Last Sunday I attended a new church during my vacation. It is always refreshing to sit in a pew for a change and not at the organ bench. I hear the music so differently, and I can learn from that perspective and incorporate new ideas into my own playing. I'll be writing more about the musical experience of last Sunday over the course of this week, but first I want to share the primary feature that I will remember about our worship experience: the incredible sense of welcome and stewardship from the pastor and congregation at St. Paul's Lutheran in Lohman, Missouri.
On their home page, Pastor Ed Merckel writes "I wish to extend a personal welcome to you to experience the joyful life here at St. Paul's." That is clearly not lip service; it is part of the driving philosophy of their ministry. Upon first entering the church, we were warmly greeted by not only the pastor but also several members of the congregation. Before we had even reached our seats, we had discovered a St. Olaf connection with a congregant's son, shared information about our travels, and been informed of the location of the basement restrooms.
The service abounded with participation: the VBS kids sang at the beginning of the service and the children's sermon brought quite a large group of kids to the front of the church. People looked you in the eye during the sharing of the peace and communion, as if consciously acknowledging each other as members of one community.
After the service, a woman seated in the pew behind us introduced herself and said, "I don't believe I know you." In a congregation of approximately 150 people, she both noticed the newcomers among them and took the time to welcome us personally. It simply amazed me the number of times that we were greeted and welcomed. Their congregation should be a model for every other church in its dealings with guests. This is not only good fellowship but good stewardship and outreach, just part of keeping a congregation dynamic and growing.
The church building itself is lovely, as you can see for yourself, and it's located in a beautiful, hilly portion of rural Missouri, just outside Jefferson City. It's unlikely I'll ever return to that church, but it was wonderful to stumble upon such a joyful and welcoming Lutheran congregation on my trip.