Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained
angels without knowing it.
--Hebrews 13:2 NRSV
I am a big fan of the TV show The Office, the American version that aired on NBC 2005-2013, about employees at a paper company in Scranton, PA. (I enjoy the earlier British version too.) I watched it occasionally when it originally aired, but I really got into it when it came to Netflix and I could binge watch it in a relatively short amount of time. Apparently, I’m not alone, because it has become popular again with younger generations who also stream it online. It’s recent popularity has given rise to a podcast where Jenna Fischer (who played Pam the receptionist) and Angela Kinsey (who played the accountant Angela) re-watch the series and tell behind the scenes stories about what it was like making the TV show.
In a recent podcast episode, the former stars of The Office shared about a TV show episode from the third season when a character named Phyllis married Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration (you have to watch the show to get the joke). They shared that the church where the wedding took place is First Christian Church of North Hollywood Disciples of Christ. If you pay attention during the wedding reception filmed in the church’s social hall, you can see a banner with the Disciples of Christ red chalice on it. This congregation is located near many TV and film studios and is often a filming location for a traditional-looking church with colonial architecture. The church web site reveals FCC North Hollywood was the family church on the TV show 7th Heaven and has appeared in dozens of TV shows, movies and commercials.
While listening to the podcast and hearing what it was like to film at the church, at first I thought, “What a cool bit of trivia that an episode of The Office was filmed at a Disciples of Christ church!” Then my ears really perked up when I heard the TV stars talk about their own experiences of the congregation. One of the production staff on the TV show was married at FCC North Hollywood. Angela Kinsey who is one of the hosts of the podcast and an actor on the TV show described how she was looking for a church to attend on Easter Sunday and she chose to attend FCC North Hollywood because she had driven by it on her way to work. She reported having a great Easter morning experience. Kinsey went on to share that she took her children to preschool there as well. (Co-host Jenna Fischer is Roman Catholic and didn’t have any experience with the Disciples congregation.)
In a nutshell, what was described on the podcast is how most people relate to a church—if they connect to a church at all. Perhaps they were raised going to church and when the big holidays of Christmas and Easter roll around they randomly pick a church to attend with their family. Maybe they wish to be married in an attractive church sanctuary. Perhaps they have a need that a church can fill such as childcare or in this case an attractive location to film a TV show. We don’t have much demand for that last one, but PHCC knows what it’s like to have weddings in our building because it has an attractive sanctuary and basketball practice in our life center, etc. In sum, most people encounter a church because either they were raised in the church and return for a major holiday (or a wedding, funeral, etc.) or they have a specific need the church can meet.
As demographics continue to change, fewer and fewer people will be raised being a part of a religious community. They will not have memories from childhood to draw them back in later years. More likely, if they ever encounter a church it will be when they have a need such as childcare, a group like AA or a community group that meets in a church building. This means that if church folks want to meet people who actually know their church exists, they must show hospitality. Folks who enter their sacred space must be treated as honored guests rather than interlopers. Each interaction is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ. Any time a non-church member enters the church building and is met by suspicion or a lack of welcome that is a lost opportunity to show Christ’s love.
Any church that wishes to have a future in a culture which does not value church attendance and church membership must take every opportunity to demonstrate bold hospitality. The church building must be seen as a tool to demonstrate the love of Christ and not an idol to be worshipped or a treasure to be hoarded for a select few. When those blessed interactions occur, community members who encounter the church and its people have seeds of welcome planted in them. Later on, when the inevitable struggles of life occur, the Holy Spirit will remind these folks that there is a place they have experienced where they would be welcome and accepted—that place is Park Hill Christian Church.
The PHCC board has laid out a vision called “Bold Hospitality,” and by simply being open to outside groups using our building, God is bringing new groups our way. That simple act of openness is all God needs to lead people to PHCC where they can experience Christ’s love. All PHCC needs to do is be open to where God is already working and welcoming of whoever God brings our way, and the Holy Spirit will do all the difficult work of changing human hearts and lives.
We may not have film crews knocking on our door but we have plenty of other people who are and will. God expects us to open the door and offer welcome.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851