At Christ Church, Toms River every Sunday we pray a Collect of Welcoming that includes: “Lead us forth beyond our walls to seek out all people in our community, to invite and love them as Jesus would.” Led by our wardens, this Summer we are putting this prayer into action by attending community events, engaging with “all people” and inviting conversation.
The first trip beyond our walls was the Toms River Pride Festival, an all-day event in the center of town attended by thousands. The day included entertainment, music, food, and booths by organizations and service providers from the community. Christ Episcopal was the only church attending. Alongside the Christ Church booth was “LGBT Connection,” a community group housed at Christ Church.
Our message was: “God loves you, no exceptions.” This message of radical inclusion resonated with the hundreds of people who visited our booth. We entered into deep conversation with several of these visitors and heard stories of broken relationships and rejection by families. Many talked about being treated harshly by other churches and yet were continuing to seek out a loving faith community. The healing presence of the Holy Spirit was definitely at work in these conversations.
We also invited people to jot down a prayer request on a post-it sized paper. At the end of the day, we had over 100 brightly colored prayer requests placed on our “wall of prayer.” Later that week, a group of us read these prayers aloud at Morning Prayer. It was a sacred privilege to bring to God those very personal expressions of need, hurt, care, and longing. Many of us were moved to tears. Truly, our neighbors out there are waiting to hear the Good News about how God accepts and loves them. So, Christ Church is continuing to go “beyond our walls to seek out all people in our community, to invite and love them as Jesus would.”