January 29, 2008

Hi! Do You Have a Minute?

In my quest to find temporary employement while I wait for a new pastoral call, I find myself scouring the classified ads. I've already signed up with several temp agencies, but they have yet to call. I suspect that the striking writers took all the temp jobs before I moved to this town.

One ad kept appearing day after day. Initially I ignored it, but as the days ticked by, I began to consider it. It read: "ACTIVISM--Protect Our Coast. Earn $400-$600 a week." Well, I needed some income, and protecting the coast is a worthy cause, so finally, I called.

The next day, I found myself standing in front of a store, saying to people as they walked in, "Hi! Do you have a minute for the environment?" Unfortunately, it was, by California standards, a downright frigid day, with a cold wind and occasional rainshowers. Several feet of new snow blanketed the nearby mountains, with the snowline surprisingly low.

I knew it would be cold, and I was dressed for the weather. Most of the people entering the store were not. Why should they be? They only had to dash from the parking lot to the store; they didn't plan on actually spending time outside, listening to someone talk about about beaches, oil spills, and the environment.

A number of people did stop, though, much to my surprise. When I said, "Hi, do you have a minute for the environment?" they said, "Yeah, sure."

So I gave them the spiel. I told them about how they could help protect the coast (which of course involved making a contribution to the organization for which I was working.) I had spent the first hour of the day carefully rehearsing my spiel (or, "rap," as the organization calls it). In front of the store, I tried to stick as close as possible to the "rap," as per my training. It was easier than I thought it would be. It was even enjoyable. There were, I realized, two reasons for this: One, I was talking about something I believed in, and two, I had been trained and given the opportunity to practice before heading out to the street.

The job only lasted one day. I wasn't asked to return the next day, due to the fact that I couldn't actually convince anyone to weather the arctic air long enough to write a check. The organization's policies didn't allow for weather extremes. However, despite how much I enjoyed talking to people, I can't say I was disappointed. It wasn't just to make myself feel better that I told myself, "It's the organization's loss."

As I made my way home, I thought about my day: the early morning training, learning and practicing the "rap," and then the time spent putting what I'd learned to work. I knew that my experience as a pastor helped make this easy for me, but I also realized that my experience in front of the store could help me in the church. I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to people, people I had never met, in front of the store. I was surprised at how comfortable I was, approaching them, talking with them. I was surprised also at how many people actually stopped, and listened to what I had to say, despite the weather.

Of course, I believed in what I was saying and the work I was doing. But I couldn't help but think about how much more I believe in the church and the work the church is doing. I wished that that was what I could have been talking to people about: the church, and the difference that being a Christian has made in my life.

I know that a lot of people feel the same way. They want to talk to friends, neighbors, and co-workers about their faith and their church, but they don't know how. They haven't been trained. They haven't learned the "rap."

What if we had training sessions for this? What if we had workshops in which people learned how to talk about their faith and their church? What if we provided a place where we could learn how to personalize our own "rap," using our own voice, and present it in a way that isn't obnoxious or "in-your-face?" We could spend 45 minutes or an hour practicing with one another. We could practice talking. Sharing. Inviting. And we would be commissioned to go out, and live what we'd learned.

Now that would be a job worth having.

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