Friday, October 26, 2007

Rites of Passage Evangelism

On Sunday, Oct 21st, at Holy Trinity Church, we welcomed six new Christians into the body of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It is a great privilege to walk with individuals, families, and sponsors as they begin the Christian journey. I find that it is a time for storytelling: They tell us their story, we tell ours, and in the midst another story is told, “the old, old story,” which binds us all together in one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism.

As I meet families not only for baptism, but also for wedding preparation, and yes, even as I meet families of those who have departed this life, as we prepare a Christian funeral, I am struck by a hopeful reality, namely, that God’s Holy Spirit continues the work of building up the Church and the Kingdom. People are seeking. We often lament the fact that our numbers are declining and that we seem to have fewer new people coming through our doors. And yet... I see them on a weekly basis -- individuals and baptism seeking Holy Baptism, couples seeking Holy Matrimony, and families seeking Christian Funerals for their departed loved ones. But do we really see them? And more importantly, when we see them, do we welcome them into our midst?

It is not uncommon for those of us who worship regularly in our parish churches to be frustrated when those who do not attend regularly on Sundays seek the rites of the Church. At Baptisms, we may find our parking spaces taken, or someone else sitting in “my” pew. And, good heavens, the service lasted ten more minutes than usual! Then there are those who think that our “lovely historic building” would be the perfect “venue” for their upcoming nuptials. However, I always consider one important question, namely, how is it that these people have come to us? What has led them here? I think that there can be no answer but this: The Holy Spirit of God. Whether it is in some nagging sense that we should give our child a Christian beginning, or some nagging granny urging us parents to get our baby “done”; whether it is the thought that there must be more to life than what the world offers; whether it is a couple wanting to be married in the church that meant so much to them as children; whether it is the desire to give our parents the proper Christian ending to their life, whether or not they, or we, have slipped in their church attendance over the years, I believe sincerely and truly that God works through any and all of these motivations, and so many more. I believe sincerely and truly that our call as Christian people is to welcome home those who come back through our doors, after many years, with the same loving arms that a certain father welcomed his son in the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

I believe that we in the Anglican Church have the opportunity to embrace a new kind of evangelism – what I call “rites of passage evangelism.” As someone who worked in a retail business for many years, I can tell you that we spent a good deal of money trying to get people to come through our doors – money that was often wasted. And yet, here in the Church, without any expenditure of significant capital, we have people calling us daily – yes, daily – seeking the rites of the Church. Why? Because somewhere in their past, the Church has had an impact on their life. Sadly, somehow it ceased to make an impact, and at some point, they left. Yet, here they are, once again, led, I have no doubt, by the Spirit of God. Shall we welcome them, love them, support them, and uphold them, with our care and prayers? I hope and believe we can, because it is not us that is drawing them, but God’s Holy Spirit. What God is counting on us to do is to help them catch a glimpse of the Kingdom in our midst. I believe that God empowers us to do so and I hope and pray we will welcome the stranger in our midst, who is not really a stranger, but a brother or sister in the Lord.

Text: copyright, The Rev. Daniel F. Graves, 2007. Not to be reproduced or redistributed in any form without the express written permission of the author.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Welcome Lola Grace Andrews

On Friday, Oct 12, 2007, I had the pleasure of offering prayers giving thanks for the birth of Lola Grace Andrews, daughter of life-long friend Darryl Andrews and his wife Sara. It was privilege to be part of this special moment in their lives.