Two Windows of Opportunity:
Episcopalians usually shy away from the “E” word: evangelism. I think the reason for this is all the cartoon imagery of the fellow at the street corner, holding a “JESUS” sign up high and screaming at the passers-by about God’s judgment that would soon fall upon them. I have never actually seen such a scene in real life. But for some reason those of us who call ourselves Episcopalians have a deep-seated fear of becoming that man on the corner. To be honest, I think there is about a snowball’s chance in Tahiti that we will. Despite these odds, we shy away from finding real life ways for us to respond to Jesus’ command that we share his message with those we know and love.
Maybe if we think in terms of sharing, all of this will become easier for us. We have two primary windows of opportunity to do this. The first is with our family, friends, and those we naturally come into contact with during the course of our normal routines. The second opportunity arises during our public worship.
The kinds of things we usually think of sharing with those we care for are those things in our lives that we value. If there is anything of value for us in our association with our Lord Jesus, and the community of faith called the Episcopal Church, we will have a natural inclination to want to share this with others. Our patterns of sharing emerge most often out of a sense that another has a need or desire and that what we have to offer might fill the bill for them. It’s like when Bonnie and I share our guest room with someone visiting town. We have a feeling that they might be comfortable in our home during their stay. Or, this type of response to Jesus’ command is like inviting someone to dinner because we would enjoy their company and the experience. Evangelism at the personal level is like that. We are not called to push, prod, or manipulate. We are called to share what we cherish with others who seem ready to share it with us. Take a chance. Tell someone your story. Invite someone to church.
The second best evangelical window of opportunity for Episcopalians occurs every time we gather for worship. Few of us appreciate how difficult it is for a visitor to step across the threshold into church the first time. It is like there is a force field of perceived expectations that hold the uninitiated back. For all they know the roof of the church building might come crashing down on them. Or maybe their reputation has preceded them into the sanctuary and everyone there might turn around to stare at them. And most threatening of all, they have no idea what to expect. Lord only knows what strange behaviors might be waiting for them inside those doors. It is a miracle and a testimony to a visitor’s strength that any of them have stepped through our doors at all. But once they are inside — we need to be organized and ready to respond to them.
We are called to strive as a community to make each of our worship services the best we have to offer to God and to those who arrive. We should polish our liturgy until it shines. Our music should be the best possible expression of our collective musical abilities. The reading of the scriptures needs to be done in a way that touches the heart and communicates the soul of its message. The preacher is called to deliver the message God has inspired in a way that touches and moves those present. The vested ministers are called upon to perform their ministry with dignity, grace and art. This is a high and lofty calling. The main thing is that this part of our life and witness be so important to us that we strive for this goal.
Our ministry of hospitality is another place where God’s Spirit has the opportunity to touch the hearts of those who make it past the front door. When someone new enters the room (or new to you) great them with a smile and a heartfelt welcome. If they are not familiar with the Episcopal art of book juggling and liturgical gymnastics, sit with them. Help them find their way. Once the worship service has finished, about one third of your ministry is accomplished. The next step is to invite your new friend to the fellowship hour. Be sure to make introductions and hang around to engage them in conversation. Then during the week, find opportunities to extend your circle to include our new friend. One of the driving forces that has carried our new friend beyond our front door is the need for community. We have this to share in abundance.
Evangelism is about sharing. Each of God’s children has been created with a God-shaped hole in their heart. We have found a place and a way to begin to fill this hole in our own hearts. Of course we want to share what we have found with others.