At the end of a lecture on church growth, my two colleagues and I looked at each other. In dawning understanding and somewhat in surprise, one of them said to me, “So basically, it’s all about radical welcome and compelling program.” A radical welcome of people into the church means to offer sweeping opportunities to make all people feel as if the were home. Compelling program means to offer opportunities that exciting, potent and broadly relevant to people seeking a community to live out their individual Christian journey.
I believe people are always in an age of transformation in their lives, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful. The Episcopal Church is at the end of a semi-century long and somewhat joyful and painful transformation of some of our most cherished symbols like ordination, our hymnal, and our Book of Common Prayer. However, no matter where we are on the transformational continuum, be it institutional or individual, we never stop striving to be a place of radical welcome.
The Episcopal Church in general and our parish of St. Mark’s in particular must always be a church of radical welcome. Our diocese is using simple words to describe this reality: Invitation-Welcome-Connection. Our church leadership, from our Bishop to our Vestry to our Sunday school, is asking how we will radically invite, welcome, and connect with all of God’s people as the Episcopal Church. This question is nothing new to the forebears of our faith. But there is new work to be done as our current generation of church goers seek to share the fruits of our inherited symbols. Baptism is still baptism. The Eucharist is still a Eucharist. God is still calling us to bring people to church. The invitation to “come and see” is still a relevant and vital invitation.
It is my belief that in the last decade we have become a society that is chronically overwhelmed by its commitments and that we are in constant danger of being alienated from each other. The world can be a place of disconnection. Seeking to give the good news of grace, forgiveness, hope, and love to more people is what our baptism calls us to.
My vision of St. Mark’s is for us to expand ourselves with more people in our pews and more people involved in our ministries. I believe we have something wonderful to share with our city in the way we do church and the way we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. This is seen most profoundly in the symbol of sanctuary. Simply by inviting people to join us in our place of worship, St. Mark’s creates a sanctuary from everyday concerns and offers anyone who accepts the invitation into our community a way to find solace and connection.
The mechanics of membership is one thing, the other is a radical welcome by you to someone new: new to the faith, new to the community, new to St. Mark’s. Let us live into the vocation of a radical welcome to our transformed and transforming church. Let us live into the call of sharing our inherited symbols. Let us enjoy the fruits of our labors as we connect with new people on the common Christian journey in our own transformed and transforming lives.