I've written from time to time about how struck I was the first time I went into an Apple store. When I first stepped through the doors I said, "Wow! It's a church!" Or at least, what church could be.
When you come in, there is a concierge, a greeter, who directs you where you want to go. For instance, I recently wanted to look at an iPad mini, and hold it in my hand. The concierge took me to the sample product area, against the wall to the right of the entrance. I held the product and said immediately, "I want to buy an iPad mini!" So he directed me toward the left-center of the store to the purchase table. I could have also shopped with a Specialist but I knew what I wanted the second I held it, so off to the purchase table I went.
They had the version I wanted in stock so I purchased my product and was then directed to Set-Up, another table, deeper into the store and to the right.
Up until now I have had the total attention of the staff person. Here at Set-Up, I was one of four people being helped to set up my new iPad mini. This could have been chaotic, but because there appears to be an ethos of radical hospitality at Apple stores, all went smoothly and after hearing about the Learning Centers, Workshops, Trainings, the Genius Bar, and other product areas, off I went home to play with my new connection to a whole new world.
I have written about how the church of the future might look like an Apple store. This week I had an insight into presenting fellowship with Jesus and his followers in terms of the Apple store.
Let's say you want to know about my church. I say to you, "It's like an Apple store. When you enter, someone is there to greet you. They may already be busy directing someone else so you might have to wait, but there's lots to look at while you are waiting. In church that might be the notices board, or a rack of literature, or a prayer book or hymnal to leaf through. You are welcome to browse at will.
"Once you get to the greeter she or he will direct you to where you want to go. Let's say you're just inquiring. We have various centers for learning about Jesus, Christianity, or The Episcopal Church, which is my particular church. You can come to worship. You can explore serving the community through attending some outreach meetings or going with them out into the neighborhood. You can explore what we believe by checking out some of our education opportunities or a Bible study. Just as the Apple store has learning centers, the church is one big learning center.
"As you get deeper into the store, you will want to choose a service to attend regularly for worship. If you decide to make this one worshiping community your worshiping community, instead of the purchase station, you can become a member, which has certain responsibilities. Instead of a set-up center, there are new-member classes, in which you will learn about those responsibilities - a personal practice of daily prayer, a willingness to give to the church so it can continue to reach the lost and those in need, teach people about the Good News of Jesus, and continue to worship God in community. If you are not baptized, you might want to take Baptism Preparation classes. If you are baptized, you may want to take Confirmation and Reaffirmation of Baptism classes. You will also learn the many ways in which you can help at the church through committees, taking part in making worship happen, and outreach work.
"But more important, you will learn that your daily life and work and play are integral to God being present everywhere you go.
"If this is a mystery to you, we have the Genius Bar. Or the church's version of the Genius Bar of the Apple Store. The priest is the person to whom you can go to ask any question, without being embarrassed. The priest, unlike the Genius Bar, if she is a very good priest, won't have all the answers. The priest is there to share what she or he does know, to direct you to find some things out for yourself, and, most genius of all, to listen deeply to you, where you are, what you struggle with, with you dream, what you want to do and be. And if the priest and the people are very good, you will find your ideas for church are invited and welcome.
"I should say here, the true Genius Bar, if you will, and I hope this does not offend anyone and if it does, well, that's a shame, the true Genius Bar is the altar or table where we celebrate, as a community, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper. Here, in the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Christ, we are fed for the week ahead. And it is free. Gratis."
That's what I would say, or a short version of it, if I am asked what is church about. You may notice I did not say church is about saving souls. It is not. Jesus saves souls. The church does not save souls. Souls may or may not be saved in churches. Jesus will do what Jesus will do.
I did not say church is about the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. You will notice that's what the learning centers are for.
I did say, or imply, the church is a community, where questions are asked about salvation, incarnation, resurrection, life, death and everything and where together we are fed a meal that is to sustain us in our life in the world between Sundays.
The Apple store sells Apple products. As part of selling products, Apple store are learning centers.
The church is not selling anything. The church is a school, for inquirers, for adepts, for life-long learners. It is a hospital for the least and lost and those in need. It is a center for worshiping God. It is, at its best, a place to experience transcendence, or the presence of God, or deep silence, or simply being loved.