Dear Episcopal Evangelist:
“We get lulled into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering—the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall—will be instructive to designing it. But we often choose the template—and the activities and structure that go along with it—before we’re clear on our purpose…Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.”
― Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters
Lately, I have been thinking on this idea of reverse-engineering ministry related to evangelism and discipleship—frankly, on following Jesus all together. What do I want to be different because I follow Jesus? Why do I think following Jesus matters—for my life or anyone else’s life or the world?
I have this daydream that somehow, at some point, I will be able to harness all the various institutions around The Episcopal Church to send out a very short survey to every Episcopalian and Episco-adjacent people we cand find.
The survey would ask this:
What would be different in your life, church, and community if there was no Jesus?
What would be different in your life, church, and community if there was no Episcopal Church?
What would the answers be?
Where would the intersections be between a life without Jesus and a life without our branch of the Jesus Movement?
And what would the answers say about the outcomes we are achieving? Are we doing what we think we are doing? Does Jesus and/or our tradition matter in the ways we as leaders assume when we are planning our events, our programs, and our liturgies?
Right now, in this very strange moment of time, we have the ability—maybe even a mandate —to stop making assumptions about the outcomes of our ministries and our faith. Right now, we can course-correct if needed. We can reverse engineer everything from our vestry meetings to our choir practices to our approach to discipleship or evangelism. Right now, we can ask— we need to ask— “what do we want to be different because we are gathering as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement?” What do we want to be different in the individual lives of those who gather? In our congregations as a whole? In our neighborhoods, in our towns, or in the literal atmosphere and soil of the earth?
Just because we call it worship, we cannot assume that people are in fact worshipping. Just because we call ourselves the church we cannot assume that the title alone imparts some special ability that allows us to be the church without any intentional instruction or practices to that end. As author Priya Parker says over and over in “The Art of Gathering,” how we gather matters. And right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, on the cusp of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as our climate begins to crash around us, and wars continue to rage, how we— the body of Christ— decide to gather matters desperately.
My challenge to myself, and to all of us, is this: Let’s become clear on our purpose, and then let’s work at every level to make sure we are gathering in ways that support that purpose. From committee meetings to Sunday Eucharist, let’s make sure that all we are doing is both rooted in and pointing toward the loving, liberating, abundant life-giving, world-transforming life of Jesus and his way of love.
With much gratitude,
Staff officer for evangelism
“The way we gather matters. Gatherings consume our day and determine the kind of world we live in, in both our intimate and public realms.” – Priya Parker
How are you learning about Jesus and his way of love and life these days? Consider sharing those stories and resources with others this month. And if you do share on social media, use the hashtag #episcopalevangelism so that we can follow along!
If you would like to download a shareable image of this quote, please click here.
Evangelism Huddle – Let’s Talk!
Sept. 15, 12 p.m. Eastern
Speaking the good news of Jesus sometimes requires us to learn new languages— including the musical kind! Join us as we hear from mentor Paul Vasile from Music that Makes Community, about how we can weave music into our ministries— from small groups to events in our communities and everything in between— in order to seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence.
Missed our last two huddles? You can watch those recordings on our Evangelism Huddle page.
Welcome to our monthly feature, Catalyst Connections, where we get to meet an episcopal evangelism catalyst and learn more about their life and ministry. This month we are meeting Santana Alvarado (they/them) who shares about their ministry in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and how they are embracing evangelism.
Name: Santana Alvarado (they/them)
What is your evangelism ministry/job/title/location?
I work as the Evangelism and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I support various ministries at the church and work with our Evangelism Out Loud team to weave the Word into these different ministries.
How do you explain Episcopal evangelism to people who are unfamiliar or skeptical?
At first, as a team, we felt some fear at the thought of sharing our spiritual experiences and Christian faith with people we love, let alone strangers. But by sharing personal stories where concepts like faith, grace, prayer, and church came to life, we realized it was about opening our hearts to new conversations and relying less on the understanding of the mind. I have found in our conversations and in New York, people are willing to share deeper parts of themselves to connect, so Episcopal evangelism becomes more about listening not to respond but to resonate.
You are part of a ministry that received one of the 2020 Evangelism Grants. Tell us a bit about that project. How is it going? Do you have a favorite story to share?
Hot off the press! Here is a new VTS/TryTank “explainer video” to help those searching online for answers to theological questions.
Written and recorded by the Rev. Tricia Lyons, author of “What is Evangelism?” this video is faithful to Anglican theology and to the mission of The Episcopal Church.
“Small groups are a growth edge for a lot of us. Even those committed to the church and leadership. And maybe especially for those in liturgical contexts. We may be tempted to think that Sunday morning, and maybe some volunteer work thrown in there, is all we need for spiritual flourishing. But all Christians need community, and whether small groups particularly work for us or not, we have to seek out and stick with others who walk with us along the path, turning the wedding feast of Sunday into the marriage of the everyday habits and transformations that are the Christian life.” (From the podcast show notes)
Take time to listen to this episode and be inspired on how you can fold small groups into your evangelism ministry.
Episcopal Evangelism Society Grants for Innovation
How is the Spirit showing you new ways to be church? Whether your vision is inspired in the classroom, in congregational work, or in the world, we’ll fund your exploration of the evangelism dimension of your vocation. Episcopal Evangelism Society (EES) grants are available to any Episcopalian in a seminary community or local formation program (i.e., diocesan school, Iona Collaborative). This includes students, faculty, staff, or the Episcopalian spouses or partner of any of these. Students (and spouses) who have completed their coursework within the past year are also eligible. Read more about guidelines and eligibility here, and download the application.
Applications Due Sept.20 — Start Now!
Get started by calling EES Executive Director Day Smith Pritchartt at (703) 807-1862, or email her at Day@ees1862.org. She’ll coach you in the application process and help you understand what we’re looking for.
Embracing Evangelism – A 6-week evangelism training series – you can lead this series online or in person. (And watch for some new additions to this program coming this fall.)
A Year in the Life – A series that explores the gifts and challenges of ministry during COVID-19. Look for videos and blog posts that share a variety of perspectives.
Evangelism Matters – All episodes and Coffee Hour recordings from Evangelism Matters: The Discipline of Hope, An Episcopal Evangelism Audioconference are available for anyone to listen to and watch. The resources now include a Reflection Guide for Groups and Individuals. Use this guide to bring Ev Matters 21 to your group or congregation.
Good News Gardens Monthly Gatherings: 3rd Tuesday of each month, 7 PM ET. Learn more
Evangelism Huddles: 3rd Wednesday of each month, 12 PM ET. Learn more
Unlocking Grace & Hope: A Weekend of Episcopal Evangelism: Sept. 24-26, Wilmington, Vermont. Learn more
This was originally shared in The Episcopal Church’s September Evangelism Newsletter. We invite you to subscribe to The Episcopal Church’s monthly newsletter to receive prayers, resources, news about upcoming events, and more. View past issues of the newsletter and join the mailing list here.