LETTER FROM THE VICAR
The Ministry of Welcome in the church has surely got to be one of the most important in our present time. In 2017 about twice as many people were married using a humanist ceremony as were married by religious rites. People using the humanist ceremony felt they would have been hypocrites to have a traditional one, in church. Non-religious marriage ceremonies are proving very popular, in Scotland, and a new poll suggests that 69% of Scots under the age of 44 years old say they don't have any religion at all.
At present, England and Wales cannot marry people using such ceremonies. But it may just be a matter of a few years before that becomes the case. We are blessed with still having a good number of weddings in church, in this parish. Couples often mention that their parents and grandparents were married in the church. It doesn't take much imagination to think what it will happen, in the future, if parents and grandparents were married according to a humanist rite.
Whilst we still have younger people coming to our churches for weddings and baptisms we are entrusted with the sacred task of welcoming them in such a way that they might feel enfolded into our church family. Recent work in the Church of England has suggested that something that particularly puts off visitors to our church services is passing around the collection plate or bag. This has become an alien custom in modern society and visitors to churches are confused and embarrassed by the way we do things. If they haven't got any change with them they feel that they are upsetting us and being bad people.
Visitors don't understand that churches aren't paid for by the government. Or perhaps, they have never thought that it actually costs money to maintain and run a church. Something that is always there and available gets taken for granted, not in a selfish way, but simply it is assumed that some unknown higher power provides it.
Worcester Diocese has asked churches to think about ceasing with a collection at services and collecting the money in some different way. Lots of people give money by standing orders or through the envelope scheme. There is no reason why we couldn't collect envelopes at a single point at the back of church before the service begins. At baptisms, funerals and weddings we have retiring collections with plates by the door. It is explained to people that it costs a lot of money to run the church and we are always grateful if people can leave something to help us offer the kinds of services that they come to and value. Generally speaking, such collections are often generous.
With all this in mind, the Church Council decided that we would try a six-month experiment, starting in September, and see how things look at the end of it. It can be announced in the notices that if people would like to help us maintain the building and the services we offer they can leave us some money on a plate as they go out. We will not pass the offertory plate around, but the envelopes will be brought up to be dedicated as usual. We will speak about it on the news sheets and let you know when the trial will start.
In the meantime, please be very smiley and helpful to visitors. Help them with the hymns, which are completely new to most of them, and try make sure they have a green service book that they can at least follow, without having to jump about one page to another. You will probably need to go and sit next to them. That will give you an opportunity to get into conversation with them and you could invite them to coffee after the service. That gives an opportunity for you to take them and get into conversation, and who knows what might follow! Acts of kindness, as simple as that, engage you in Mission and Evangelism, which we are all able to do and we all have a shared responsibility for - and it's fun!