At Christiana Hospital last Sunday, after visiting one of our members, I decided to stop at the hospital cafe for lunch. While I was waiting in line, a stranger, noticing my collar, struck up a conversation.
“Hello Pastor. What denomination are you?” I told him my name and said I was from the Episcopal Church of St Barnabas. He said his name was Scott and he mentioned that he was a member of the Journey Church. Since summer they have been our neighbors, and I still have the postcard they sent us, in which they describe themselves as “Real Church for Real People.” (Does that mean we’re “unreal”?)
“Oh,” I said, “then you are just up the road from us?” It took a moment for him to make the connection, then he said,
“Yes, that’s our second location – our main church is in Newark.”
“How are things going?”
“All right,” he replied, “we usually get around 400 on a Sunday.”
“That’s good. How do you advertise?”
“We don’t do much advertising. We grow mainly through personal invitation. We want people to come as they are. We don’t put pressure on people to believe. The important thing is to connect one person to another.”
Scott identified the most effective recruiting tool for a church: ourselves. Nothing beats a personal invitation from a friend or family member. In our own diocese, Bishop Brown has encouraged us to use five simple words: “Do you want to go?” Sometimes being direct is the best way. If the person then says “no”, it doesn’t matter – they may be pleased to have been asked anyway. But imagine what would happen if someone said “yes?” You would find yourself in the role of the disciple Andrew, inviting his brother Simon to come and meet Jesus. What could be a greater honor than that?
Next week we are celebrating Christmas, which provides a wonderful opportunity to invite a neighbor, friend or family member who hasn’t been to church for a while to come and see what they are missing.
In our conversation at Christiana Hospital, Scott made another important point: when you come to church, we don’t expect you to sign up to the full doctrine of the Church. It’s a whole new world to many people, and there are various reasons for people coming to church: more likely than not, it will be the first step in a search for a meaning to life, or a place of fellowship, or an experience beyond the simple materialism of mainstream existence. There’s room for all at church, regardless of where you are in your faith journey. In the words of our Celtic prayer,
“So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been here long, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come, because it is the Lord who invites you to meet him here.”
The celebration of Christ’s birth is an occasion for all to enjoy and cherish; at Christmas we re-awaken our sense of wonder at what God has done for us. God became one of us, being born as one of us, that we might know him and love him as our own. No longer was God a remote deity, looking down from on high – instead, God shared our lives and through Jesus Christ revealed his true nature: loving, kind, and ultimately self-sacrificing. It stretches our mind to think of what Jesus has done, but by his life, death and resurrection, he has shown us the way to new life, which begins at baptism, when we are reborn in the Spirit.
At St Barnabas next week there are three opportunities to experience the wonder and joy of Christ’s birth. On Christmas Eve, the is the Nativity Pageant at 4 pm, when the children re-enact the story of Christ’s birth. This service also includes Holy Communion. Then at 11 pm there is Midnight Mass, a more traditional service with full choir, preceded at 10:30 pm by a Choral Prelude. On Christmas Day there is a 10 am Sung Eucharist, for those who prefer to attend church on Christmas Day itself.
I wish you a joyful and blessed Christmas.