Thursday, September 6, 2012

Making commitments…

I love the freedom of our denomination. “No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible, No Law but Love,” and all that wonderful jazz. I love how this takes people seriously, encouraging- even expecting- diverse individuals to add value to a common, greater whole. I love how one set of songs in one church is hardly played in another church, each finding its own voice in praise to God. People can think and believe for themselves in our churches; hallelujah for that! Enough other forces in our culture demand conformity. Thank God for a church who doesn’t.

That said, it’s not like we Disciples lack things distinctive, or shared. We do weekly communion. We baptize by immersion and personal decision. We call “Unity our Polar Star,” thus working and playing well with others. And something most Disciples churches do that many others don’t is what we’ve called “The Invitation”, about which someone reminded me recently.

Brief history sidebar- The Invitation is, to my mind, an homage to our frontier, evangelical past. Folk would gather for days in revival camps, hearing rotating hoards of preachers. They’d sing and eat together, love each other, worship God. Then, inevitably, attendees would be asked to make a choice. “Will you decide to follow Jesus? Will you come forward and give your life to God?!” I’ve attended modern forms of such revival services, been egged (bullied?) into coming forward several times. It can be exhilarating, intimidating, exciting, demeaning. Depending, of course, on who the preacher is and how fervent their ‘invitation’.

Well, as our church evolved, became a gathering of settled communities with weekly services, such revival activity receded. Nevertheless, we retained The Invitation, albeit in new forms. A pastor or elder might stand up after the sermon or near the service’s end, say, “We now invite forward any who’d join our church or commit their lives to Jesus.” Typically, a song would be sung and perhaps someone might come forward. The church where I was ordained did it one way, the church I served just after seminary another. We are free, after all, but The Invitation abided.

In fact, Plymouth Creek had an Invitation when I first arrived, remember? Thus, like a good Disciples minister, I’d stand before the church, give the call, and we’d sing while I waited up front. But we stopped doing it a few years back because, well, it had started to feel awkward. Folk would look around, whispering, “You think anyone will join the church today?” And since I firmly believe churches ought never do something just because they think they should, we jettisoned The Invitation as a weekly PCCC experience. I mean, on Sundays I knew someone was joining, I’d insert it again. But mostly it’s fallen off our radar screen, and for good reason.

The other day, though, someone asked me about it. And I thought it might be interesting to reexamine this practice together. You’ll notice that in our bulletin this week, and likely for many to come, what had been titled the “Sending Song” is now the “Commitment Song.” The thinking goes that this particular element needn’t be simply about so-called ‘outsiders.’ But all churchgoers, young, old and otherwise, new to the community, founding members, everyone has the opportunity, every week, to ‘recommit’ themselves to God. To shining a beacon of openness and service in the NW suburbs of Minneapolis and beyond! In other words, The Invitation can be a reminder to us all about our faithfulness, our commitment to being the very best Christian we know how to be.

I like that idea. Thus, I’m glad someone challenged me to reintroduce it! I hope, then, you’ll see it for what it is- an encouragement, something exciting. After all, you and I and all who’d join us are invited by God- by God!- to spread unconditional hospitality, joyful service to neighbors in need, friendly, intimate community and freedom of belief. How cool is that?! Why not give ourselves regular opportunities to recommit?! I, for one, intend to take them. It’s always nice to feel invited.

Grace and Peace,


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