You never know what a casual, off-handed comment will lead to.
Three times on Saturday, I made a casual comment about who I am, where I work, and what I do, and three times, I found myself sharing the good news of Unitarian Universalism.
The first was outside our congregation’s yard sale. I must have looked like I belonged there, because a man stopped me and asked “what is this place?” I replied, it’s a Unitarian Universalist church. He seemed hesitant at first, and then said, “Wait, are you the love people?” I smiled as he explained he’d been to a marriage equality rally in another state and saw our big yellow Standing on the Side of Love banners. He said “Y’all are all right. I will definitely buy something.” I smiled again and said, “if you’re around on Sunday, you should come to a service.” He frowned for a moment, and I followed up with “we are all about love here. Doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you act in love.” He smiled finally and said, “now this is a church I could dig.”
I don’t know if he came on Sunday (I had a rare Sunday off), but I know he bought something.
The second was at The Gardens, where my friend Will Johnson plays piano on Saturday afternoons. I try to go every week, to have a glass of wine and listen to some wonderful music. It’s become a spiritual self-care practice for me and I miss it the weeks he’s not playing or I can’t attend. Because I am a Saturday regular, I have gotten to know some of the staff, including Amber, who runs the wine gallery. I came in to get some wine, and I said something offhand about how some weeks, this is as close to going to church I get, since I am a minister. Of course, she asked where, and then asked me what we believe. I got to share the good news of our non-creedal, covenantal faith. She smiled and said “I really miss going to some sort of church, but I am more Buddhist now and feel uncomfortable elsewhere.” I told her how we draw wisdom from the world’s religions, and how, as Francis David said, “we don’t have to think alike to love alike.” She hugged me with relief and said, “I’ve been looking for you for years… and you’re right around the corner.” I promised to meet her next Sunday morning for coffee and bring her to the service.
The third happened just a few hours later. Because I didn’t have to preach, I decided to stop by another local establishment to see some friends and have one more glass of wine. Shortly after I arrived, a 30-ish couple, Harold and Leann, sat at the bar near me. We chatted lightly as they ordered some unconventional cocktails, and in the “where are you from” part of our small talk, I mentioned I serve a congregation in Key West and am here for a year. That led to the inevitable “where” and “what do you believe” questions, as well as questions about how to be loving to those who don’t believe as you do. We spoke for over an hour, and they began to identify more than a couple of friends who attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation in their home town of Milwaukee. I found their friends’ congregation online and gave them the service information. At the end, Harold asked me for my card, and said “I’ll email you after our first visit.”
Evangelism isn’t difficult. People are longing to hear our good news – radical hospitality, freedom to search for truth, respect and regard for the earth and every living thing on it, space to explore and breathe and connect and do good in the world without threat of damnation. Almost by accident, I testified to our saving message to four different people, each of whom was hungry for us, searching for us, needing to hear about us. Sure, I didn’t start Saturday expecting to evangelize, but I am glad I did. I won’t know the long-term effects of these conversations, but it mattered in those moments.