Monday, December 5, 2011

Door To Door

I've never been comfortable with door-to-door sales.   Years and years ago, back when my hair was long and my belly was concave, I spent a couple of days doing the door-knockin' thing as a canvasser for Greenpeace.  It was one in a series of attempts to get a job that summer, and it was profoundly disappointing.  Instead of rallying interest in environmentalism, or stirring the passions of a movement, we were taught a sales pitch.  The goal: money for the organization, from which we could take a wee percentage.   That lasted not long at all.  Nothing sucks idealism out of the young like working on commission.

Perhaps even lower on the karmic totem pole are the folks who show up at your door seeking to convert you.  Despite what Ray Comfort pitches out there, fewer things are less welcome than someone coming at you with a prepackaged conversion script.

I've never minded, of course.  Most days, I'm perfectly happy to chat with the pairs of earnest fresh-faced young Mormons who arrive with books and name tags.  I don't mind the Jehovah's Witnesses either, though if they push too hard, they'll get themselves a theological whuppin'.  Nothing like referencing the Cappadocian Fathers to make a Witness flee in terror.  Then again, referencing the Cappadocian Fathers has the same effect on most people.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself yesterday walking about the neighborhoods of the little town in which my little church is located, church-literature in hand.  This is, quite frankly, not something that Presbyterians tend to do.  The arrival of Presbyterians at your doorstep bearing tracts is, some scholars argue, one of the sure signs of the end times.

That's the key to the Sixth Seal, I think, the one right before the Final Seal, the one that can only be unlocked by the words:  "I, Newt Gingrich, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States..."

What surprised me even more was how pleasant it was.  That the afternoon was clear and crisp and gorgeous was a plus.  I and the congregation's evangelism elder spent most of the time walking and chatting about anything and everything, which was actually kind of fun.  I'm not sure how many Jehovah's Witnesses get into sub-conversations about whether or not droids are connected to the Force as they walk.

As for the door-to-door part, well, it was fine.  Surprisingly fine.  This is, in part, because we rolled it Presbyterian style.

Our entire "pitch," such as it was, was to tell people that we were from the little historic country church up the road.  We then shared our names, handed over a postcard telling folks where we were and what's up for our Advent Season, and welcomed them to join us if they'd like...and that was that.  Oh, and we'd wish them a good afternoon.

For most, that was as far as it went.  Sunday afternoon is loaf-around-in-comfypants time for most Americans, and we don't want to mess with that.

At about a half-dozen houses, conversation went a bit further.   Like, say, at the house where the resident opened the door quickly, a wad of bills in her hand, thinking we were the pizza guy.  This, we all found amusing.   Or the houses where we knew someone, or where the person clearly wanted to have a conversation.  There, we chatted, for as long as the other person felt like it.  In at least one instance, we were invited in, and things did get theological, which was cool.  I'm always up for that.

As we walked, there were a few things we made a point of doing.  Governing principle number one of our reaching out was to respect the integrity of the person we were speaking with, while letting them know that we were there.  Getting all up into folks bidness?   That's actively counterproductive.  Way I figure it, this isn't the first century.  Ain't nobody in the You Ess of Ay not heard tell of this guy named Jesus.  As the Apostle Paul put it, you got to be cool, bro.

Governing principle number two was related.  For the folks we encountered who let us know they already had an affiliation with a faith community, our response was, "Well, great!  Good for you!   Say hi to [insert name of pastor/spiritual leader here] for me."  This seemed somewhat surprising to folks, but again, our task is not to wrest Catholics and Methodists from their congregations so that they can be Presbyterian just the way the Good Lord wants them to be.  We're just letting y'all know we're here.

The other governing principle was, of course, that communities of Jesus folk are and will always be responsible for letting people know they exist.  We can't be hunkered down, hidden away behind the walls of our buildings and meetings and polity and the tightly-knit circles of the Us.  A healthy church exists outwardly, connected to and engaged with the community full of human beings around it.  That needs to be particularly and especially true for congregations that are open-minded and open-hearted.

So, amazement of amazement, I actually find myself looking forward to the next time I get to go door to door.  Particularly if it's a sweet spring day.