Outside many churches and on much church publicity, the word ‘welcome’ will appear. Our parish’s vision statement declares that we ‘will welcome everyone warmly.’ This emphasis on making people feel welcome is vitally important because it is what people experience on their first visit to a church that determines whether they will return or not. Even so, there is a marked difference between a general statement of welcome and a personal invitation. Better still is an invitation accompanied by an offer to accompany the invitee to the event whatever that might be a church service or Women’s Own for instance. That is why the PCC have agreed that 2017 is to be a ‘year of invitation.’
On Sunday 5th February, everyone who comes will be asked to think of up to three people that they know who do not come to church much, if at all, and to commit to pray for them. In their prayers for them, besides praying for their well-being, they are to seek for the right opportunity to invite them to something in the church’s life. This demands some insight. Sensitivity is required to know what is going to be most helpful in terms of their spiritual journey. The question, ‘what is going to help this individual take the next step of faith?’ is paramount. It might be a social event, like a quiz, or an activity where faith is a feature, such as a Men’s Breakfast, or it could be a service, for example, the mid-week Holy Communion service on Wednesdays at 9.30a.m. or ‘Celebrate’ one Sunday afternoon at 4.00p.m. The reason for having a year where there is an emphasis on personal invitation is so our parish can be characterised by a culture of invitation. The goal is that praying for the people we know and thinking about inviting them to something at church can be integral to our individual discipleship and to the church’s life.
This emphasis on invitation expresses our longing that others may come to belong to our church but ‘belonging’ is not an end in itself. Our hope is that belonging leads to believing. After all, these invitations signify the profound offer to participate in God’s love through Jesus Christ. That is the summons at the heart of the Christian gospel, ‘Come and enjoy divine hospitality.’ Invitation and hospitality go hand in hand, and that’s why alongside our commitment to welcome everyone warmly is our offer of ‘generous hospitality.’ That’s why there is a synergy in the coincidence of this focus on invitation and the start of the first phase of our building project. These are exciting times, and I ask you to embrace the opportunities to develop our life together, not least by using this prayer regularly over the coming months.
you run with us in our energy
and carry us in our weariness;
help us to recognise your companionship
in our journey through life.
Give us grace and sensitivity
so to walk with others on the way
that they too will find themselves
walking with you,
Jesus, our Saviour and Friend. Amen.