I hope by now the news will have spread to the various corners of the Diocese that in early September Archbishop Justin is spending the weekend among us. When he took office 14 months ago the new Archbishop of Canterbury told us that he had three personal priorities in the ministry entrusted to him: the renewal of prayer and the religious life, reconciliation, and mission and evangelism.
Those familiar with the Five Marks of Mission might wonder why the Archbishop spoke of mission and evangelism since the latter is already a key strand of mission. Was this not naming it twice? The problem, as Archbishop Justin pointed out, is that despite the Church of England's welcome focus on mission in recent years, evangelism has continued to be neglected.
To support him personally in this priority the Archbishop appointed the Revd Canon Chris Russell as his Adviser in Evangelism. Chris is the vicar of St Laurence, Reading, and continues in that role; Justin wanted someone who is rooted in the daily practice of evangelism to be able to reflect with him and for the wider Church of England.
Listening to Chris at the recent Service of Admission of the College of Evangelists, he drew attention to the difficulty church members have in inviting others along to their church. Of course there are different reasons why people are reluctant to do this but the principal reason, according to Chris's research, is that church members don't want to risk hearing a no! The vast majority do not invite others to services or evangelistic events because they fear being turned down.
When put so baldly this is, to say the least, embarrassing and does not reflect well on us as disciples of Jesus. The Lord often encouraged his followers not to be afraid in situations which would understandably make most of us fearful. But Jesus also told them not to be timid. Being anxious about receiving a no to an invitation surely ranks in the timid category!
Bill Hybels has a wise saying (or axiom) that he encourages us to practice: Dont say a persons no for them. Archbishop Justin's visit in September will provide churches across the Diocese, and not just Anglican ones, with a springboard to run courses like Alpha, Emmaus, Pilgrim, Credo or Start which offer people an opportunity to discover what the Christian faith and journey is really about. This is a great opportunity to get over our timidity and let people say a yes or no for themselves. Just ask!
Now is the time to begin thinking about who you might ask and praying for them, ideally with a couple of others so you can mutually encourage one another and share in prayer. That would not only pick up another of Archbishop Justin's priorities but remind us that, in the end, this has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in those whom we will invite.