[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] For a committee assigned to take up resolutions related to evangelism, its work in JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 8 for General Convention, however worthwhile, didn’t look much like evangelism.
The committee chairs, acknowledging the limitations of ballroom evangelism, decided to try something different. In addition to leading discussion of how the Episcopal Church will foster evangelism in the coming triennium, the chairs encouraged the bishops and deputies on the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee to practice a bit of street evangelism on the streets of Austin.
“Believing that Jesus is already present and that the gospel is already working itself out in this place today, what we are to go and see is what Jesus is already doing,” Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely told the committee, which he chairs with the Rev. Frank Logue, deputy from Georgia.
“Our role isn’t so much to tell people, this is what you should believe … but really to see what God’s doing and where can we participate in that mission, where can we take part in it,” Knisely said.
When the committee’s business for the day was done, the members paired up on their own and went outside the hotel, two by two, and practiced evangelism in any way the spirit led them.
Some simply spoke to people they met on the street or in coffee shops. Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows teamed up with Lee Ann Walling, a deputy from Delaware, and walked west of the hotel. Baskerville-Burrows, dressed in her purple bishop shirt and collar, said evangelism opportunities already had found her since arriving in Austin.
“I’ve had two people ask me to pray with them just because I’m walking down the street,” she said as Episcopal News Service tagged along for the walk.
Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.
Their target destination was a downtown running store, where Baskerville-Burrows hoped to engage in evangelism with fellow runners, though she and Walling also found God on the sidewalk along the way. They soon met a man, Keifred Townsend, 40, who was drawing in a notebook on a bench.
Townsend was wearing black wristbands with the message, “God is big enough.”
“He’s always on time when you need him,” Townsend told Baskerville-Burrows and Walling.
The committee members took time July 5, after their first hearing of the day, to share some stories of their street evangelism from the day before. Baskerville-Burrows and Walling said they also found Jesus at the running store in the form of the store owner, Ryan.
“I made an assumption of the young man in the running store that he was not interested in church,” Walling told her fellow committee members. “He actually evangelized me.” The store owner said he is part of a congregation called the Austin Stone Community Church and he shared his faith story with his two Episcopal visitors.
Logue was part of a trio of deputies who visited the Episcopal Church-owned parking lot across Trinity Street from St. David’s Episcopal Church. The lot is the future site of the Episcopal Church Archives.
Logue, the Rev. Michael Sells of Navajoland and the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela of Texas found a group of people congregating at the edge of the lot – “a community on a strip of sidewalk. They had placed a Bible in a tree overseeing their community,” Logue told ENS after the experience.
One man in a Hawaiian shirt named Clifton was talkative and shared that he was active in the Methodist Church, Sells said, and he and the other Episcopalians learned that this was a close-knit and rather spiritual community of hope, in contrast with other parts of Austin where drugs and violence are all too common.
“I saw a funny dichotomy there,” Sells told the committee. “On the other side is the side of despair … but this side is the side of hope. I think I saw Jesus there.”
Montes-Vela said that he was impressed – and surprised – by the creed followed by this community living on society’s margins. They picked up their trash. They didn’t ask anyone for money. They defied stereotypes that Montes-Vela admitted he initially brought to their interaction.
“I think that Jesus showed me, through them, that I could not do that,” Montes-Vela said.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.