I love visiting congregations and seeing these signs! In this case, it was at today's visitation -- the Chapel of St. Francis in Atwater (Los Angeles).
I was greeted warmly by Bill, the Junior Warden. The Senior Warden had to go out of town, and the organist had a death in the family. Bill was the usher, song leader (great voice! -- we sang a Capella) and altar guild person. John was there too -- he is 87, lives across the street from the church (literally), and started out his career on Broadway. He is an accomplished painter and had lots of stories to share with my husband Steve before the service.
Bill rang the bell to call everyone to church -- twelve pulls on the rope. A few minutes later, the acolytes showed up -- Oscar and Isaac. Oscar will be going on the Youth trip to the Holy Land with Bishop Bruno in a few weeks. Before I left I discovered Isaac will be with me when I'm "bishop in residence" at Camp Stevens the week of the 17th of July. Oscar and Isaac served as acolytes, and Oscar also read a lesson and bid the prayers of the people. He's a straight A student, who wants to go to UC Berkeley (yes, my alma mater!).
With my husband, my chaplain and her husband, the supply priest (Christine Self-Verone), and the congregation -- we numbered 11 in all. Bill kept apologizing for the size of the congregation -- to me, it was wonderful. The sermon became a Q and A, with everyone asking questions and offering suggestions or comments. Oscar and Isaac's parents made me a beautiful card (their Dad is an artist) -- the card welcomed me to St. Francis. I felt as though I had just come home -- warm and welcoming people, and beautifully (recently redone) sanctuary. The beginning of the service was actually a re-dedication of the sanctuary. St. Francis lived up to the sign in the front yard -- the Episcopal church did indeed welcome me!
You may be asking yourself, "how can they stay open with so few people?" Well, IRIS -- Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service --http://iris-la.org/) is housed there and takes care of expenses. Five days per week this site is open to meet the needs of refugees and immigrants. Bill volunteers there teaching English 2 days per week. He is a wonderful bridge between the congregation and IRIS.
With a declining population at the chapel, St. Francis opened it's doors and welcomed IRIS, and new life has sprung in this beautiful little church.
I wonder how many more partnerships I will find like this one -- where the needs of the community are met, not by the people of the parish trying to put a program together, but by the people of the parish opening their doors to welcome a group who CAN do that work. Hmmm. partnering together to make a difference in the lives of people in their community -- sounds like the Holy Spirit moving!