Church Advertising

    What do you put out in front of people when you want to tell them about your church? This is a fundamental question today with, I think, quite different answers than even one generation ago.
    The answer hangs on whom we want to speak to. We might want Episcopalians to know that we are in their area, and that we have the “flavor” of worship that they want. So we could advertise “Rite One” or “Eucharist” or “Choral Mattins” or “Informal” or whatever.
    Similarly, we might want Christians who are church-going already to know we are around, and to know something about the Episcopal difference. So we might say we’re “the Catholic Church with Freedom” (a late bishop used to describe us that way) or “a middle way between Protestant and Catholic” or “biblical and ancient” or, again, whatever.
    Both of these are necessary. But they are, it seems, increasingly less helpful. Here are some quick sightings of churches in recent memory. All of them are in cities where people walk, and thus they don’t easily adapt to car-culture cities and towns. The questions they raise, however, are worth our pondering.
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    Churches in New York City are often hidden away, squeezed by neighboring buildings and definitely shorter than most of their neighbors. A steeple does not stand out on the Manhattan skyline! Once, walking to a hospital, I happened to notice a Greek Orthodox church. They had chosen to put this rather cheeky but memorable line on their signboard: “Preaching the Gospel since A.D. 33.”
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    Another city church conveyed great busyness with multiple signs telling of programs, services, homeless assistance, elegant dining (yes, they had both), and on and on. It was like walking past a market.
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    A friend recently wrote about a small church he visited in France. He walked in—one loves a church that one can walk into—and found inside just one sign. Standing there to greet the visitor the sign says: Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié, que ton règne vienne, que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour. Pardonne-nous nos offenses, comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés. Et ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation mais délivre-nous du Mal. Amen.
    That’s the Lord’s Prayer—and it stood there to greet the visitor, with no other signs around it. One line was in bold italics: Lead us not into temptation. My friend reflects that anyone who would walk into a church is someone who has known temptation, and has doubtless succumbed, and wants help. And here it was: not why they were Catholic, or what being Christian means, but just (!) a prayer.
    One wonders, too, how many visitors might enter that church never having heard that prayer before.
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    Out & About. My August 5 sermon, which turned out to be on manna and remembering, can be heard here: https://incarnation.org/worship/sermons-archive/

Some Notes From the Road

 When you enter Texas on Interstate 10 from New Mexico, the first mileage sign has two cities. El Paso, it says, is 10 miles ahead. And Beaumont is about 838.
    There are a lot of other, bigger cities along I-10, but only these two are named. It occurred to me that, once again, here was our famous Texas braggadocio. You’ve entered Texas, and you can now stay on this road and drive more than 800 miles . . . and you will still be in Texas. Texas is a broad state. A former pilot told me that, flying from Houston to Los Angeles, they would take note of El Paso. From Houston, El Paso is halfway to L.A.
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    The loss of apostrophes on our possessive nouns—“Mothers Day,” for instance, rather than “Mothers’ Day” or “Mother’s Day”—is, I think, a sign of creeping Germanification. The Germans don’t have apostrophes. I am fond to ask, Where have all our apostrophes gone? “Gone to plurals, every one,” is one answer. “Pear’s $1.49” the sign might say. I didn’t know the pear could own money.
    But there is one glorious apostrophe, one that I look forward to seeing whenever I visit Phoenix. A self-described “healthy marketplace,” Luci’s, where one gets espresso or breakfast or farm salads: Luci’s motto is “Goodness for goodness’ sake.”
    Dig that apostrophe: for the sake of goodness, for the sake that belongs to goodness, we here offer goodness. Our goodness—our food and drinks—is not for the sake of something else; it’s for its own sake.
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    They seem to have disappeared, but it used to be common to see yellow triangular road signs with the words “Courtesy Pays.” I’m all for courtesy, and indeed if we had more courtesy on the roads we’d have less stress and fewer accidents. But it is also true, and a deeper truth, that courtesy is good in its own right.
    Courtesy for courtesy’s sake, we might say.
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    Out & About. I am to preach this Sunday, August 5, at the traditional morning services at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. The services are at 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.
    Recently David Munson interviewed me for his TV show; you can find it here: http://insightswithdavid.com/ .
    Coming this fall, I’ll be leading an almost-monthly seminar, “Good Books & Good Talk.” We’ll read a different book in advance of each seminar, generally a work of fiction, and then gather to talk. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the discussion. The first book is T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, which we’ll discuss on Sunday, October 14, at 6 p.m. The seminars will be at Incarnation, Dallas, and last 90 minutes.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."