Usually, I try to skirt the personal and keep posts focused on issues. For this post on the Strange Fire Conference, I’m going to take a personal approach. The conference was hosted by Grace to You (GTY) on the campus of Grace Community Church in California, October 16-18, 2013.
One of the most immediately impressive parts of the Strange Fire Conference was the hospitality of Grace Community Church. My information on this is gathered from personal experience and from people I know who are members of Grace Community Church and who participated as volunteers.
Is hospitality a peripheral issue? In a conference intended to expose false teachings on gifts of the Holy Spirit, this hospitality was a tangible demonstration of what gifts of the Spirit and Spirit filling really look like.
The generosity included more than I can describe here. Our low conference fee of about $129 total for the two of us (hubby and me) included continental breakfast and lunch each day, a changing variety of snacks all day long, and a free copy of MacArthur’s new book Strange Fire. Although they brought in a smorgasbord of food trucks from the area for purchase of dinner, there were enough snacks that you could stay on campus all day and never buy a meal. Free pastoral counseling was in constant use. Live-streaming of every session was made available for the many who could not attend. Groups of 10 or more at a live-stream location were offered a free copy of Strange Fire for each attendee. After some editing to take out the extraneous, the sessions will be posted on Grace to You (Strange Fire: What Now?). GTY is also giving a copy to every member of Grace Community Church and giving copies free to Indians through a ministry in India.
On location, the service orientation began the moment we set foot on the campus. Ready to greet us with smiles and hand shakes were, oh, I’d guess seven to ten people every morning.
As is commonly known, there were over 700 volunteers. Our daughter worked there on Monday and later told us that she learned that there were so many volunteers that some who volunteered to work on conference days had to be redirected to set-up on Monday and Tuesday, or dismantling on Saturday. Many had to take vacation time from work to volunteer. When our daughter arrived on Monday a half hour early, the place was active as an ant hill. Everyone industriously got the job done.
Did any attendees reading this post happen to notice the tablecloths in the various venues? Our daughter is one who delivered them to a number of rooms, through which she learned about the planning and organization of tables, table cloth colors and sizes, and food display arrangements. Who cares about table cloths? I’m glad someone does because they were a part of what created an atmosphere of warmth, orderliness, and excellence in service.
People who are great at organization and administration worked behind the scenes. Those who love to interact with people manned the information desk, other booths, crowd direction, ushering, and the many tables of refreshments. “Merry maids” were busy all day wiping down surfaces. The campus constantly looked well-kept. Everyone was quick to serve and happy to do so.
Other services included free wireless access and free printing of your airline boarding pass for the next day. The attendees were asked to write questions for the two panel discussions, to be moderated by the host of Wretched Radio. There were so many questions that they said that they would have to generalize but all questions would be answered in the coming weeks on the GTY website. I’ll be looking for the answer to my question about testimonies of Muslims supposedly having dreams that lead to salvation.
I know that people make an issue over dress, saying that Christians ought to be able to dress as casually as we want at church. I didn’t think to ask if there was a dress code for volunteers, but in looking back I realize that the men volunteers wore suit coats and the women all dressed well–no jeans and pullovers. My observation is that the dress of the volunteers was a factor in conveying an atmosphere of reverence for God and of respect for we attendees whom they served. Appearance communicates.
Service was extended in the parking lots via the security people. For our supper, we walked back to our daughter’s car and tail-gated with peanut butter sandwiches. Each of the three evenings, in the space of less than an hour, a minimum of three security personnel passed us, either on foot, on bicycle, or in a vehicle. Usually, they stopped to chat. They were extremely friendly and at our thanks expressed their delight that we could come to hear the teaching.
I lost count of how many attendees I overheard commenting about the hospitality. They commented as we waited in lines to enter the auditorium or as we stood around the campus. It was that evident. In all, the ministry of generous, loving service was an overwhelming example of the Holy Spirit at work in a local body of Christ.
Thank you, Grace Community Church members!