Churches gear up for Back to Church Sunday

They will be hard to miss in their pointy hats and long robes, standing at a train station at 5:00 a.m.

2011 logo for Back to Church Sunday
2011 logo for Back to Church Sunday

On Sept. 22, Archbishop Fred Hiltz and Bishop Michael Pryse (ELCIC) will visit the Brampton, Ont. train station—wearing copes and mitres—and invite commuters to Back to Church Sunday (B2CS). They will join thousands of Canadian Anglicans who are inviting friends to check out church Sept. 25.

2011 is the third official year of Back to Church Sunday in the Anglican Church of Canada. Founded in 2004 in the Church of England, “B2CS” encourages people to invite just one person to church, whether a friend, neighbour or co-worker.

This is a chance for churches to roll out the welcome mat. For B2CS they may add luncheons, special testimonies and more upbeat worship.

“I’m glad that we’re doing it again and I’m glad that it’s become a natural part of the ministry here,” said the Rev. Nick Trussell, who coordinates B2CS in the Diocese of Edmonton.

Last year, after bus ads and bishops’ promotions, the Diocese of Edmonton saw B2CS success. All parishes participated and saw increases in numbers that Sunday: from 30 per cent above normal attendance to more than 200 per cent.

In 2010, parishes in 22 dioceses participated, with an estimated 10 per cent of invitees sticking around to join the congregation. It is not a nationally organized initiative, but one that flowers at the diocesan level.

This year, more than 750 Anglican and Lutheran churches have purchased Back to Church Sunday kits from Augsburg Fortress.

Andy Seal, Augsburg Fortress director, has promoted the program nationally and estimates that every diocese will have some parishes participate. Churches from other denominations will also join in, including Presbyterian and United.

B2CS is already active in England, Australia, and other countries, but started rolling in Canada after one of the idea’s developers, Michael Harvey, visited the House of Bishops in 2009. Since his inspiring talk—Harvey worked to bring B2CS to the Diocese of Manchester in 2004 and then to churches across the U.K. in 2005—the Primate and bishops across Canada have encouraged parishes to take on the evangelism challenge.

Mr. Trussell said the challenge worked well in Edmonton. Many encouraging stories emerged, including one of a shy rector who, when he reluctantly invited a family, was surprised by this response: “Yes! Can we come a Sunday early?”

He said B2CS is, of course, intimidating for some parishioners. They may fear rejection, or be embarrassed by their churches’ idiosyncrasies. This leads to another B2CS benefit: “It’s a time for us to take inventory and wonder ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What part of this experience do I want to share?’ ” said Mr. Trussell.

But before the soul-searching is through, B2CS encourages people to focus on extending a personal invitation to church on Sept. 25. The program’s unofficial slogan highlights the simplicity of this act: “Invite someone you know to something you love.”

Back to Church kits are still available from Augsburg Fortress. A portion of proceeds go to Phoenix Print Shop, a Canadian charity that provides long-term housing, concrete employment opportunities and independent living skills for homeless and at-risk youth.

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