How Good is Our Soil?

How Good is Our Soil?

Anyone who knows anything about gardening and soil can easily engage with the parable of the Sower that we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel. It just makes sense. Seed that is thrown on rock or in thorns is not going to do well. But plant seed in well maintained and fertilized soil, they stand the best chance of growing and producing a good crop or flower.  

But we know there is more to it than that. Good soil is but one component in yielding the desired results from our seeds. There is the ongoing watering, fertilizing and the never ending weeding. Tending and maintaining a garden takes time, dedication and patience. At other times we can get excited about trying different plants and seeds in the garden that we haven’t done before. We learn and perfect techniques from our neighbors and friends as we try and nurture our plants to grow in the best way possible. Tending a garden requires work and attention because if we don’t, our gardens don’t do as well.  

This same concept can be applied to our church life as well. For our church to be successful and vibrant, we need to nurture and develop the culture of our parish in a way that is conducive to growth. Our culture, the way in which we instinctively behave as a parish community together with our beliefs and values forms the soil of our community. If we have a good, well-nourished culture, then we have an environment that is attractive and one that people will gravitate towards. Conversely if we become complacent about our culture and how we as a community behave and interact with one another and others, then this too will have an effect on if and how we grow.  

One way of reflecting on our culture, the church’s soil, is to ponder for a moment the question: “Are we guests or hosts” when we come to church? Michael Harvey who is one of the founders of the Back to Church Sunday movement asks this question of churches and their leaders that he visits. Are we guests or are we hosts?  

Too often people mistake the church to be a service provider. We the faithful come to church to receive something, a service. There is no real expectation that we have to do anything. The church will provide what we are looking for, when we need it. We want to leave church feeling satisfied that we have received what it is we need when we need it and how we need it. When someone new comes to church they too are looking for something, wanting to receive something. This is a problem because we now have two groups of people who are expecting to receive something without doing anything about it themselves. They are both in the role of guest and no one is in the role of host.  

This is a good question for not only us, but for many churches to reflect upon. Are we guests or are we hosts? To put it another way, when you invite a friend to your home for coffee there are certain roles and expectations both of you fulfill. Your friend knows their role in arriving at the agreed upon time and receiving a coffee and a donut. You know your role in welcoming them to your home and offering a coffee and donut. This makes sense.  

This same concept applies in church. We can’t all be guests. We also need hosts. We the gathered faithful that call this place home need to be the hosts. We are the people who know this church best. This is our home, and when new people come through our doors it is up to all of us to ensure that they are welcomed and made to feel at home. When everyone is in the role of guest, the ones who are new are left to navigate through the church system themselves and inevitably may decide to go somewhere else. Are we guests or are we hosts in our church?  

In many ways we know our role as host well. Our website serves as the new “front door” of the church. There is information on how to find us, upcoming news and events are listed. There is even a page called “I’m New” that orients people as to what to expect when coming to church. We have greeters who greet people. Our order of service is easy to follow and includes relevant contact information we can take home. We as a community know how to socialize well and it is done with an element of grace and dignity that is hard to find. These all inform our culture and how we serve as hosts to those who are new, our guests.    

As we tend to our culture, our soil, are there elements that are missing? Are there elements that can be improved upon? I wonder what they could be. How can we become the hosts that God intends us to be? Like good soil, our church culture relies on us to nurture and cultivate itself constantly to maintain a community that is vibrant, healthy and ready for growth.