, they are invited as guests, not participants.

Of course, being a pastor, I couldn’t help but compare this situation to our churches. How we all claim to welcome all. Often capitalized. ALL ARE WELCOME! We welcome people into our home church. Into our space where we belong because we are the ones keeping the church open. And where we often unintentionally decide who is really welcome. Because, again, it’s our space.

Which is great. But welcoming is not enough. Church is about belonging. About having a say. Every new member should change the church at least a tiny bit by adding one’s gifts, one’s passions and stories to the lovingly knitted web of ancient and current stories. Church is about rotating the movie pick among all the members, the oldest and the newest.

In our communities, diversity is a fact. Whether or not we include people from all different kind of backgrounds, is our choice. While belonging is a feeling that can be enforced by a culture that we can purposefully create. By making people feel seen and valued for who we really are. For our own authentic selves. Including our quirky movie picks. Then, we will thrive. And so will the people around us. Because we will learn so much. Belonging creates the trust that’s needed for people to share their best thinking and put their craziest — and, perhaps, least popular — ideas on the table. Not belonging renders people silent. They will slowly disengage and find reasons to stay away or to not come in the first place. It will be hard to find out whose “fault” it was or what went “wrong”. Everyone was friendly and welcoming.

Now, some might say: But if you come to my house or my church, I expect you to honor my traditions and my way of doing things. Fair enough. Yet, we shouldn’t be surprised if our congregations start resembling museums more than dwelling places for God. We might be beautiful to look at, precious in helping people remember the past. Anthropologists might love to study us. But we won’t be a church which keeps reforming. Not for the sake of change but for the sake of all the Saints God wants to add to her household and call her children. For the sake of Jesus Christ, who is the only cornerstone that actually grows.

Yes, you are welcome! And most importantly, you belong here. You may even pick a movie! Or the topic of the next bible study! Or the place! Or you might tell us that you need something entirely different. And then, we will listen, ask, listen, and figure it out together. That’s what members of the one household of God do.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit. (Ephesians 2,19-22)

And if you need some fun music, listen to this song Everyone belongs!

You belong to Christ! And if you don’t feel that in our congregations, we want to change that! (Yes, it’s changeable. After I brought up my observations with our bubble family, we decided to include the kids in the rotation. It made all the difference!)


Pastor Tia!

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