Can I Get a Witness?
You never know what a casual, off-handed comment will lead to.
In 2015, I was the ministerial intern at our congregation in Key West, Florida, which meant a mid-February Saturday featured shorts, sandals, and enjoying the sights and sounds of a beautiful island. One particular mid-February Saturday, I made a casual comment about who I am, where I work, and what I do, and three times, I found myself sharing the good news of Unitarian Universalism.
The first was outside the congregation’s yard sale. I must have looked like I belonged there, because a man stopped me and asked “what is this place?” I replied, it’s a Unitarian Universalist church. He seemed hesitant at first, and then said, “Wait, are you the Love people?” I smiled as he explained he’d been to a marriage equality rally in another state and saw our big yellow Side With Love banners. He said “Y’all are all right. I will definitely buy something.” I smiled again and said, “if you’re around on Sunday, you should come to a service.” He frowned for a moment, and I followed up with “we are all about love here. Doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you act in love.” He smiled finally and said, “now this is a church I could dig.”
He came at least once while I was still there, and I don’t know if he came back, but at least on that day, something clicked. And yes, he bought something.
The second was at a beautiful hotel and restaurant called The Gardens, where my friend Will Johnson plays piano on Saturday afternoons. I try to go every week, to have a glass of wine and listen to some wonderful music. It had become a spiritual self-care practice for me and I miss it to this day. Because I am a Saturday regular, I had gotten to know some of the staff, including Amber, who ran the wine gallery. I came in to get some wine, and I said something offhand about how some weeks, this is as close to going to church I get, since I am a minister. Of course, she asked where, and then asked me what we believe. I got to share the good news of our non-creedal, covenantal faith. She smiled and said “I really miss going to some sort of church, but I am more Buddhist now and feel uncomfortable elsewhere.” I told her how we draw wisdom from the world’s religions, and that we believe we don’t have to think alike to love alike. She hugged me with relief and said, “I’ve been looking for you for years… and you’re right around the corner.” I promised to meet her next Sunday morning for coffee and bring her to the service.
The third happened just a few hours later. Because I didn’t have to preach, I decided to stop by another local establishment to see some friends and have one more glass of wine. Shortly after I arrived, a 30-ish couple, Harold and Leann, sat at the bar near me. We chatted lightly as they ordered some unconventional cocktails, and in the “where are you from” part of our small talk, I mentioned I serve a congregation in Key West and was there for a year. That led to the inevitable “where” and “what do you believe” questions, as well as questions about how to be loving to those who don’t believe as you do.
We spoke for over an hour, and they began to identify more than a couple of friends who attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation in their home town of Milwaukee. I found their friends’ congregation online and gave them the service information. At the end, Harold asked me for my card, and said “I’ll email you after our first visit.”
Which he did. He said they were impressed, and felt welcomed, and planned to return. I don’t know if Harold and Leann ever became members, but that doesn’t matter.
While the word ‘evangelism’ carries connotations of pushiness in the name of religion, real, honest, compassionate evangelism isn’t difficult. People are longing to hear our good news – radical hospitality, freedom to search for truth, respect and regard for the earth and every living thing on it, space to explore and breathe and connect and do good in the world without threat of damnation. Almost by accident, I testified to our saving message to four different people, each of whom was hungry for us, searching for us, needing to hear about us. Sure, I didn’t start Saturday expecting to evangelize, but I am glad I did. I won’t know the long-term effects of these conversations, but it mattered in those moments.
I invite you to see what happens when you tell people about our good news and how CUUC has changed your life.