A week ago my family and I attended The Fest, an all-day Christian music concert outdoors on Cleveland’s far east side. There were thousands of people there, enjoying the music, relaxing in the decent weather and eating overpriced bratwurst and that fresh-squeezed lemonade that leaves a sugar sludge in the bottom of the cup.
It was sponsored by the Catholic Church and really was a celebration of all things Catholic. We were handed a copy of the Catholic newspaper on our way in. Notre Dame College was very visible and there were tents for various missions projects and private high schools. Heck, even the group that prints their offering envelopes was identified as a sponsor.
I had never been to a Catholic mass except for weddings and funerals. This was my first real interaction with them.
I will admit that my perception of Catholicism has taken some hits in recent years. They have had their share of scandals and infighting. But I was surprised by much of what I saw.
I actually saw men dressed in monk’s robes, women in habits and priests dressed in far too many layers to be comfortable on a nearly 90 degree day. And frankly I was surprised at how young many of these people were. It did me good to see priests in their 20s dancing to the music as I would expect our own young clergy to do. I saw half a dozen teenage girls who look like they may be in the “in crowd” wearing t-shirts with a picture of a nun and on the back it read, “not all habits are bad.” My favorite was the young man whose shirt said “Putting the stud back in Bible study.”
Before that day my perception of the Catholic Church was that it was stagnant, all the priests were 100 years old and young people only went because their parents dragged them to their “weekly obligation.” I left that concert with a much healthier respect for where that denomination stands.
It got me wondering what (if anything) the public perception of United Methodism is. Do people really see us as having open doors, open minds, and open hearts. Or do they just think of our open hand, asking them to give? What is the end result of our somewhat public battles over homosexuality and other incendiary issues we face every four years?
But I really landed on the fact that we, the United Methodists, have much to offer a hurting world. But until we find a way to get those who need God into our churches (or an open field with live music, lemonade and bratwursts), they will continue to have the same jaded views of our church that I had of the Catholics.
I never would have gone to a mass, no matter who invited me or how effective their ads were. What are we doing to get those same people to see United Methodism at work?