Christ Church Eccleston has a longstanding tradition: a brass band plays at the poignant carols by candlelight service every year. But this year there was one significant difference, attendance at the service doubled through simple invitations.
The team at Christ Church printed simple invitation postcards; on one side a picture of Christ Church with childlike Christmas decorations added and the other side blank, open, ready for a personal handwritten invitation. Members of Christ Church were encouraged to invite a friend, neighbour or family member to come with them to one of the Christmas services.
A personal invitation means a lot, to be thought of and valued enough to be invited. However, it can also be hard to risk making an invitation, fear of rejection or embarrassment can get in the way. So the invitation cards were intended to act as a back up in case embarrassment made it hard to say the right thing, being able to write an invitation in advance takes the pressure off.
Rev Sonya and her young son delivered invitations to neighbours of the church and vicarage, accompanied by a note of thanks for their patience and kindness in accommodating the parking inconvenience caused by Sunday services, weddings and funerals. As they were out delivering, a local resident out walking his dog crossed the road to greet them and excitedly told Rev Sonya of his delight at being invited to the carol service by one of the congregation!
'I'm so glad to be asked, it got me thinking, so I checked with Jeff if it was ok to invite some of my friends. He thought you wouldn't mind. So 7 if them are coming to mine for pot roast and apple pie before we come to the service. We're really looking forward to it. Jeff said you told everyone to invite people, so I just want to say thank you!'
The Christmas ambience created by the Scripture readings, candlelight, brass band and carols formed a feel good festive wow factor. Rev Sonya reminded everyone of the immensity of God's love for each of us and the enormous distance God has journeyed to let us know we are loved. Rev Sonya suggested that, just like children on a long car journey, everyone in the traditional nativity scene may have thought, muttered, whined or shouted, 'Are we nearly there yet?'
The wise travellers following the star, Mary carrying a baby through unpredictable circumstances, Joseph taking on a responsibility at God's request; 'Are we nearly there yet?'
God, seeking to draw humanity close since the first time we hid in Eden, doing all God can to get close enough for us to understand we are loved, questioning if his birth on earth is enough; 'Are we nearly there yet?'
God the son, Jesus the Christ, journeyed all the way from heaven to earth, knowing that the hardest part of the journey is yet to come, a life full of rejection, leading to the cross; 'Are we nearly there yet?'
Jesus longing to return to the Father in heaven, and to show us the way to get there too, 'Are we nearly there yet?'
No matter how far God travels to reach us, the last part of the journey is ours. The choice to live by faith, the final millimetre, without it the rest of the journey is meaningless, God's love reaches you only if you accept it, 'Are you nearly there yet?'
Thanks to Bishop Paul's encouragement to bring one friend and the printed invitations to make it easier, many of the regulars at Christ Church found the courage to invite people to Church, attendance doubled at our carol service but more importantly we hope and pray that some heart and minds made the last leap in the journey to receiving God's love.