Evangelism Charter for The Episcopal Church

It's no secret that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is a fan of evangelism. He came out of the gate after his election talking about our church as, "The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement." In his first two years, he hosted revivals all over the country, energizing Episcopalians everywhere to no longer keep quiet about the good thing they've found in The Episcopal Church.

For this year's General Convention, the Presiding Bishop named evangelism as one of our pillars of focus for our work together. It was the topic of one of the three joint sessions we had with the House of Bishops for reflection and conversation. He presented us with an Evangelism Charter for consideration and approval, which was done by both houses. The charter calls on The Episcopal Church to a renewed commitment to evangelism. The charter is as follows:

Every baptized Episcopalian has vowed to proclaim with our words and our lives the loving, liberating, and life-giving good news of Christ. Through the spiritual practice of evangelism, we seek, name and celebrate Jesus' loving presence in the stories of all people - then invite everyone to MORE. How and why do we live this commitment?

Evangelism OF the Church
"
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment." - Matthew 22:37-38

With God's help, as followers of Jesus Christ, we will...
         Recognize and live into our own belovedness as children of God
         Engage daily practices of prayer, scripture reading, worship, and service
         Recall times in our lives when the love of God has been real and present to us
         Articulate our own story of experiencing God's love for us

Evangelism BY the Church

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." - Acts 1:8

With God's help, as bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, we will...
         Invite and listen deeply to the stories of everyone we encounter
         Name and celebrate stories of the presence of God in Christ everywhere
         Share our stories of encounter, good news, and resurrection in Jesus
         Plant seeds of hope, and trust God to give the growth

Evangelism FOR the Church

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God...In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord." - Ephesians 2:19-21

With God's help, as members of the Body of Christ we will...
         Allow ourselves and our churches to be transformed by new relationships
         Discover a fresh approach to the gospel as we gain new perspectives
         Invite others to discover their own belovedness in Christ
         Grow more servants for the Jesus Movement to change the world

 What does evangelism in the Episcopal Church look like? I know what many Episcopalians don't want it to look like. Generally we aren't the kind of Christian to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn, or to go door-to-door handing out pamphlets, or spontaneously walk up to a stranger and start a conversation with, "Do you know about Jesus?" One could argue that our reticence to such action displays a lack of conviction and courage. While that might not be wholly inaccurate, there is more in our history, theology, and church culture that makes us unsure of what we may consider a stereotypical understanding of evangelism.

But what is evangelism, exactly? Let's back into that question and start with this one: What do you do when you go to the theater and see a movie you really loved? Do you go home and think to yourself, "That was nice." Or, do you go to church or a dinner party and tell your friends how much you enjoyed it and why? You're excited about your positive experience and want everyone you know to benefit from the same experience. You want friends to go to the movie so they can enjoy the movie, too, because you like your friends and want happy things for them. Right?

So why not do the same thing when you have a positive spiritual experience? Maybe you hear the Presiding Bishop give a great sermon or you attend a fulfilling and inspiring workshop. We should want our friends to experience the same joy and inspiration and, therefore, want to share it with them. Why is it we can tell someone about a great movie or a delicious new type of potato chip at the grocery store but we become tight-lipped about transformative religious experiences?

I'll admit to struggling myself with proactive evangelism. I think I hide behind my collar some, waiting for the questions that often come rather than volunteering information. But that's like waiting for visitors to walk through the doors of the church to welcome and invite them. To do so is expecting the non-Episcopalian to do most of the work before we engage.

A couple of nights ago, our deputation had a great experience related to evangelism that naturally grew out of our dinner gathering. We were sitting outside on the restaurant patio, with a small, low barrier separating us from the sidewalk. A homeless man walked up, greeted us, and asked for some money. One of our deputies works with the homeless population in Atlanta through Church of the Common Ground. She found a few dollars, stood up, walked through the gate, and then invited the gentleman to sit with her on a bench close by. She visited with him for ten or fifteen minutes, looking him in the eyes and resting her hand on his shoulder. A little later, a homeless man who was deaf walked up to us and shared his sign with us that told his story and needs. We found some money to share with him and smiled as we shook hands with him.

Our server watched all of this. At the end of the meal, he asked us, "Thank you for doing what you did. Is there a church near here I could go to?" It turned out that he was newly moved to Austin and had a heart for homeless ministry. He grew up Mormon and has been searching for a new church home. He has been moved by his interactions with Episcopalians during General Convention, even saying, "Can y'all come back every year?" With joy and enthusiasm, our deputation started telling him about the Episcopal Church and a congregation close by that, indeed, has a vibrant homeless ministry. We said, "We would love to have you in The Episcopal Church and hope to see you at General Convention in three years!"

We do evangelism first because we are excited and energized by what we've found in The Episcopal Church. We continue it because we think others likewise will benefit from similar experiences and relationships. But it catches fire in our hearts because we realize how much we benefit from extending an invitation. The work of evangelism is a spiritual practice, not just an obligation of discipleship. When we invite others to be a part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, we open the door to relationships. We hear the stories of the people we encounter and we are the richer for it. Maybe we hear about their own faith journey and how they love the church they currently attend, and we get to celebrate the joy of faith together. Maybe we hear someone's story of being injured or rejected by the church and we get to make apologies on behalf of other Christians, inviting them into a different kind of Christian community. Maybe we hear how someone has felt lonely and without direction and we get to tell them about a family that is eager to invite them into relationship and introduce them to an understanding of God that is full of love and purpose.

We heard an excellent sermon last night from the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, and she asked us if we were ready to leave General Convention, taking the energy from this place to tackle with courage and enthusiasm the challenges that face us. She included a push for evangelism in her sermon, pointing out that evangelism is going out into the world to see where God already is at work. The world is hungry for what the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement has to offer and The Episcopal Church certainly needs the stories, relationships, and people who will become a part of our movement when we share it.