Friday, 25 September 2009

Come as you are - Archbishop invites people "back to church"

Church and chapel-goers across Wales will be inviting friends and neighbours “back to church” this Sunday (Sept 27) as part of a UK-wide event to encourage people to return to the Christian faith. Here the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, says everyone is welcome in today’s church.

Come as you are – those four short words sum up the important message of Back to Church Sunday and are right at the heart of the Christian faith.

Come in your rugby kit, if you’ve got a match to head off to. Bring your shopping bags, if you’re on the way back from the weekly shop (whether it’s at Marks & Spencer or Aldi!). Don’t worry about changing out of your work clothes if you’ve got a weekend shift to cover and if you’ve got lunch to cook, you can come in your apron.

Come with your toddlers, come with Gran, come on your own. Come if your faith is rock solid and come if you’ve got questions to ask. Come if you want to meet new people and come if you want to find out more about yourself. Come if you want to celebrate life and come if you no longer know why you’re carrying on.

Years ago, many people used to go to church or chapel because they had to. Pews were packed with men, women and children decked out in their Sunday Best at least once, if not three times, a Sunday. It was the expected thing to do and it was about the only thing to do as all the shops and pubs were closed and Sunday was officially the day of rest.

Life has changed hugely since those days and people have found other occupations for a Sunday. They can go shopping, watch a football match, spend the day at work or simply catching up with chores they struggle to fit into the increasingly hectic 24/7 lifestyle we lead. As a nation, we have got out of the habit of going to church so today’s pews, or stackable chairs, are occupied by those who really want to be there and who make an effort to find time to go. For them, going to church is for life, not just for Sundays.

While we certainly don’t want to return to the days of forcing people into church, we are concerned that people are increasingly growing up with no experience of church whatsoever and little knowledge of the faith on which their culture is built. Unlike previous generations, they do not have the luxury of rejecting or keeping the faith of their forefathers because they simply don’t know anything about it. They often have a false impression of what church is like – that perhaps it is too posh or too middle-class for them or that they have to be a certain sort of person to be allowed in.

There are many reasons why this has happened and we have to admit that the church itself is partly to blame. But the result is that people are increasingly growing up in a world where a person’s value and worth is defined in material terms with little or no reference to spirituality and they are losing touch with the bigger picture of what it means to be truly human. We believe this is damaging both for individuals and also for the wider community, particularly in times of recession, such as now, when people are struggling to keep their lives together following job losses and relationship breakdowns and need the support of others around them or a faith to turn to.

This is why we are inviting people “back to church” this Sunday. Of course, everyone is invited to church and chapel every Sunday of the year but we hope that in focussing on one particular day, we will send a Wales-wide united and clear message that we are delighted to see newcomers and that we welcome everyone to be part of the family.

We want to invite people who used to go to church, perhaps as a child in Sunday School or who sang in the church choir, but who, for whatever reason, got out of the pattern of going. And we want to invite people who have never even considered going to church before. Many people will find that church or chapel has changed a lot since they were last there and now suits them better. Others may find that they themselves have changed over the years and are now ready to return to something they once had no time for and give it another go.

We’re asking members of our congregations to send personal invitations to their friends and neighbours to come to church with them this Sunday because it’s always easier to try something new with someone you know. But if you don’t get a personal invitation, you will still be just as welcome.

So come as you are and find the church as it is. Then come again, stay and help us build the church that truly reflects the society we want to be today.


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