A lot of people either don’t grow up with church or live only on its fringes. They do not understand our customs. They do not know what goes on inside our walls. They only know that we are there, and they imagine we will be there should they ever decide they need us.
You can spend six weeks announcing an event from the pulpit, printing it in the bulletin, displaying on your outdoor digital billboard, posting it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; and running it in the newspaper, but they will never hear it.
I was such a person. In my childhood, I thought that if you knocked on a church door anytime day or night then Bing Crosby would answer. One event from the early 60s shocked my senses about the church and has shaped a part of my ministry to this day.
There were two churches who had a custom of joint 11:00 A.M. worship on Easter Sunday. They would alternate which church would host and which church would close. I heard about that on the evening news. The pastor of the church which closed returned to his church and found a woman who had committed suicide on the front steps. She was not a member. I can’t imagine the crushing weight she felt when in desperation she turned to the church on Easter to find the doors locked.
I have never canceled a regular worship service. This is not the only reason I keep churches open. I now have a theological foundation for what was an intuitive truth.
When I was assigned to churches who had a similar practice I informed them that I would not break the tradition, but either I or someone from the congregation would remain and unlock the church at our regular time. Rarely did anyone show up, but a few times they did. Even during inclement weather on a multi-point charge I might advise the musician, choir, and congregation to stay home, but I would find a way to get to at least one church at the appointed time and open the doors. I have spent several Sundays in church alone, and some interesting ones with one or two people. Some members would show up anyway just because they could.
Especially in these desperate days, we may see people from the fringes turning to the church. They know nothing of what happens behind our doors, but they expect if they knock someone will open. If they come the doors won’t be locked. They are right to expect that.
(Postscript: Do not take this as a condemnation of clergy who choose otherwise. In the UMC most st of us are in uncharted waters. We are learning. We will make different decisions. We will make mistakes. Some will do whatever the bishop says. Some will ignore whatever the bishop says. The bishops don’t know any better than the average parishioner. I will defer to another time the examination of our seminaries failure to prepare us for such time as this.
When does a church need a common theology, sound doctrine, catechesis, knowledge of the patristics and saints? Today.)