At the beginning of this month, those of you who live in Virginia should receive invitations to come “Back to Church” on September 13. (Some of you, in Virginia or not, will help me distribute our share of them.) The invitation will be hung on your doorknob and printed on the back side with the names and locations of participating members of the Virginia Area Ministerial Association (VAMA). Like most of the other VAMA member churches, we’re getting back to the “usual” routine on the 13th: Sunday School will begin at 9:15, we’ll worship at 10:30, the choir will sing, and we’ll celebrate the new beginning with our annual Christian Education barbecue in Olcott Park following worship. If you’ve been away for the summer (or longer), it will be the perfect Sunday to join us again.

I’m grateful to VAMA for putting together this promotion and to our session and the volunteers who will help make it happen. I won’t quote the statistics provided by the people who sold us the invitations, but I think they’re right that a significant proportion of people would attend a church if someone they knew invited them. These printed invitations won’t have the same impact as direct personal connections, but I suspect that they’ll provide the extra boost some folks might need to go find a congregation. People are free to choose any church they’re led to, but they will at least know that the congregations listed on the invitation are looking forward to greeting “strangers” that day.

It’s too bad that we could only get fliers out to Virginia households this year, but VAMA hopes that the promotion might expand to the rest of the Quad Cities next year. You’re certainly invited wherever you live, and we hope we can put that invitation into concrete form next year. In the meantime, please feel free to put that invitation in the flesh: if someone you know is looking for a church community, let them know that our congregation would gladly welcome them.

Some members of VAMA expressed a worry that by holding “Back to Church Sunday,” we were validating people’s tendency to stay away during the summer. This worry, I think, misses the mark even as it makes some sense. Pastors tend to wring their hands over any time that people spend away from a church, a tendency that usually comes from some combination of pastoral concern and personal affront. On one hand, we know the deep value of participating regularly in the life of a congregation. This weekly relationship maintains the spiritual connection we share with each other and with God through the church. On the other hand, we fear more than may be justified that people can only be spiritually nourished by “our” worship and on our watch.

For whatever it’s worth, I want to affirm the many different ways we grow in faith during the summer and throughout the year. For many of us, stepping outside the daily routine – a routine that includes congregational worship – allows us to experience more deeply the holiness that surrounds us. Some of us find that the pace of life actually speeds up during the summer, as family obligations and other events take advantage of the myth that free time is easier to find between Memorial Day and Labor Day. My prayer is that those of us who have felt the need to “take summer off” can come back refreshed and energized for another year of activities and service.

This newsletter tells you about many of the activities that will take off again this fall. In addition to Sunday School and choir, you can come for Food for Thought or Bible Study during the week. Support and pray for our Confirmation Class as they begin a faith-claiming journey. Join us as we tailgate for the Mesabi Range College football games. Continue (or start) serving with us at the Community Kitchen or Billy Bell Bakery. Join Stitch and Knit or the Men’s Breakfast group. We’ll celebrate the beginning of fall on September 13, and you’re invited!

In Christ’s peace,