It was well over one hundred degrees outside when I heard a knock on the front door of my air-conditioned third floor walk-up. When I answered the rush of heat in the foyer nearly knocked me backwards. Standing before me I saw two young men dressed in white dress shirts and ties, with backpacks on their backs: Mormon Missionaries.
"Come in out of this heat!" I insisted. Dazed and a little surprised, they sat down and removed their backpacks.
"Have you been taking regular breaks?" I asked, concerned.
"Not really, " Elder Number One responded.
"Let me get you some cold water," I said, running to the kitchen. I brought each of them glasses of ice water.
They thanked me and and then started in on their spiel. Had I heard about the church of Jesus Christ?
I laughed. "Yes, but I'm not interested. I was just concerned about your safety on this hot day."
"Well, maybe you could try to convert us to your point of view," Elder Number Two suggested. Again, I laughed. This was clearly a clever gambit that they had been trained to use on us non-Mormons.
"No, thanks. I think you're fine just the way you are." Maybe because the heat had gotten to them, they gave up trying to evangelize me at this point and we just made polite chit-chat as they finished drinking their water. After I finished lecturing them about how they really should carry ample bottled water in their bags, they left and resumed their appointed rounds.
Most people, myself included, can't imagine doing anything like what those young men do. They must face near constant rejection every day, not to mention angry dogs and doors slammed in their faces, during their terms of service, which usually last two years. I did once have a job that involved walking door to door, for the City Directory (a book rendered useless by the Internet), but people tended to be nice to me once they figured out all I wanted from them was a little information. These days I don't knock on the doors of strangers very often, but I talk about my faith all the time. It comes with the territory of being a Pastor. It's like pretty much anything else--it gets easier with practice.
Most mainline Protestants don't like to talk about our faith. Most people work in secular settings, and we don't want to offend anyone or even get in trouble. We don't want to alienate our neighbors and make our friends feel awkward. But we tend not to even talk about our faith with each other--even in church. That's sad. The Congregational tradition talks about "testimonies of faith, not tests of faith" but we don't make testimonies very often, either. I think that's too bad. It's also endangering the future of our tradition. Mainline Protestant churches began to decline seriously right around the time that our members started having a lot fewer children. If we want our churches to survive, we need to do something that our forebearers in faith probably have not done for hundreds of years: many more of us need to start opening up about our faith. Some may not ever feel comfortable with it, and that's okay. But many more might find, as I have, that it isn't as tough as they feared.
This is part of a series. Read the introductory post here:
Read Part 2, about Offering Hospitality, here.
Part 3, about Telling the Story without Words, is here.