How Do We Offer the Best of Ourselves?
- Sunday, July 2, 2017
- By Father Robin Ruder-Celiz
So church growth and looking at ways in which we can grow can be a source of anxiety for many churches. Indeed for us this is a topic that comes up regularly. People wonder and want to know how to increase the size of the congregation. At times people have asked me, “How do we get young people coming back to church?” People remember fondly of how we once had over 100 people regularly with a large Sunday School and Youth Group. “Where did everyone go?” - Seems to be the popular theme. At other times people will comment, “Yes we need to grow, but by how much and is growth really the be all and end all.”
While this is a source of anxiety for many there is good news in this for us. One of the gifts I have noticed about our parish is that we have a remarkable ability to wrap ourselves and fully embrace and support members of our community who need support and care. From organizing an online calendar for people to sign up and deliver home made food to parishioners, to the development of a Parish Health Ministry (PHM) that is aimed at supporting and advocating for people, our people, through a complex and confusing health system are golden examples of this embrace. While the PHM program at the moment appeals to a particular demographic in the parish, my hope is that this ministry may spread to others and become a program that can directly benefit the whole family system.
We as a parish know how to have a good time and celebrate with one another. The Harvest Dinner and a bi-annual fundraiser are two such opportunities where this is most pronounced.
Sunday morning and how our worship is done speak to our souls and forms a core part of our identity and strength. Church can be and should be the most important event in our week. We have the makings for this to be true if it isn’t already.
So how do we take the best of ourselves and all of this and show case it to others? How do we bring our best to those who find themselves on the margins of our parish in one way or another? How do we provide an opportunity for Sunday morning to be the most important activity in the week for those for whom it isn’t? We invite them. It is as simple as that.
Archbishop Michael Peers, retired Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada often comments that he first came to church because a friend of his casually said, “Hey you know what, I am going to church on Sunday, would you like to come?” Michael came to church at St. James on the Downtown Eastside for the first time with his friend that Sunday and the rest they say is history. We have no idea how powerful our invitation to someone can be. The best part about inviting someone to church is that we have no control over, nor are we responsible for the answer they give. Yes, no or maybe another time – it is not our responsibility. Our job, our only job is to simply ask the question. The rest, how that is received and the answer they give is between that person and God.
But why invite them? Shouldn’t people be made aware of what we offer and they can decide for themselves if they want to come? We invite people to church because there are people who long for what we have. We invite people because this is what the Gospels tell us to do. Invitation is rooted in the Gospels as we hear the words of Jesus today, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt 10: 40). Churches, believe it or not can be hard places to enter. Many times when newcomers are asked about their experience of coming to church and what the challenges were, many of them indicate that the hardest part of the process was getting out of the car and walking through the front door. We forget and overlook how much a barrier churches and our buildings can be to people. What we think may be welcoming, sometimes isn’t. There are people on the margins of our parish who long to be a part of community, who thirst for a place where they belong and can be themselves and who have a deep desire for purpose and meaning in their life. They don’t know how or if they can enter our place. Perhaps you know someone with this longing. They need to be invited. Invitation is the first step in welcoming people in our midst.
These reasons are why church is and should always be the most important activity in our week. Church is often the only time and place where everyone regardless of background, age, gender or sexuality can gather as a whole community. It is here in this place where we lay before God our hopes, dreams, fears, anxiety and pain. It is here where we know that we are not alone and we don’t have to figure out our problems on our own. It is here in this place, this church where the worship and music we offer serves to transcend us to a deeper sense of the Divine. It is here in this church, St. Martin’s, that we can see the very face of God in one another and in the breaking of bread and pouring of wine – the sharing of a meal. The Eucharist is not an experience that we hoard and keep to ourselves but is a gift, God’s gift, for us to share and invite others to participate. When we invite someone to church we are inviting them to come and see and experience this amazing gift of community, belonging and purpose that we have to offer.
Now I know inviting people to church is not our strong suite. It really isn’t. Culturally as Anglicans we have a hard time with this. We get uncomfortable and self-conscious about inviting people to church. We do not want to be associated with other people and churches that walk along the street in pairs knocking on doors. So fear not, I am not advocating for a “door-knocking” campaign. There are many ways in which people can be invited to church.
What I am encouraging each of you to do over the summer is to think and pray about whom in your life God wants you to invite to church. While I am not a betting man myself, but if I were, I am willing to bet that there is at least one person in your life who God is urging you to invite. So pray about this over the summer. This is a theme that we will be coming back to because it is an important theme for us to be intentional about at this point in our life as a parish. Who in your life does God want you to invite to church? You never know, they may become the next Archbishop.