Boniface, Missionary and Martyr

I read and hear often that the most effective way of introducing new people to the church (or vice versa) is by personal invitation to a friend, neighbour, or grocery checkout assistant. (Let’s leave aside for now the question of why you’re asking them and assume it’s for the purposes of the gospel, love of God and love of neighbour, and not because you want another pledging unit for your parish. We can talk more about that another time.)

I also read and hear that most people are most unlikely to invite their friends, neighbours, community members and even family to church for fear of negative reactions, offending, off-putting, or losing the friendship of those they invite (that last seems a bit extreme. If someone invited me to a church – or a movie, play, bungee-jumping expedition or barbecue – that I didn’t want to go to, I could always say no. I don’t have to burn their bridges).

At first glance, citing the example of a martyred missionary may not be the best way to persuade reluctant evangelists to greater confidence and enthusiasm. But here’s what Holy Women, Holy Men* has to say about him:

Boniface is justly called one of the “Makers of Europe.” He was born at Crediton in Devonshire, England, about 675, and received the English name of Winfred. … he was professed a monk and ordained to the presbyterate. … Winfred decided to become a missionary, and made his first Journey to Frisia in 716 – a venture with little success. In 719 he started out again; but this time he first went to Rome to seek papal approval. Pope Gregory … gave him the name Boniface.

For the rest of his days, Boniface devoted himself to reforming, planting, and organizing churches, monasteries and dioceses in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. Many helpers and supplies came to him from friends in England. In 722 the Pope ordained him a bishop, ten years later made him an archbishop, and in 743 gave him a fixed see at Mainz. …

In 753 Boniface resigned his see, to spend his last years again as a missionary in Frisia. On June 5, 754, while awaiting a group of converts for confirmation, he and his companions were murdered by a band of pagans, near Dokkum. …

Boniface’s story may not end happily, but it is certainly not a cautionary tale contra evangelism. Boniface enjoyed success and reaped rewards from his sowing of gospel seeds. He did not work alone but had the support of friends and folks in high places. He was not murdered by someone he had invited to church, but by a band of pagans …

We have friends and the support of our community. We have gospel to share and to spare. We do not appear to have too much of a problem in this locality with raging mobs of pagans with pitchforks (although we pray for those of any faith who do suffer persecution because of their devotions).

So next time the Holy Spirit is nudging one or the other of us to invited a friend to church, we might remember Boniface, and ask ourselves,

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

*Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York, Church Publishing, 2010)

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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