Go To

Go To”
      About 15 years ago Susan and I had a restaurant in town that we loved to go to called Tip Of The Boot.  The dinners were fantastic, the desserts homemade and delicious and the price reasonable.  We got to know the owner and his family.  It was very small and quaint and had a certain feel to it.  Our daughter Janine even waitressed there for awhile.  When we were having our Tuesday Night Pasta Dinner at the church the Tip Of The Boot donated a pot of sauce each week for several years.  “The Tip” was our “go to” whenever we wanted to have Italian food.
     On Wednesday night Susan and I headed up to Red Hook N.Y. for a workshop we were doing on Thursday at the Taconic Retreat Center.  On the way we stopped at a nice Italian restaurant that we had discovered quite by accident last year.  The Villa Nigrella is located right on the Taconic Parkway in Hopewell Junction. We have now eaten there three times and have not been disappointed. The food is terrific and the atmosphere warm and welcoming.  Whenever we are heading up that way we now have the Villa as our place to stop and eat.  It is our “go to.”
    For me, finding that “go to” place is not always easy.  The food needs to be good, for sure and reasonable prices help but there has to be more.  It’s a sense, a feeling you have when you step inside.  You know that the people in the restaurant care about everything . They take great care to make good tasting food using fresh ingredients.  The owner cares, the chef cares, the wait staff care.  Care is taken in the presentation of the food, in the decorating of the restaurant, in the overall “feel” of the customer’s experience.  It is a welcoming place where you don’t feel rushed or ignored.  But you can sit there and enjoy the moment.  I have eaten at a lot of great places and have had wonderful meals but they are not all “go to” places for me.  The “go to” place is on another level.
     Restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, cafe’s….People have their “go to” places.  They go because they have a certain feel, a certain experience that sets it apart from the other restaurants, coffee shops, etc.   There is something beyond the food, the coffee, the decor, etc.  Howard Schultz, founder and former owner of Starbucks would say that they don’t sell coffee, they sell an experience.   In other words, people go to Starbucks not simply for the coffee but because they could sit there for hours and read, talk to people, work on their computer or simply just hang out.  Coffee helps, but it is the whole experience that people are attracted to.  Sociologies talk about the “third space.”  The third space is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first space”) and the workplace (“second space”).  “Third spaces” include churches, cafe’s, libraries, barber shops, etc.  It is the “go to” place where people gather for social interaction and belonging.
     When the local church sees itself as the “third space”, the “go to” that sets itself apart from all the other places people can go, it begins to realize its holy calling.  It’s not simply about the sermon, the music , the ministries or the teaching.  All those things are good and important.  But its more.  It’s how people feel when they are in that community, how they experience Jesus, the sense of belonging they have.  Its the total package of people and atmosphere and feeling.  It’s the Holy Spirit drawing people into loving communion; it’s Jesus living through the church members; it’s God the Father present and realized in every action and endeavor.  From the preaching to the coffee to the art.  It’s what people experience through their senses and what they sense through their experience.   It’s beyond words and beyond explanation.  The Trinity is present, the Kingdom of God is realized and people are drawn there.
     My hope and prayer is that our church…and every church… would be the “go to”,  the “third space” for many people for many generations to come.
What do you think?
How does it make you feel?