What I Learned About Hospitality From Disney!
By Pastor Matt Titus
So, as many of y’all know, my family and I went to Disney World last month. It was a great vacation and we toured all four of Disney’s parks. We had a blast. Ashleigh and Miriam had the best few days of their lives (apart from spending every day with us that is) as they were able to meet their favorite characters like Elsa, Anna, Sofia, Baymax, and of course Mickey Mouse.
But, as we traveled around Disney’s parks, I came away with a great sense of comfort. No matter what was going on, there was a Disney cast member (employee) there to help guide us, comfort us, or inform us about something. Disney knows hospitality and you know what – we as the church can learn a lot from them.
First things first – everyone is welcome. Now, I know our sign says – All are welcome, no exceptions. But, let’s be honest. We as the church have a hard time welcoming everyone into the community of faith at times. As Lutherans, we have a tendency to congregate with others who look, speak, and act like us. I think we are much better than other churches I have seen or been a part of, but the truth remains. Sometimes we’re pretty bad at being truly welcoming. At least in the ‘little things.’ Like welcoming new people at the door. Being present for folks throughout the service (helping with the hymnal, and the flow of service). Being considerate of others’ time and personal space (either clambering in too close or over extending conversations well past ‘normal’ time).
Disney – they know how to welcome someone. Everyone greets you. Everyone smiles. No matter where you’re from, who you’re with, or why you’ve come – Disney is there to accommodate you. Of course, we still have to do things ‘the Disney way’ in many aspects. But, from the moment you get off the airplane to the moment you leave. You’re taken care of. It’s an awesome feeling.
Secondly – they know their story. Disney knows why you come to their parks. To have a magical experience. Re-kindling your inner child or inspiring that young child in your family to be filled with love and the thought that ‘anything is truly possible.’ Not only do those who work at Disney know why you’ve come – they know the Disney story. They know their history. They know what they are currently doing. They know how to celebrate their heritage. They are inspired by their future.
Now, as a community of faith, we know some of the major parts of our story. We know Jesus. We know the birth. We know the death and resurrection. We may even know a few of the smaller stories that we grew up with (or at least the ‘Sunday School’ versions of those stories). But, we don’t cherish those stories at times like my sister cherishes not only the movies she watches – but also the little bits of history that tie into their present.
For example – do you know why all cast members direct folks where to go by ‘pointing’ with two fingers? You might have been told that it’s because it is considered ‘rude’ to point with one finger in many cultures. Sure, that’s part of the reason. The other is that Walt Disney was a notorious chain smoker and when he pointed towards something it was always with a cigarette between his fingers – hence the two-finger point.
We as the church have those ‘funny’ stories as well. For example, why do we have candles? Sure, a part of the reason is that candles help us to remember the light of Christ that burns within the church and within ourselves. But, a huge reason is that during the inception of the church and the establishing of cathedrals – they didn’t have the luxury of electricity. Candles were a necessity. If they didn’t have candles, how would the priest and those leading worship be able to read the words?
But, we also don’t know the stories of our faith as well as we should. Those stories that reside in our holy scriptures (stories like Ruth, Amos, Elijah and Elisha [mostly that they aren’t the same person], and more) or the stories that help form our particular community of faith in Mason.
Finally – they are passionate. Seriously – talk to anyone who has ever worked at Disney or even been to the parks for an extended period of time. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t care about what they were doing. My sister sits at a desk and talks on a phone for 8 hours a day. She loves it. Why? Because she gets to tell people about Disney. My mother has friends that work there that have to dress up in silly outfits and stand on their feet all day helping park attendees with purchases, picking up trash, or making sure people are following the rules on their numerous rides. They love it. They get to interact and experience people from all over the world. They get to be at Disney World (or one of the other three parks) every day.
There are times when we as a greater church and even as All Saints Lutheran Church can lack passion. We just ‘go through the motions’ when it comes to church. We can lose sight of why we do what we do. We can lose that burning spiritual fire that compels us to want to come to worship or the other activities that the church offers. The place where we get to hear about God’s love for us and the world. We get to hear and experience Christ’s presence among us and in us. We get to be led through the waters of our baptism so that all might know God’s love. We get to hear, experience, and share the greatest story for the world – for each of us.
So, after a week at Disney World, I hope that I can be a better pastor, a better steward of Christianity, a better person by living out my faith in a ‘Disney-like’ way. Living out my faith where I am welcoming to everyone – more so than I know myself to already be, to dive more into the stories that we share – both as a people of faith and as a community here in Mason. Finally, I hope that I can be passionate about my faith in such a way that others cannot help, but feed off that passion. That they too might feel the same sense of awe and wonderment from hearing the birth story of our Lord, of being compelled to serve those in need, to knowing that we are whole because Christ has risen, in experiencing profound peace because God has already forgiven and saved us through our faith.
In this, I hope and pray that each of you are inspired to live this wonderful life of faith as well.
This is All Saints – This is the Lutheran Church – This is faith. We can listen, experience, go, share, and serve. Amen!