Filling the Pews – Part 7: Going Outside the Church

Photo by Holly STAUFFER Whether in the church’s courtyard or in a restaurant members at St. Luke’s of the Mountains are eager to talk about their faith.

By Brandon HENSLEY

Every weekend people get out of bed, put on their “Sunday best,” and get in their cars to drive to their local church. Church, after all, is a place that welcomes anyone who wants to get to know God on a deeper level.

There are those out there, though, who don’t think of a big room filled with pews, walls lined with stained glass windows and surrounded by religious symbols as the most inviting place in the neighborhood.

So what is a church to do to make those who feel unwelcomed, welcomed? St. Luke’s of the Mountains has a suggestion.

The church, led by Father Bryan Jones, is reaching out into the community, rather than just trying and pulling people in. Last month, he held a small dinner gathering at Sushi Zen Bistro where a handful of people were able to talk to the church about its attitude toward God.

“We’re calling it Table Theology, something that can be a place where you can have a conversation with different points of view in a relaxed atmosphere,” Jones said.

It’s a place where some may want to engage in deep religious discussion but still feel uncomfortable going to church.

The idea came up while Jones was reading Phillip Clayton’s book, “Transforming Christian Theology.” Clayton, a professor at Claremont College, is involved in the emergent movement, where different theological beliefs can cross each other.

The movement is a melting pot of ideas and acceptance, and St. Luke’s, a more progressive church in the Foothills, said people of any race, gender or sexual orientation is welcome to any of the dinner chats, which will be held once a month.

“St. Luke’s is a parish whose message and mission is one of inclusion,” said member Holly Stauffer, who is also going to seminary school. “When we host an event whether it is on the church campus or at a restaurant like Zen, we want everyone to know they are invited.  Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of radical inclusion and hospitality and that is who we are at St. Luke’s.”

Each month, those who come will tackle topics detailed in Clayton’s book. Questions like, “What is the Church?” “What is salvation?”  and, “What is the future we hope for?” will be discussed. In the first meeting, Jones talked about not who God is, but who He isn’t.

Stauffer said these talks offer interesting discussions “in a way that is non-threatening, non-judgmental, and not combative.”

St. Luke’s reopened in October 2009. Stauffer was one of the people there that first day, but the church is still trying to gain a larger congregation. It’s part of a larger problem of more people not attending religious services.

Jones said he read research recently that reported 57% of the La Crescenta area does not have any religious background. Still, these talks are not meant to be a means to recruit “prospective members,” he said. “This is an open-ended forum.”

Jones continued that this is “a conversation that’s open to everyone, whether you call yourself a Christian or not, a believer or a skeptic, whether you are spiritual and not religious or religious and not spiritual.”

So while going to church can be daunting to some, having dinner and talking to accepting people for about two hours seems to score lower on the intimidation scale.

“We want anybody who wants to come and talk about Jesus,” said Stauffer.

The next meeting will be on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.