Champagne and red carpet, for back-to-churchers

25 September 2008

by Ed Beavan

Now showing: Back to Church invitations include: above: a “cinema-ticket” from Oxford; below: Lichfield clergy with football scarves; below: an episcopal underground visit from the Bishop of Sherwood, with invitations for miners in Southwell & Nottingham; below: a red carpet at St Wilfrid’s, Cowplain, Portsmouth;

Now showing: Back to Church invitations include: above: a “cinema-ticket” from Oxford; below: Lichfield clergy with football scarves; below: an episco...

CHURCHES across England, Wales, Scotland, and as far afield as New Zealand and Canada are rolling out the red carpet (at least one literally), in an attempt to welcome people back to church this Sunday.

A total of 38 of the 44 Church of England dioceses are taking part in the annual Back to Church Sunday campaign, now in its fourth year.

The Anglican Churches in New Zealand and Canada, and other de­nominations, including the Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches in the UK, are also taking part in the initiative, which seeks to bring newcomers or lapsed church­goers back into the pews.

Churches are using a wide range of creative methods to promote the event. In the diocese of Portsmouth, Dr Paul Moore, Vicar of St Wilfrid’s, Cowplain, rolled out a red carpet from the church door this week as a reminder that new faces in church should be treated as VIPs.

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, has also used a red carpet — and champagne — to greet visitors to Chester Cathedral.

The diocese of Lichfield has tar­geted football fans this year by placing advertisements in match pro­grammes at West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Walsall, Stoke City, Shrewsbury Town, and Burton Albion.

Football fans were urged to come to church “whether you’ve been ‘away’ for a few months or many years”, adding, “it’s time to come ‘home’. And because Jesus has already taken the penalty, you can be saved.”

The diocesan communications officer at Lichfield, Gavin Drake, hopes this year’s campaign will be as fruitful as last year’s. “2007 was enormously successful for us, with 6000 people coming to services on Back to Church Sunday, and 700 to 900 people becoming regular mem­bers, while a further 3000 were still in touch with their churches six months later.

“We hope this year will see similar success. I think people are more confident about the initiative now it has been running for a few years.”

Last year the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Revd Tony Porter, took to the air in a plane to promote the cam­paign. This year, he handed out invitations to miners during a visit to a Nottinghamshire colliery.

The Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Revd Cyril Ashton, helped to pub­licise the initiative in Sheffield by riding his motorbike to visit congre­gations taking part.

The Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd David Hawkins, handed out apple pies to commuters at Stratford Station in east London and invited them to church; and the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, questioned shoppers in Shirley, Oldbury, and Birmingham city centre to find out what they thought about going to church.

He said: “On Back to Church Sunday, churches will be ensuring that it is as easy as possible for some­one who does not know the building or the pattern of worship to come in, meet people, and join in the worship.”

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