Sometimes offering welcome can stretch us a bit. Last Spring in this space, I wrote about my trepidation over Mary Rivera’s plan to go into the community to welcome our neighbors to the Easter Egg Hunt and Rummage Sale. But the result was conversations with neighbors, direct invitation, and a chance to put a face with the church at the top of the hill.
That’s why on Aug. 27 we’re going to do it again, and I’m going too. And I hope some of you will join us as well. You can sign up here, but we’re happy to have you join us at the last minute if you like. This Sunday, after the worship service, we’ll have a brief orientation on how we’ll proceed on our Community Walk of Invitation. Please stop by with your questions and suggestions.
This time around we’ll take 500 fliers, instead of the 100 fliers that ran out immediately, and we’ll walk down a few more streets. And if we have a chance to talk to a neighbor for a minute or two, we’re going to ask if there is anything they would like the St. Peter’s community to pray for. We’ll jot down their prayers or collect written notes if they’d like to remain anonymous.
And we’ll take those intentions back to church with us.
If as a result of our outreach, a few more people join our community or bring food to the food cupboard, or know a little bit more about how church works, that will be a good thing. But my hope is for something bigger and harder to measure: when people think of St. Peter’s I want them to know that there is a place that cares about them, and is lifting their needs in prayer and concern to a God who loves them.
This is the heart of evangelization, a word that many mainstream Christians bristle at. Too often it’s associated with a pushy, judgmental type of religious ideology, where the quest for growth in members feels a bit like marking notches on a belt. Or it insists on the truth of one religious story, rather than being curious about the many stories of faith that people hold deep within.
A basic call of the Christian life is the spread the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And often that has taken the form of telling people about who Jesus is, or who he is for them, and insisting that there is only one way to recognize the divine. But I think another way to deliver that good news is to model what it looks and feels like, much as Jesus did, and to extend the Good News of a loving God by loving and by offering concern and care. The hardest part may be saying who sent you, or why you love the way you love, or what the reason might be for your hope.
In these matters I will always reach for I Peter 3:15 (NIV) for inspiration: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
Our Community Walk of Invitation will be an opportunity to practice Jesus’ mandate for his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” We’ll use fliers and conversation and an offer to carry people’s prayers home with us. Neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend. Hopefully a little like Jesus would do.