Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Shaping a Community of Invitation

By Max Sklar

Since the beginning of our re-imagining church sessions, we have often started out meetings by sharing stories of our life in faith answering questions like “what is our history in the church?” “What is the story of our faith journey?” “How and when does that journey intersect with our time at Trinity?” “What keeps us here at Trinity?” We have also been interviewing other members of the congregation asking similar questions and sharing with each other the stories we have heard. All these stories we have shared in this past few months have been rich and deep. One theme that has recurred throughout these stories and our discussions is the theme of invitation and its shadow side, demand. Time and again in our faith journeys we have been repelled and sometimes deeply hurt by church communities, even communities that have also shaped us in positive ways, because those communities have framed their needs and worldview as demand; a demand of conformity of thought, or a demand for us to fit into a certain mold and conform to how the community does things. Often if this is questioned the answer comes out to be “because we have always done things this way.” I remember Dr. Bob’s story of how he and his fiancée wanted to find a church to be married in. Bob had not been to church since he left his childhood church after scandalizing his Sunday school teacher by comparing the relation between Jesus and Paul to Marx and Lenin (this was in the middle of the Red Scare remember!) As they searched for a place to be married, one church they went to immediately asked them “well, are you members?” Such a question implies a demand and a transaction, as if to say don’t even think about it unless you become like us. Trinity was different; the administrator they talked to was immediately welcoming and inviting. And here’s the key, when they spoke with the priest, he continued the invitation, welcoming them with open arms and giving a candid discussion about what it would mean to be members of the church, what the liturgy meant, what the spirituality of the church meant, even preparing Bob for baptism. Bob and his wife became members, but it happened in a way that was inviting not demanding, open to inquiry and give and take, and most of all, the priest and the community made it clear that they wanted Bob and his wife there, and not just to fill the pews, but in their whole being, as integral parts of the body of Christ.

The work of invitation must continue both between Trinity and the community we are in, and also within Trinity, between its many ministries and groups that have often worked together so well but have also at times been subject to misunderstandings and division. Invitation is essential to this work of living even deeper into the community God calls us to be. We have also thought about space and invitation. For example, there used to be iron gratings around the church, something that hardly says “invitation” but rather suggests “demand.” Thankfully those gratings were taken down and turned into bicycle racks. The open space around the church has facilitated Chapel on the Green, Trinity’s worship service comprised mostly of the unhoused and housing insecure, a service that we noted was also spatially porous, sometimes moving in and around the interior of the church. Our group member Patricia noticed that the Chapel on the Green altar linens did not have a proper place in the sacristy but for years had been piled in the corner in an old cardboard box. Patricia helped fix this by designating and labelling a specific drawer for chapel on the Green. A small spatial gesture that speaks invitation. We have started thinking about ways we can extend that invitation between all the ministries at Trinity deeper, envisioning a program where we can dialogue with each other, learn from each other, and thus build up the body of Christ together, living our lives in the continually flowing invitations that bring us to unity rather than the divisive demands that cut us off from true communion with each other and with God.  To start thinking about this we need to go into specifics of how such a program would look. To practice for this “honing” we turned to our Anglican roots to write collects for some of the ministries at Trinity, drawing on the concision of the collect style of prayer to sharpen both thinking and our imagination to draw out some of the essential values our community is based on.

Collect for Meeting People Where They Are, Bob Windon & Anna Zhao


 Oh, bountiful God who made all people,
those who are like us and many who are different,
but all are valuable aspects of your being.

We seek people who are known to you but do not know you,
who know you but hear you in different ways,
and those whom we have offended, and we are truly sorry.

We praise you God for sending your son to lead us on the way,
to bring all your creations together,
to meet, and bring glory to your name, Amen! 


A Collect for Healing, Calvin Ramsey and Patricia Thurston

Oh healing God, who reached out to a hurting world through your Son Jesus Christ—Bless the ones who bring your love, hope, and care to those in need, who pray, nourish, and comfort all who call out to you and your people. May they carry your grace and uplifting spirit with every visit and prayer through Jesus Christ, to whom we look for all true healing. Amen.

A Collect for the Arts, Ed Stannard and Andrew Smyth

O God, creator of lyrical and visual inspiration that drives the human soul and feeds our senses. We seek our inner song and rely on you for guidance to hear life’s poetry and see new visions. Help us to understand the wisdom that comes to us through these gifts, and to serve our community with creative hearts. In the name of your son, Jesus, whose life was a song of praise. Amen. 

(Image: Trinity on the Green, quiet in the afternoon sun and brimming with potential. Photo Credit: Calvin Ramsey)