In the benefice we are taking part in the programme run by the Diocese entitled 'Back to Church Sunday.' We have decided to change the title to 'Welcome to Church Sunday' as it sounded more positive and inviting to people. Indeed we all need to recognise the failure of the church everywhere to take seriously the great commission that Our Lord left 'to make disciples' everywhere.The church has become a club where the faithful club members get their weekly inspiration without considering that the very inspiration that they find in church is what so many people in society are trying to find. There is a hunger for spiritual things in many people's lives. They feel empty and rudderless in their daily lives. They are looking for some deeper meaning to everything. The church is one place that they may want to look for answers to these real desires in their lives. We need to make the effort to make the place attractive to them. First we need to be friendly- welcoming them into church with a smile and that genuine hello that means we actually are excited to see them in church. Secondly when we have a cuppa after the service-do we make sure they are invited and, more importantly, drawn into conversation. I have seen strangers in church stranded in the coffee time because the whole body of regulars are intent on talking with their friends and ignoring them. We need to draw them into our friendship and that must mean a little effort from all of us.
Of course, thirdly the occasional services offer us a very promising opportunity to draw alongside younger family groups that we need for the future of our church. The problem is many of us don't like our cosy Sunday corner disturbed by their presence in our service. We often wish they might opt for some other time on the Sunday away from our normal service! What a pity that we feel like this for they are the very people our Lord wants in our midst and the command to baptise is part of the great commission to make disciples. We cannot afford to ignore those who want baptism for their children. They need to be integrated into the life of our churches and we need to work hard at involving their baptised children into a program for young people that will lead to confirmation in due course.
We need, fourthly, to integrate those being married in our churches into the life of our Christian communities. All this takes time and patience from all of us. Two generations have been allowed to drift from meaningful links with the church and bridging this gap will take much effort from all of us. We must expect that they will feel out of place in our world. We cannot simply,therefore, sit back and expect these new relationships to build themselves.
So we are preparing for Welcome back to church Sunday. Each of us has a part to play in this. We all need to think of someone we can invite to come with us to church. There must be people that we know that we could invite to come along with us. If we all found someone to bring we could double the number in church on that day. Perhaps more than double the number if we invite a young family with children!
Over this matter of making disciples 'doing nothing' is not an option unless we want to close the doors of our churches for good. As we begin our Autumn program of church events may we remember the great commission of Jesus and that includes our part in making disciples. Let us all see everything up to Christmas an opportunity for befriending and bringing new folk to God and to church.
Your friend and priest,