Regular readers know I'm one of the people in the Diocese of Toronto involved in making the Back to Church initiative happen. This is a programme coming out of the Church of England that encourages parishioners to invite people to church with them on a particular Sunday (this year: Sept. 27th).
The planning group met with Bishop Poole last week and decided that we needed to do something big to get some media attention and to encourage local churches and parishioners. So we decided to have the bishops stand in front of Union Station in Toronto handing out invitations to church! We ended up sending down four bishops (Colin, Patrick, Linda, and Philip) in full Regalia (alb, cope and mitre). Each bishop was given a chaplain in case the episcopal presence necessitated a major pastoral need. So Michelle Childs, Jeff Kennedy, Angela Emmerson, and I were there to field anyone who felt the need to have a longer conversation. We also had our Diocesan PR person (Stuart Mann) plus a consultant brought in to help with media relations.
First surprise: lots of media. Even before we left the Diocesan HQ at 6:40 A.M. Philip+ had done a radio interview for CBC. Two TV stations sent crews to meet us at the site. They cut live into Breakfast Television (a show on CityTV) for interviews with the bishop. We may be on CTV and CP24 tonight. For print media we had people from the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, and The National Post.
Second surprise: the media lingered. The reporters seemed quite engaged with the scene and stayed the whole time (about two hours) we were there. They snapped pitures and took man-on-the-street interviews.
Third surprise: we were received well by the crowds. We handed out 2,000 invitations in about an hour and a half. We had very, very little negativity. Most people accepted the invitations we handed out. A few declined. Others went out of their way to receive our handouts. Some were really glad to see us and greeted us enthusiastically. Two or three asked us to pray with them. Very few had anything negative to say, and that is remarkable!
So we walked back to the Diocesan offices to debrief feeling pretty good about ourselves! Certainly we managed to create some buzz!
Early press: Toronto Star....
Bishops make pitch to startled commuters
Idling taxis, hot dog stands and four smiling Anglican bishops in full regalia. That was the sight greeting sleepy-eyed commuters leaving Union Station during this morning's rush hour.
Sporting long, damask robes of pearly white or sky blue, heads topped with pointed bishop's hats, the clergy passed out cards encouraging the Bay Street hordes to make their way to a house of worship this Sunday. Most people accepted the handout drowsily, without comment; others seemed startled or amused at the group's elaborate outfits. A few passers-by stopped for quick chats before scurrying along to their offices.
"You invite people to baseball games or to the movies," said Bishop of Toronto Colin Johnson. "Traditionally, we've not been good at inviting people to come to church." .... (source)
The whole thing felt very Ninja-Priest like. I mean, there we were right in on the busiest spots in all of Canada, saying, "Good Morning!" Naturally, I got some video. I'm working like a madman in Premiere Pro editing it together...
Here's some of the National Post's take:
In full regalia, Anglican bishops go to Union Station seeking parishioners
By Matthew Coutts
A sight more commonly saved for Sunday, or not at all, greeted commuters leaving Union Station this morning: Anglican bishops in their ecclesiastical vestments welcoming them with a smile.
Wearing the white pointed hats, or mitres, and flowing gowns reserved for the leaders in the Anglican community, several area bishops gathered to invite passerby back to church.
Four bishops, including the Bishop of Toronto Colin Johnson, and several volunteers, canvassed Union Station as part of an international Christian initiative that designated September 27 as “Back to Church Sunday.”
“People have been falling out of the habit of going to their churches or places of worship,” said Bishop Philip Poole, area bishop for York-Credit Valley as he handed out simple cards inviting the recipient to be a guest at their local church.
“This isn’t about Anglican proselytization, this is about promoting a return to your place of worship.”
Bishop Poole said while most people will rush past to get to work, many people stop for a brief chat. Some of the most receptive were people from other religions, he said, who were open to discussing their connection to the their faith.
Dressed in a flowing baby blue gown, known as copes, Bishop Poole caught the eyes of a number of pedestrians as Bishop Linda Nicholls chatted with a young man while wearing a similar white and red outfit nearby. .... (Source)
A great way to spend the morning!