1 March 2011
Just before Christmas, I was invited to a party. I trudged through the snow to get to the house, and on arrival did the ‘man’ thing with the husband and saw where the house had been ‘done up’. Then I was shown into the kitchen and offered a drink. I was nervous that I didn’t know the 1 or 2 others who’d also arrived. But my nervousness disappeared as the husband and wife manifested themselves as dream hosts, introducing me to people, and circulating relentlessly with top-ups for my glass, and trays of things to nibble on. It turned out to be the best party that I’d been to for ages, and I almost skipped with delight down the hill back home to the vicarage.
More of that in a moment. March is the month of membership - the annual revision of our church membership lists, or electoral rolls. Officially, inclusion on the church electoral roll involves very little - it entitles you, at the annual meetings, to vote for PCC officers, and deanery synod members, and enables you to be elected as a member of the PCC, and as a sidesperson, etc.
But unofficially, there is much more to inclusion on the church electoral roll than these technical voting functions. My own hope is that members of the church electoral roll would all see themselves as committed to four things:
- regular worship
participating in at least one of the many myriads of ministries within the church community, from acting as steward, to reading the lessons, leading intercessions, pastoral visiting, administering communion, contributing to music, serving on one of our church committees, simply a ministry of private daily prayer for our church community, and so on
- financial support of our church community, so that together we feel ‘ownership’ or ‘responsibility’ for our church’s financial life
looking outwards, to kindling and fanning the flame of faith in others.
In relation to the last of these, do we see ourselves in church as ‘guests’ or ‘hosts’? I suspect that many of us may see ourselves as guests, with
perhaps the clergy and readers and churchwardens as the hosts - that can sometimes be the impression if we’re too quick to rush out the door at the end of the service - have you ever been to a party where the host is the first to leave?!!
I believe that those on the church electoral roll, the church membership list, should regard themselves as ‘hosts’ in church - it’s their job to make others feel welcome and at home, their job to make sure that no one is standing with a coffee on their own, their job to introduce X to Y, their job to make sure that their coffee is topped up, and that they’re invited to soup in the parish centre, or the next social event, or whatever else may be happening that week. Together, we’re the host family, and - as I found out at that party just before Christmas - good hosts are always keeping a gentle, warm eye on the guests - those who are maybe trying church for the first time, or visiting, or just very sporadic attenders. Some people are already very good at this - my hope and prayer is that this art might be exercised by every member of the electoral roll.
Our Lent Course this year is aimed at exactly this - improving our welcome of others, and our sense of being hosts, based on God’s unconditional welcome of us. Find out more on page 12. We’ll have our pre-Lenten party with the Friends (see page 7) and/or with pancakes (see page 11), before submerging ourselves in this serious work of Lenten reflection and prayer. There are times in Lent when we come up for air, not least the Feast of the Annunciation (Friday 25 March - come to communion in St Eustachius’ at 12.30 pm, and join in the Quiz Night at Gulworthy parish hall - page 17), and Mothering Sunday (see page 19) - while it all begins on Ash Wednesday, 9 March, when there are no less than three services (see page 11) to make it as easy as possible for you to make your communion, and express to God your hope and intent to become more fully ‘hosts’, inviting others to experience God’s love and making them feel welcome and at home as they do so.
May God, then, bless this Lent Course - and I hope to see you there.