Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A New Advertising Campaign for the Church

Church advertising campaigns often contain catchy or cute slogans, combined with pictures of smiling families.

Maybe instead of smiling families, the next picture that churches should use in a campaign to attract new worshipers should look something like this:

The person at the center of the picture is St. Benjamin of Petrograd.  He was consecrated a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1910, only a few years before the Russian Revolution.  When the communists took over and formed what would become known as the Soviet Union, Russian clergy became prime targets of persecution - in the coming years, nearly all of them were either executed or sent to forced labor camps.

St. Benjamin was arrested in 1922 because of his status as a bishop, and the picture is from his trial. The beliefs of the common people remained strong, and as he entered the courtroom for his trial, people stood up for him while he blessed them.  When offered a chance to speak, he told the court that it saddened him to be called an enemy of the people, when he had always loved the people because of his love for God. Nevertheless, he was found guilty and condemned to death.  In August, 1922, he was taken out to the firing squad, dressed in rags and clean-shaven, so that those carrying out the execution would not know he was a member of the clergy.  

Also, today, April 9, is the 69th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so today is the day that we remember him in the Lutheran church.  Bonhoeffer, of course, was the German Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis in the closing days of World War II.    A slogan that could accompany the picture in this new marketing campaign would use Bonhoeffer's words: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

A congregation using this picture and slogan would probably not attract casual worshipers who are looking for a place to make them happy and satisfied.  But, the marketing campaign would perhaps send a message - a message that the Church exists to welcome people into the Body of Christ, and to nourish their faith through Word and Sacrament.  What kind of faith?  A kind of faith that does not expect God to shower us with happiness and contentment, but a faith in God that can survive the trials and ordeals of our lives. A kind of faith that can even be sustained under extreme circumstances, like the circumstances dealt to St. Benjamin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  A kind of faith, given and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that allows a person to stand in front of the face of evil and proclaim the Gospel.