By Carolyn Purden and Stuart Mann
With the help of an Our Faith-Our Hope grant, a group of clergy and laity in the diocese has created a new, parish-based resource that they hope will inspire and equip Christians to share their faith.
Called Spirit of Invitation, the resource draws on stories from people’s lives today and from stories of invitation in the Bible. It includes original videos, shot on location in the diocese.
“We hope people will be excited by the course and grow in comfort with sharing the good news of the Gospel,” says the Rev. Canon Mark Kinghan, the incumbent of St. George on Yonge, Toronto, and co-chair of the group.
Spirit of Invitation consists of six sessions, each about two hours long, ideally for groups of six to eight people. Each session includes discussion, prayer, a video and a study of scripture. People will be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and why they want to share their faith, and how sharing is a form of invitation.
The course material was written by the Rev. Judy Paulsen, professor of evangelism at Wycliffe College, and the Rev. Canon Susan Bell, the diocese’s canon missioner.
The group wants to make Spirit of Invitation as accessible as possible. Early next year, 10 parishes will be asked to run the course as a six-week pilot project. However, the videos will be available on the Internet before the end of December, with the course materials following in January. At that point, parishes and individuals can start using them right away.
“It doesn’t matter to us how a person receives the material or even how they use it,” says Canon Kinghan. “The important thing is getting it out there with a message that says invitation is really good and it’s not all that hard.”
He adds that by being available online, the course could spread from Toronto to other dioceses in Canada and even overseas. The Diocese of Huron has already asked if it could run the pilot project at the same time as Toronto.
“In some respects, Spirit of Invitation can become a gift from the Diocese of Toronto to the wider church,” says Canon Kinghan.
The introduction to the course materials asks participants to see the six sessions “as a way to begin a different conversation, one that will put us in a creative space – one that will get us moving out into our neighbourhoods and cities to find out what God is doing in the lives of all his children.”
The course is based on the following assumptions: “We offer the love of God out of the abundance of what we ourselves have been given; we offer this invitation from a community into a community – this is not an individualistic evangelism course; the process of invitation is grounded in relationships; invitation is a process that often happens over time; invitation is not a program, it is an attitude of heart and mind; offering an invitation is grounded in the Christian family story.”
One of the most engaging parts of the course are the videos. “They’re going to surprise people,” says Jeff Potter, pastor of outreach and evangelism at the Church of the Transfiguration, Toronto, and co-chair of the group. “They explore a range of topics, things that Anglicans and Christians in general, experience, and they relate these things back to what it means to engage in the kind of invitation that’s open and unforced and doesn’t at all smack of solicitation.”
The first video in the course tells a personal story of invitation, and the joy of how invitation is experienced in a shared meal and the Eucharist. Other videos look at joy in greater depth and reflect the theological thrust of invitation.
“The videos and the course material are inviting the participants into a moment, and that in itself teaches people what invitation’s about,” says Canon Kinghan. He predicts that once people view a video, they will want to share it with others, and use it as a resource to engage in conversation.
Spirit of Invitation grew out of Back to Church Sunday, which has been run in many parishes in the diocese for the past five years. Canon Kinghan said Spirit of Invitation is not a substitute for Back to Church Sunday; rather, it is a different way to look at invitation, for those who want to.
“Back to Church Sunday focuses on specific Sundays when we invite people to church with the hope that they will stay,” he says. “Spirit of Invitation has taken a broader look, saying we’re always about invitation and it’s not limited to this Sunday or that Sunday. It’s how we make it part of our life, and our relationships, all the time.”