A highlight of my week is often visiting the alcohol and tobacco shop located next door to our church. Every time I go I am met with an unexpected and pleasant surprise. One of the employees has decided that I am the store's pastor and that it is my responsibility to come by each week to bring a little Jesus into the store.
Today when I went, it must have been in the midst of a shift change, because several employees were behind the counter. One of the men who I am getting to know introduced me to another man as "the padre I've been telling you about, the one at the church next door." This then started an entire conversation with employees asking where the church was because they hadn't remembered seeing one next door.
Our church is currently meeting in two connecting store fronts in a strip mall. We don't yet have a traditional sign, so many people don't yet know we are there. It is only by our relational presence in the community that we are known - and boy are we having fun building relationships with our community!
Before I left, the man who had introduced me as "padre" recognized the flow of people coming to and from our church and announced that he and the other employees would someday be part of that traffic flow. I walked away with my bottle of water (it was $1.00 for the generic brand!) and noted the confused look on the customer's face behind me in line.
I never know what to expect when I walk through those doors, but I sure enjoy being the pastor at the tobacco and alcohol store. I really appreciate what my Catholic friends have taught me about the idea of parish - the concept that everyone in the geographic area of your church is a member of your faith community. I sure hope that as we as a church think in this way, some of those members with yet-to-be-known names who haven't walked through our doors experience God's grace and love through our presence in their lives.