TEConversation speakers urge Episcopalians to embrace evangelism, share love of Jesus

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 7, 2018

The Diocese of Olympia contingent to the 79th General Convention gathers to discuss evangelism during the TEConversation joint session with bishops and deputies held July 7 in the deputies’ hall. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Bishops and deputies gathered July 7 for the second joint session of the 79th General Convention for a 90-minute program of speakers, video, music and discussion highlighting some of the leading edges of the Episcopal Church’s push for evangelism.

The session was the latest installment in General Convention’s TEConversations series. The first, held July 6, focused on racial reconciliation. Care of creation will be the topic of the third, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. July 10.

The session on evangelism kicked off with a presentation by Iowa Bishop Alan Scarfe, who detailed how his diocese staged 40 revivals across the state in 2017. Scarfe paired his stories with words of encouragement for Episcopalians in their own evangelism, at one point taking inspiration from Jesus’ question to Peter in the Gospel of John: “Do you love me?”

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

“We do love Jesus,” Scarfe told the crowd of hundreds. “We just don’t always know how to express it and how to own it and how to share it.”

Later in the program, the second speaker, the Rev. Daniel Velez-Rivera, offered his own suggestion for how to share the love of Jesus.

“I love Saint Nike. You know, he’s the one who coined, ‘Just do it,’” said Velez-Rivera, a church planter from Virginia.

TEConversations were conceived for this General Convention to underscore the church’s three priorities during the current triennium, as established in 2015 at the 78th General Convention. The format is built around presentations by three experts on each topic.

At the session on evangelism, the interludes featured a song by members of the Episcopal Youth Event House Band and a video about the work of the Rev. Eric McIntosh and St. James Episcopal Church of Penn Hills in Pittsburgh, which received a Mission Enterprise Zone grant to develop new ministries.

Each of the TEConversations concludes with about a half-hour of discussion among each diocese’s members as the bishops and deputies reflect on what they have heard and how they can apply it to their work in the church.

The third speaker in the evangelism session, the Rev. Lauren Winner, alluded to Episcopalians’ reluctance to talk about evangelism because they may envision handing out pamphlets and harassing people on the street. True evangelism, she said, is rooted in a curiosity about God and a desire to share the love of Christ.

Evangelism can happen within a community of believers, as well as by moving out into the larger community, she said, and the goal needs to be more than simply reviving the denomination.

“Priests are not executive directors of religious nonprofits,” said Winner, an Episcopal priest and author. “What priests are are curiosity provokers. We provoke people’s curiosity about God and then we accompany people as their curiosity compels them to seek out God.”

Joel Joa, Sam Hansley, Demethia McVea and Aimee Bostwick, who performed together at Episcopal Youth Event 2017 in Oklahoma City, perform during the TEConversation on July 7 during a joint session in the House of Deputies. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

Velez-Rivera also noted the common skittishness about “the E word.” And he agreed that evangelism can be hard, uncomfortable work. He regularly looks to Mark 10:27 for inspiration: “With God all things are possible. Con dios, todo es posible.”

He pointed to the example of Christianity’s first evangelists – Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul.

“Did they know what they were doing? No, but they had a teacher,” Velez-Rivera said. “They had Jesus.”

Velez-Rivera likes to bring outsiders into the church, even though his congregation, St. Gabriel Episcopal Church, isn’t based in a permanent building. Instead, he reaches out to people in the community. It takes practice to talk to others about Jesus in a relaxed and confident way, he said, but that is what Christians are called to do.

“You are the good news, we are the good news,” he said.

Scarfe’s presentation sought to portray the wide variety of revival events that his diocese organized or assisted with during its first year of experimentation. Each congregation took ownership of the details, with some featuring bluegrass music, a praise band or a choir. One revival also offered a bounce house for the kids, but the bishop indicated he, too, got in on the fun.

“Bouncing up and down in the name of Jesus, and I never laughed as much in my life,” Scarfe said.

Each revival had essential elements, including scripture, prayer and testimony. “Testimony, saying what God really means to you personally, being able to recite how God has worked in yourself or your loved one,” he said.

At the end of 2017, when the revivals were over, Scarfe said he began returning to normal daily and weekly routines but then began wondering, why go back? Instead, the diocese is picking up where it left off and organizing more revivals this year while learning from each experience.

The diocese and its members already have learned to stop “apologizing” for revivals and have embraced their form of evangelism, Scarfe said, and he encouraged his fellow Episcopalians to find their own path.

“Are you renewing, are you recharging, are you rekindling?” he said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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Comments (12)

  1. Rev. Dr. James Hargis says:

    Gotta say, institutionally, TEC’s answer to that last question is NO. We’ve been down this trail, before. The results (i.e. “decade of evangelism,” numerous study groups, various programs, etc.) were not impressive. Why? Maybe we need to go back to basics, and then “just do it.”

    1. Anthony Price says:

      We MUST learn how to do this before it is too late. Many of our parishes – including mine – are full of grey-haired members (like me) who far outnumber the various younger generations. What will our congregation look like in another decade? And the Episcopal Church is not alone in this looming demographic crisis, as I think we all know. I see some success with youth ministry, but where have all those middle-aged adults gone, who used to outnumber the old timers? Was it the Vietnam war’s drug culture that turned people away from church? Whatever it was, we had better recognize what we are up against (a growing prayer list and a shrinking congregation), and deal with it post haste. Unfortunately, we Episcopalians are not evangelistic by nature. The PB is doing his best to awaken us to his calling, but so far one doesn’t hear other bishops echoing his plea. Personally, I think any successful solution needs to start “in the trenches” with charismatic “circuit riders” to wake up what’s left of the laity. Step One is to acknowledge the problem, and Step Two is to fire up the entire church to deal with it, rather than appointing a committee here and there. At the moment, expensive meetings like GC tend to lull us to sleep like passengers on the Titanic.

    2. Frank Harrision says:

      I was young when I left the Southern Baptist Church to become an Episcopalian. There were several “draws” for me. One of these, and the most important was the notion of sacramental worship, the importance of the sacraments and especially of the Eucharist. I was brought up in “the Jesus Movement” and found all of this to be fluffy emotionalism far overplaying the importance of the sacraments and their meaning. The backbone of The Church is its path, offered through the sacraments, to personal salvation. Social justice, and the like, are very secondary to this. In this sense, the Jesus Movement is a distraction from the central function of The Church.

  2. Gordon Fuglie says:

    Rev. Hargis, I am all on board with your remark – ” Maybe we need to go back to basics, and then ‘just do it.’ ” Under PB Curry, THAT is very much on the front burner. Have you read the late Phyllis Tickle on “emerging Christianity?”

  3. Our Olympic Gold “God” Medal Champion Moment was without question when Michael Curry
    hit a home run out of the park at the Royal Wedding. Let’s steam roll on angel wings to the Nobel Peace Prize next! Love to all from, Dr. Jan Hamilton from St. Marks on Capitol Hill and National Cathedral in Washington, DC………striving to seek Equal Justice Under Law at the US Supreme Court! We believe that God loves all the same, gay and straight. What did Jesus say about same Gender love? Answer: NOTHING! LOVE WINS!

  4. David Schreyer says:

    You can’t go back the basics when you want to neuter god and celebrate oddities og human beings rather than do something about them using proper logic and leadership.

    1. Susan Lee Hauser says:

      If I understood you correctly, that comment broke God’s heart, I am certain. That is not good news; that is not evangelism.

  5. John Hobart says:

    This isn’t the first “revival” that I have heard about. Do we know anything about the results of the others for comparison?

    1. Gordon Fuglie says:

      1990 – 2000 was supposed to be “the decade of evangelism,” or so said some committee from the National Church. Nothing much happened. As the decade wound down, an impatient duo, Richard Kew and Milwaukee Bishop Roger White, wrote an important book, “Toward 2015: A Church Odyssey” (Cowley: 1997). It was largely overlooked; however, like prophecy, its time has come. Much of what Curry and Canon Spellers preach is in this seminal work.

      My RX? Re-orient geriatric churches, and either bring in “jumper cable evangelists” who can inspire and grow lay leaders as partners, or close and sell those churches – merging the shrinking congregation with a nearby Episcopal church or amalgamate them with a Lutheran church. Use the money from the property sale to start informal churches whose new members are called to the work of formation, reconciliation and evangelism as conditions of membership.

  6. Richard Rhoads says:

    I hope revival has many flavors. Some may be revived or evangelized with Taize , Evensong, or a friendly smile. This is especially true of us who are quiet type B personalities who want to escape noise.

  7. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    I’m not sure TEC has defined “revival,” but preaching the gospel in a fairly simple way has always worked. Some good examples of that would be to go on YouTube and listen to the last 60 or 70 years of Billy Graham sermons. I don’t think any minister has related to people so well and brought so many people into the churches, and been as discreet as he has been. If that is too much to handle, then go back a few years and read some of the sermons of John Wesley and listen to some of the songs of Charles Wesley. There, the gospel is clear, understandable, and rigorous in the Orthodox tradition, except perhaps for “Perfectionism.” Please note that I am not judging any Episcopal minister that I have I have heard. They are remarkable in their ability to present clear biblical sermons and I have enjoyed every single one. But immersion in the gospel as per a series of sermons on the cross of Jesus Christ, The meaning of his shed blood, and his resurrection will create the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bring people to an understanding of the gospel, as it has done for me. Saint Paul said, “I am determined to know nothing of monks do you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” One more qualifier, I am not a young man and perhaps this is an old fashion approach. I do not intend to offend anyone who has found a modern approach that might accomplish same thing.

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