Twitterers follow bishops @back2church for #backtochurchsunday
Rt Revd Tim Stevens inviting people back to church at a car boot sale
The Archbishop of York and a number of bishops are leading the way in inviting millions back to church this weekend for Back to Church Sunday 2011 (25th September). In addition to meeting people where they're at, at a range of public events (from Sunday car boot sales to jazz nights), they are encouraging people to send friends invitations either in person or using social media.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, Tweeted an invitation to come back to church today, Monday, 19th September. He said: "This Sunday (25th September) is Back to Church Sunday. http://www.backtochurch.co.uk. Why not invite your friends too? Pass the message on!"
Thousands of parishioners in over 4,000 churches are following the call to action by inviting back their friends using specially designed printed invitations, and are sending out an audio invitation via the websites Facebook and Twitter, to add to the 150,000-plus people who have come back to church since the first Back to Church Sunday in 2004 - enough to fill Wembley Stadium and the Emirates Stadium put together.
In a new videocast launching this year's Back to Church Sunday initiative, available at www.churchofengland.org and www.backtochurch.co.uk, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, says: "I'd like to invite you back to church. You might be someone who's been to church once or twice, to a baptism or a wedding or a funeral and really quite liked what you found. Or you might be someone who used to go to church regularly and then - I don't know - fell out with the vicar or maybe you moved house and got out of the habit. Or you might be someone like me who never actually went to church, wasn't brought up in the Church. Well I'm so glad that someone invited me and that I became part of the Christian community and learned a whole new way of living life. Well Sunday 25th September is Back to Church Sunday and churches up and down England are preparing to give people a warm welcome. This is your invitation."
Highlights of events and initiatives for Back to Church Sunday 2011 include:
A new Back to Church Sunday radio advert is playing on Heart FM from Monday 19th September, and the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, has made a videocast inviting people back to church. The Bishop also promoted Back to Church Sunday at a car boot sale 'church' on 18th September (covered by BBC Essex) and will meet shoppers at the Lakeside shopping centre on the 19th September, on a sofa outside M&S. A special page of the Back to Church Sunday website is including an interactive map locating Essex churches that are taking part in this year's initiative, at http://ww.backtochurch.co.uk/essex.
An entire school has been invited to Sunday worship as part of this year's Back to Church Sunday. Every pupil from St Alban's C of E Primary School in West Leigh has been invited to join worshippers at the nearby St Alban's Church on September 25. Headteacher Alice Wood is now creating a special children's choir and a drama performance so that the pupils will also be contributing to that morning's worship. St Alban's Church is one of 58 churches in Portsmouth's Church of England diocese taking part in the national initiative.
In participating churches in Portsmouth diocese last year, there were 13 per cent more worshippers in church on Back to Church Sunday. One of them was Ann Jenkins, who was invited to Hart Plain Church, on Hart Plain Avenue, near Waterlooville by her neighbour Rosina Clark. "We've known each other for years, and when she asked me, I said yes," said Ann. "I hadn't been to church for donkeys' years, but had been thinking about it since losing my husband. The church is welcoming, relaxed and friendly - very different to the church I used to go to. I'm hoping to be confirmed, which was something I'd never got round to doing before." Two others who came back to Hart Plain Church last September will also participate in an Alpha course this autumn and hope to get confirmed in November.
Bishop of Leicester, Rt Revd Tim Stevens, went to a large car boot sale inviting people back to church on 18th September, with customised T-shirts and balloons. (A picture is available of the Bishop's visit.)
The Church of England in Lancashire has achieved a Bishop's '100 Parish Challenge' to become involved in Back to Church Sunday. The challenge was launched by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev John Goddard, in the Spring, and means almost half of the county's Church of England parishes will be involved in the national initiative this year. Last year 26 took part. The Bishop will outline his hopes and prayers for Back to Church Sunday on BBC Radio Lancashire, and through other regional media, in the run-up to September 25.
Members of over 80 parishes across Wiltshire and Dorset are inviting friends and neighbours to a service on 25th September. Most churches will welcome visitors to their usual Sunday service. Other plans include combined Harvest Festival and Back to Church Sunday services in parishes such as Harnham in Salisbury. In Canford Cliffs, the entire Parish Electoral Roll will be invited to tea in the Church of the Transfiguration at 4pm, followed by Songs of Praise at 5pm. In Bradford on Avon, Holy Trinity Church will host a Harvest Festival and All-Age Eucharist, a 9.30am service featuring the Trowbridge and District Youth Band and local Rainbow, Brownie, Guide, Beaver, Cub and Scout groups.
Cream teas, jazz music and floral displays will welcome visitors to St Paul's Church, St Albans, Herts, on Saturday September 24th, ahead of Back to Church services the next day. The Hatfield Road church is rolling out the red carpet to welcome local people for a free cream tea from 2.30 to 4.30 pm, when a jazz band will be entertaining visitors.