So I woke up today at a Super 8 in Ashland. I know, I was a little shocked too. No one killed me in the middle of the night (nor was I accosted by any ladies of the evening, so that was a little disappointing, but turns it, its not one of those kinds of hotels). I did however wake up to several inches of freshly fallen snow (I hate cleaning off my car).
Since I had added this day to my perviously booked stay, I actually had to go back to the front office and check out so that I could turn around and check in again. While they were busy shuffling papers around, I did enjoy the free “breakfast.” I could have made waffles, eaten some fruit or cold cereal, but instead I opted for a bagged cinnamon roll and a cup of O.J. As an added extra bonus they even let me stay in my same room, so I’ll take that as kind of a win.
As this was going to be my base of operations for the next few days, I figured I should probably get the lay of the land. Step one would be to find my way to work and, just as importantly, where I was going to park. Now when the weather warms up, I would like to go back to parking on the wrong side of campus and walking to the office every morning, but for now, I’ll take what’s close. I fired up SIRI (and Google Maps just to make sure) and plotted a course first to the university.
It was a pretty straight shot even though the roads were kinda sloppy. I managed to turn into the wrong parking lot at AU while they were plowing, so that was a bit of an adventure. I did managed to locate the correct parking lot in short order and got a sense of where I thought I could park. So that was that. No big deal. Now what to do with my day?
I had considered the evening before that it might be nice to visit a local congregation for worship in the morning, but since I don’t know a whole lot about the Brethren tradition (which is the underlying tradition that Ashland was founded on), I decided to head to something a bit more within my wheel house. I had checked out two different churches and decided that the Disciples of Christ probably wasn’t the one for me either so I headed to the next logical choice. Once again I fired up SIRI and headed out on my way.
It was interesting to drive through Ashland, covered in snow, devoid of people and drive through different areas. I found one section that used to focus on manufacturing and had long since been boarded up. I would love to go through those buildings and take pictures but I’m too much of a chicken to trespass and too lazy to track down who owns the buildings and seek permission. For now though, I’ll just tuck it away in the back of my head for later.
The church was pretty easy to locate (and I was excited that it was located on road with Orange in it), but I was clearly early and the parking lot looked a little empty. So I turned around and headed back into town to drive around for a bit. I like to do when when I come into a new area, just drive or walk around and see how roads intersect, what are different ways I can get to point B. I ended up back at the University and found the parking lot again just to make sure. Having killed 20 minutes it was back to church.
There is an innate dread one has when visiting a church for the first time (or at least I do). Slipping into a big church is no big deal, people who go there for years don’t know everyone so they just all assume that you too have been going there for a while and they just haven’t seen you (or that they have seen you, but the simply don’t know your name). But going to a small church in a small town (by yourself) is an experience. The greeters were friendly and the minister spotted me as a new guy right away. He was super friendly and really did his best to make me feel at home. He connected serval times to ask more questions, find out about and see if he could connect me to someone, anyone that might provide a level of familiarity. At long last he found a guy who had attended GLCC near the window that I did and introduced us.
Then comes the “greet your neighbor” part of the service where people shake your hand near by, but are more put out that you are in their spot or space. They mean well I am sure, but no one asks your name or really expresses a desire to make your visit a better experience. This reminds me of a few things churches need to keep in mind:
1) People who are connected to someone are more apt to feel welcome and return to your church
2) People who actually visit your church do so for a reason (if they don’t have someone there who invited them), attach them to someone. This person should be their shield and guide through your congregation and should not leave their side. Invest in them. Get contact information. Follow up.
I try not to comment on sermons, I have a different taste and style than others so I don’t judge. It wasn’t awful and it wasn’t awesome. It just was. Since I have a good memory, I can tell you all about it, but let’s pretended that I don’t and that I cannot recall what was said. What I would recall though is that the minister went out of his way to welcome me, offer to take me to lunch with his family, and they tried to offer me a welcome basket (which was amazingly thoughtful). That’s the part that matters to folks and he did a great job with that part and that’s more important than if he had funny jokes, catchy stories or a moving oration. He was just a good guy and wanted to make sure that I felt welcome and I very much appreciate that.
Don’t Grumble With Your Soul
Well, not enough to join them for lunch or take a gift bag, but you get the idea. I really just wanted to drive around more and get a sense of the town, and how things connect so I went back to wandering around. I found the fair grounds where they hold an annual hot air balloon festival (which will be cool this summer) and several other places. It is nice to be in an area that has hills.
As I was driving I passed a sign that originally I thought read, “Don’t Grumble With Your Soul.” At second glance, I’m pretty sure that it said, “Don’t gamble with your soul,” but I think my initial reading has more meaning. We grumble a lot. We try to cover it up by calling it “first world problems,” as Americans we complain about everything. How long the wait is, how slow the internet is, how people drive like idiots (which driving like an idiot). We are so unsatisfied with all that we have. We grumble with our souls and it sours the way we see the world and the quality of the life we live. Nothing is good enough for us and we spend so much of our time unhappy. I don’t want to grumble with my soul. I want to be grateful with my soul.
So I prayed that while I was driving, “God, help me not to grumble with my soul.”
Life is full of lessons if we will only take advantage of the opportunities that we have to learn and grown from our experiences. I am confident that God is going to give me lots of chances to be better than I am if I will only take the time to choose them.
Welcome to Ashland.