Vital Signs

A group of early-arriving African delegates to General Conference 2012 were asked to attend the Sunday service at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, the closest church to their hotel. Because no transportation was arranged, four decided to board a taxi. The joy that was filling the car was replaced by misunderstanding and doubt after five minutes of driving when the group was on West Platt Street in downtown Tampa. The passengers thought the taxi driver knew the place; the driver thought they knew the place. No one had a GPS. So the group spent another five minutes wandering in the neighborhood before deciding to ask directions from a passerby. The only person they could see in the empty street was a lady selling vegetables in a filling station. Now dead in their soul, they decided to continue on their way.

A few blocks later, someone shouted, “This is the place! I can see the Cross and Flame!” — pointing at a sign at a corner of West Platt Street and South Cedar Avenue. What a relief! Still, the group arrived late for worship.

The misadventure of these delegates raises a question that needs to be addressed.

What if they could not find a sign indicating the church?

Communication is very important to make The United Methodist Church more visible in our society. Visual communicating is one of the oldest forms of communication. It helps convey through images or signs our identity and location. That goes along with what the Bible says in Matthew 5:15: “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under the grain-measure, but on a lamp stand. And it gives light to all who are in the house.”

With our changing times, visual communication is using “new” media. New technologies of information and communication have modified the expectations of targeted audience of any organization. Is the church really present everywhere it should be, especially in terms of new media?

Although we applaud the efforts of Hyde Park UMC for making the church more visible, the Sunday experience raises another question:

Why can’t the lady at the filling station locate the church that was just blocks away from where she works every day?

Church communication today goes just beyond the simple “sign presence” to become more present in the community it serves. How is the church making itself more known to the neighborhood? A simple invitation to attend one of the many Sunday services to that lady who sells vegetables even on a “holy day” could have changed many things.

“Rethink Church” urges local churches to be more present in their communities. It goes beyond simple signs to meeting the needs of those around us. Why not join as community to help change the world, starting with ordinary people we meet like this lady selling vegetables?

If we haven’t already done it, let’s start the conversation and take action to be more present in the eyes and hearts of the people we are called to serve. For we “are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

As they taught us in Communications school, “a good image is better than a long speech.”

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