by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter – Presbytery of Cincinnati

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               – Hebrews 13:2

A few days ago I was waiting to have a meeting in a Starbucks.  I don’t do this often, but usually it’s either because someone is already meeting there and I’m joining in (as it was this time), or because it’s convenient in between other meetings for both of us, or because someone wants to have a conversation away from the “office”.

This morning, early as I always am (in this case at 7:15 for an 8am meeting – yeah, it’s a problem) I (as I love to do) really got to people watch.  Here’s what I saw:

Like I said, I don’t go to Starbucks often.  In fact, it’s probably been a year.  So I was surprised by the “order ahead” volume – an order of magnitude more than those of us who show up and order at the counter. More than I had ever seen. This particular Starbucks is in a trendy part of town, so lots of Millennials on their way to work or the gym stopped to pick up their order, but there were a fair number of people my age doing the same.  It surprised me: a big swath of the counter is now devoted to orders waiting, previously ordered electronically, sorted alphabetically into lanes.  It struck me that we as a society are so rushed, and likely so addicted to our devices and apps, that the ability to run into a Starbucks (or a Kroger or drugstore or bookstore – yeah, B&N has it too) and pick up whatever and rush back out, has become endemic. And the unintended consequence of all of that is (1) significantly limited interaction between people, (2) those who are waiting on an in-person order wait longer – even those in the drive-through line, a whole different aspect, and (3) the person who had ordered ahead whose order wasn’t ready was REALLY unhappy.

The second thing I noticed was that one of the baristas – my age-ish – greeted almost every single person who came in to grab their to-go order by name. BY NAME.  Not every one, but nearly.  She smiled and greeted and sang out their names almost merrily.  Some smiled back. Some grunted over their shoulders. Every one of them grabbed their order and scooted back out the door. Not one of them called her name back to her and matched her cheery “good morning!”  So before my tea was ready I approached and told her how beautiful I thought it was that she knew and named her clientele, and asked her name.  Her smile was equally beautiful when she knew she’d been seen (and the manager heard, too).

And then there was the constant barrage of laughter and teasing amongst the baristas in the back.  This was clearly their peak for the morning, and not one of them slowed down the entire time I was there.  Their movements were almost choreography, graceful and flowing, each one knowing their role and their job at the moment.  Some did a few different tasks as needed – making the drinks, manning the register.  But they laughed.  Then in came the gentleman who was also clearly a regular, known, who teased them and kibitzed and was half-laughingly half-longingly complaining that he had lost a big bet on a basketball game the night before.  He stood next to me to wait for his order and I smiled at him as he sort-of kiddingly cussed the team, so I told him “well, you may have lost the bet but you brought the joy.” His face totally lit up and he laughingly went back for more fun with the baristas, telling them that they weren’t as nice to him as that lady over there – bringing even more laughter and joy.

Bring this whole set of random observations into your Sunday morning church: 

  • How many rush in and out as if theirs were worship-orders-to-go? What can you do to get them to stay, to engage, to worship more with their hearts and souls than their feet?
  • How many smiles and named acknowledgments and interactions are you starting?  How many hugs?  How many genuine questions about family, and well-being?  How are you training your congregation and Session and Deacons? Instead of the AI-as-Artificial Intelligence we worry about in our churches – perhaps we should be worrying about how many AI-as-Authentic Interactions we have…?
  • Who brings the joy in your congregation?  Who brings the affirmations? How can that joy be made to be so infectious that everyone leaves church with that ringing through them, ready to go infect the rest of the people they encounter that day – and every day – with the pure joy of being a child of God?

Let’s make AI in our churches stand for “Authentic Interactions”