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A priest, wise in the ways of reviving parishes recently wrote:

“The attitudes of the people, to God, to their priest, to each other and to the newcomer, are actually much more important than the style of the worship and the state of the finances.”

1. Attitude to God:

One of the practical ways a parish or mission may take to help everyone with their prayers, is a printed weekly prayer cycle for parishioners. In it a group of parishioners are listed for each day, except Sunday. Nothing brings a parish to life more than the prayers of those who regularly “work, pray and give” to and for the Kingdom in a parish. Together in prayer they carry their community, city, and area and everyone and everything therein to God and become channels of God’s grace.

Elderly Christians who may not have the physical strength or energy to do what seems to be “practical” work in a parish may become powerhouses of prayer –the most important form of energy – as they pray daily for the parish and its work and witness.

2. Attitude to our priest:

A priest is no stronger, no holier, and no more special than anyone else. His or her calling is special or set apart (the root of the word “holy”) in that a priest’s life of prayer, study and care sums up and enables the worship, prayers, the study and the cares and caring of us all. Sir John Betjeman wrote:

“When things go wrong
It’s rather tame,
To find you are yourself to blame.
It gets the trouble over quicker,
To go and blame things on the Vicar.”

In a sense the way we treat our priest and family is an indication of the way we
care for our parish and each other. If our friends, neighbors, people at work or at “play” see just how we care for our priest and parish, pray regularly, are kind, generous and enthusiastic to and about our priest and parish, and support both, they will be intrigued, interested and drawn.

3. Our Attitude to each other:

Particularly after we receive holy communion each of us carries within us our Lord’s true Presence. It is for this reason, among others, that we should respect each other, love each other, make allowances for each other and support each other. “They shall know we are Christians by our love.” In short don’t grumble about your parish and each other.

Constructive ideas are always welcome. Grumbles tear down and destroy, divide and weaken. There are people in your area who have left your church because they were grumbled about or grumbled about! They need to know that the past is forgotten and forgiven and that we all, in Jesus’ name and grace, are “seeking to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways.” If you feel a bit responsible in all this, do call that person whom you may have offended “in thought, word or deed” and say sorry.

Do remember that what ever may be going on in the Anglican Communion, the National Church or the blogs may trumpet, because it is God who works in and through Baptism and the Eucharist, through the other sacramental rites and acts of worship, through hearing the Bible and of course reading and studying, through pastoral care and love, “the means of grace and the hope of glory” remain. Never mind what you may think others may or may not be doing. God has called you. Be faithful. Don’t confuse church politics with the work of God in Trinity in the Church, which continues through thick and thin until he comes again. The Church over the centuries has seen times of glory and times of shame, times when it has shown enormous vitality and times when it has seemed faithless and near death. Yet Jesus promised that “the gates of hell will not succeed.” Trust God.

4 Our Attitude to newcomers:

The first off-putting things for searchers or newcomers are dirty outside doors, ratty signs with pealing paint or rusting letters, or a complex way of getting into church or the parish hall for coffee hour. The more doors people must go through; the more daunting the experience.

Ushers should not only give out programs but show new people to a seat or pew and make sure the right books are there for them. Programs, bulletins or service sheets should be crisp and attractive and give notes about ceremonial, kneeling, standing and sitting. The vocabulary and jargon used in church should be defined clearly and simply and explained.

Make sure that the people chosen to greet new comers are friendly and kind. One can always find other jobs for those who find it difficult to show a happy face!

There are different ways of getting information about new comers. Nowadays an email address is probably as vital at first as a telephone number or a street address. Make sure information gets to the parish secretary/administrator promptly and to your outreach or evangelism team. While a note from your priest is good, one from an enthusiastic lay person is even more powerful in its impact.

Without smothering them or immediately unloading the jobs on them we don’t want to do, we should be friendly, kind and encouraging to new people. At coffee hour the great temptation is to “love” each other and in the process, leave new people out because they don’t know the script or what on earth we are talking about. New people don’t even know our geography (where the restrooms or parish hall is) or even those strange things we do as we bow, kneel, stand or make the sign of the cross. Inform but don’t bore!

Don’t be nosy about their homes, families or work. New people will share when they feel comfortable. Do make sure they meet your priest at coffee hour. Remember we don’t own the church. It is God’s house and a house of prayer for ALL people.

Because Anglicans believe in the parish we believe that the gathered people “in church” on Sunday are there for God and for the world outside, and not primarily for themselves and particularly not for themselves as individuals. If others hear us grumbling about the hymns, or the service, or the priest they get the idea that worship is a form of entertainment or group therapy for “me”.

Worship is the act by which we give God the glory and receive the grace to be agents of God’s Kingdom, and the power of the Resurrection in the world around us. It takes enormous communal courage to shout to the world “Jesus is Lord” and to challenge any power which claims that lordship or mistreats human beings or the physical world. Thus, “we do not presume to come to this thy Table, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercy.” In other words we come to admit our failure to live as if Jesus is Lord in our families, work, community life, trusting in the extraordinary mercy and grace of our Lord who has called us to “show forth his death and passion until he comes again, until “the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord Christ.”

Your parish is an outpost of God’s Kingdom. It is our duty to make sure that the world outside sees a community of faith and love, open and compassionate, and not a club for the self-righteous or a society for those interested in the traditions and ceremonial of something called “Episcopalianism.”! Our traditions and ceremonial are meant to be windows into God’s world, windows of the Church and not of a sect. Windows may be lovely, even ornate and treasures of architecture, but when all is said and done, their purpose is to see through and to let in light. Such is the purpose of your parish. Through the parish we see God. Through the parish the Light of Lights shines in our lives and into the surrounding world. Do keep the curtains drawn and the windows clean!

One Response

  1. Excellent, excellent article. Thank you.

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