My Aunt Alyce was the most loving person I could imagine. She loved everybody. She loved her family. She loved dogs. She loved the neighborhood kids. She loved her life. She loved her church. She loved God. And, what was very evident to me: she loved me, too. I know that because she always called me her favorite nephew. (Yes, there were other nephews. :))
But her love had an anomaly. It was a confusion between now and then. A present offering of love versus a future one, and it had to do with slipcovers.
Aunt Alyce apparently loved the people who would eventualy get her living room furniture when she decided it was time to get rid of it. You see, she put clear, plastic slipcovers on the couch, chair, and ottoman. You ever sit on a plastic slipcover on a warm day with shorts on? Whoa. It always amused me that she should be so careful. I had always wanted to ask, "Aunt Alyce, why do you use slipcovers? You should enjoy your furniture. (Thought bubble: I want to enjoy your furniture!) The only thing you are doing is making the furniture nice for the next owners, while you can't even sit without sticking to it." I suppose my Aunt Alyce would just have smiled. She didn't get it.
Churches have slipcovers, too. Things that keep the hardware preserved for some future What?, yet esentially un-useful to people now is a sign that the church has become absent for people it is called to serve. To become present for others is really pretty simple. Be there. Be there in the morning. Be there at noon. Be there at night. Be there on weekends. Be there during the week. Allow the resources to be used to meet needs, of course according to the mission plan, but serve now.
In my congregation, we decided that we needed to be present. To tell and show a neighborhood that God loved it, 24/7, not just for an hour or two Sunday mornings, but every day became my passion, not just my mission.
We opened those red church doors and took our imagined, but just as real, "slipcovers" off the gym floor (not used for twenty-years or more !), and let kids from the community reclaim our assets as their own. Whoa, did we have kids in the neighborhood!? Not a few of our Elders shuddered at what we were nervously trying to do: give ourselves away. This was our social capital, our God-given assets for the common good.
Note to church: barriers, even plastic ones, diminish mission. Future potential is not the same as realized present. Aunt Alyce was right about everything, except the slipcovers. She was also right about who her favorite nephew was, because she was my favorite Aunt, my Aunt with slipcovers.