This Sunday, Sept. 28, many Anglican churches across Canada will be holding Back to Church-themed services and events.
The concept was a simple one that began in Manchester in 2004, encouraging parishioners to invite a friend to come to church with them, but it has grown into an international event.
Beyond the basic ideas of inviting and welcoming, Back to Church Sundays in Anglican churches across Canada come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have local flavour and variations.
The Rev. Peter Norman of Battle River Parish in Saskatchewan says that his parish’s most successful Back to Church Sunday was held a few years ago. “We put out a huge number of invitations by mail and by hand to strangers and to our ‘lapsed’ list,” he wrote in an email to the Anglican Journal. It resulted in a huge turnout for a prayer and praise service held at a local campground, followed by a corn roast and barbeque. “Many stayed on in the following months and more,” he said.
Even when the events are held may vary. This year, the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island chose Sept. 21 as the date. The seven churches in and around Prince Street in downtown Charlottetown, including St. Paul’s Anglican, take an ecumenical approach. Each church offers its own service, but then everyone is invited to barbeques afterward. Archdeacon John Clarke says that last Sunday, the three churches at the south end of the street gathered on St. Paul’s property and the three churches at the north end gathered at First Baptist.
At the Anglican Parish of St. Timothy, Hatchet Lake, near Halifax, the Rev. Lisa Vaughn says her congregation doesn’t even call it Back to Church Sunday because “we’re in gear all year long. We call it Welcome Sunday,” she said, adding that they did have some new people who were invited by parishioners last week. The morning service was a Kids’ Fun Day Sunday, which the church does three or four times a year, she says. “We had a family gathering at our morning service to get families back into the habit [after summer vacations], so the songs, the readings, the message, everything is geared for kids,” she says. The service was followed by a free hot dog and corn boil lunch. For the past 10 years, the evening service has always been a rock music service that is “seeker-sensitive,” tailored for people who may not be familiar with Anglican or any other church tradition, Vaughn said.
Vaughn added that they try not do anything too far from the norm. “We don’t want to have a big splash on Back to Church Sunday and then the next Sunday is a drag. We try to keep the tone similar.”
Over the decade since the creation of Back to Church Sunday, participants have observed that it ought to be a more than a once-a-year event. The program’s co-founder Harvey now recommends five occasions in the fall that he calls “A Season of Invitation,” suggesting that good opportunities to invite people to church could be Back to Church Sunday in September, harvest in October, Remembrance in November, the start of Christmas and Christmas itself.
The diocese of New Westminster hosted the co-founder of Back to Church Sunday, Michael Harvey, who offered workshops in June, with events held on Sunday, Sept. 14.
Last year, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke about the importance of the personal invitation and the fact that one such invitation led him to decide to be a Christian.