… for the Preachers Institute 40 Days Of Blogging exercise. The idea is that whoever signs up – you will notice Fr. Peter and some other friends are participating – agrees to blog every day leading up to Christmas, with the posts concerning spiritual or pastoral matters. I am doing this because a) it is a cool project and b) it will force me to blog every day, which I really should be doing anyways. Many thanks to Fr. John Peck, who is spearheading the project and who, I understand, is the one who lets us know when we are slacking in our blogging.
It was nice that the feast of the apostle Philip fell on a Sunday this year. Eleni and I met at her original home parish of St. Philip, which is the only church in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese bearing that name. I preached my first sermon ever there at the festal vespers my senior year of seminary. I have largely kept to the same template ever since, while of course always looking to learn more and tweak whatever is necessary: an introductory story, always true (I don’t like using fable-type stuff like “there once was a boy…”) and then the main point of what I want to express, and then a tie-in at the end, all in the 3-5 minute range. And yes, I riffed on the whole “come and see” thing which may be cliched but it indeed never gets old.
I recently did a funeral in an out-of-town church that has no full-time priest and has a very small attendance on Sunday. A friend who is a parishioner there was lamenting about this fact, and I asked him how many times has he invited a friend, Orthodox or otherwise, to church. After some thinking he told me that he has done so probably four times in eighty years. I had conflicting thoughts about this; on the one hand, that is part of the reason that church is fading away – like many of our communities, it has relied on immigration and children taking over. Immigration of Greeks is long over, and children, especially if not properly catechized, do not always continue in the church (or they move away, or what have you). Without evangelization all of our communities could suffer a similar fate. On the other hand, bringing four people to church in eighty years is, sadly, a pretty good record. We need to embrace the idea of bringing our friends to church not just on a “Bring A Friend To Liturgy” Sunday but any time.
We are called to bring the gospel to the whole world. We all have cousins who have stopped going to church or a friend who may be interested in attending. We tend to think that our service is foreign or may seem strange to newcomers, and indeed a person experiencing the eastern liturgy for the first time will need some guidance, but it is awesome in the true sense of the word and something we should share. As a pastor I am not interested in transfer growth – if someone already goes to church somewhere else, whatever jurisdiction, I do not want to “poach” them. I am interested in the unchurched, and we all know people who fall into this category. Come and see may be a cliche, but it is crucial to our faith. The advent season – and the joy that the anticipation of Christmas brings – makes the perfect setting for us to extend this invitation to someone in our lives.