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Anglicans invite friends, family members back to church

By Stuart Mann

On the Sunday before Back to Church Sunday, a youngster at St. Hilary, Mississauga, told the Rev. Paul Walker that he was going to invite three of his friends to church. When he heard that, Mr. Walker invited the boy to tell that to the congregation at the end of the service.

When the boy finished, he was given a round of applause. “If Jackson can do it, we can too,” said Mr. Walker.

The congregation took the message to heart. The next week, they brought 59 new people to church. Attendance jumped from 140 to 207 people.

“It makes me feel great, and I think it does the same for our regular folks because it gives them the confidence to ask,” says Mr. Walker, the incumbent. “There was a real buzz in the church.”

The diocese celebrated Back to Church Sunday on Sept. 25. The annual event is held around the world to encourage Christians to invite a friend to church.

Mr. Walker says Back to Church Sunday “has somehow caught on here at St. Hilary’s.” He suspects it started about three years ago, when he gave a short PowerPoint presentation to every group in the church. His PowerPoint presentation is available on the diocese’s website, along with other resources.

He says it didn’t take a lot of time and effort to hold it again this year. The church put a banner out on the lawn, and Mr. Walker talked about it in his sermon on the two Sundays before the big day. “It’s not hard to do,” he adds. “Even if 10 extra people come to church, it feels really good.”

At Trinity, Port Credit, 18 new people came to church on Back to Church Sunday. The church has an average Sunday attendance of about 70.

“We were thrilled,” said the Rev. Judith Herron-Graham, incumbent. “One person said, ‘I wish it was like this every Sunday.’”

Ms. Herron-Graham invited her neighbour, a young woman from Newfoundland who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  “At coffee hour, she told me that her mother had called her on Saturday night to say, ‘It’s Back to Church Sunday tomorrow, you had better go to church.’ And because of the invitation, she was able to say, ‘Yes, Mom, I’ve already been invited. I’m going.’”

Ms. Herron-Graham and a handful of parishioners gave out Back to Church Sunday invitations to commuters last year at the Port Credit GO train station. She thought they would skip it this year, but her parishioners had other plans. They were eager to go out and do it again, so a group of five went out in the early hours of Sept. 22. “It bubbled up from the congregation, which is very nice,” she said.

She started promoting Back to Church Sunday a month in advance, by placing short items in the church bulletin and referring to it in the Sunday morning announcements. A week before the day, she talked about it in her sermon.

She reminded her congregation that success is about one person asking another person to church. “It’s your responsibility to ask, but it’s between the person you are asking and God how they respond,” she said.

On the actual day, the church took steps to make the newcomers feel welcome. The number of tables and the amount of food available during coffee hour was reduced so that people had more time and space to talk. The visitors also received a welcome packet at the end of the service.

It is the third year that the diocese has held Back to Church Sunday. In 2009 and 2010, a total of about 3,000 people came to church as a result of an invitation and about 450 stayed. Final numbers for 2011 will be tabulated in the coming months.