21st Century Congregations - December 2016
The Reverend Laura Goodwin and the Reverend Canon Pam Mott

What do you think of when you hear the word" evangelism"?  If you are like many Episcopalians (dare I say "most" Episcopalians?) you have a kind of allergic reaction - we don't do that...I don't want to force my religion onto someone else...never talk about religion or politics...I just don’t want to intrude on someone's privacy...I wouldn't even know where to begin....  Any of those sound familiar?  

Somehow, speaking openly and honestly about out faith in the God whose love knows no bounds, seems somehow to be hard, or inappropriate or downright rude!  I wish you were all with Laura Goodwin and I at the EvangelismMatters conference in Dallas recently where 410 Episcopalians (we know it was 410 because they had the capacity for 400 and they were so oversubscribed there was a huge waiting list - for an Evangelism conference!!  Imagine...).  Worship was spectacular, speakers were dynamic, workshop leaders provided ways in for people to practice connecting their stories with THE story of God's redeeming love and grace.  As part of this 21st Century Congregations, Laura and I will partner in sharing our experiences from this inspiring conference.  If you want a taste of the experience, click on EvangelismMatters.org.

In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to steep ourselves in prayer and fellowship, we promise to acknowledge when we have gone astray and turn back to God.  We promise to strive for justice and peace, respect the dignity of every human being and seek Christ in all persons.  But, right in the middle of those 5 questions which follow the creed, is this one: Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Perhaps you picture someone spouting judgment and doom with a megaphone on a street corner when you hear that word "proclaim".  But to proclaim something is to "make a claim for" it.  Think about it...whenever you recommend a book or TV show, or museum exhibit or beautiful walking path, you are making a claim for something that means something to you.  If we believe what we say in the creed, then we believe that this God - the one who creates, redeems and sustains us - means more than anything to us!  Why would we not share that as a gift?  I am not talking about hitting people over the head with the way you believe, I am talking about spending time in reflection to be able to articulate and invitation to experience the God of grace that you have experienced.  We practice this ‪on Sunday morning when we come from our lives - jubilant or depressed, hopeful or despondent, creative or in a slump, lonely or full up with family - and we listen to the prayers and the proclamation of the Gospel - the good news.  We hear the good news, we hear the sacred history of God's love in our human lives and we hear those alongside our own story.  We are invited to connect our story - all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly - to a much larger story of grace.  When we share our stories, and the connection we make to THE story, we are evangelists - announcers of the Good News.  We are invited in our baptisms - and in the dismissal every week! - to practice offering the good news of forgiveness (even when that's hard ), of grace (even when everything seems awkward), of love (even when it seems the world is full of hate).  As evangelists, we are invited to offer good news into a world that badly needs it.    

It takes practice to find our voice, to find the way you can offer of this great gift that you have been given and that is given for the life of the world.  Remember the hymn, There is a balm in Gilead?  One of the verses goes like this:  If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say he died for all..."  You don't have to do it like Bishop Michael Curry (who spoke twice at the conference - again, check out the videos EvangelismMatters.org) - perhaps NO one does it like him!  But you can find your own powerful voice that arises from your experience.  Practice with a trusted spiritual friend.  The gift is yours.  Unwrap it and offer it with love and respect in your sphere of influence. Christ has no hands but yours, no legs but yours...no voice but yours!  

Practical exercise: As we begin the season of Advent, think about the messages of expectation that we encounter in the readings on Sunday.  Reflect on your own stories of expectation and preparation - for a child?  A move? a new job? treatment for an illness? a conversation you know will be both difficult and life changing?  What did it feel like to anticipate this wonderful or challenging event?  As you reflect on this, consider how your story connects with and is part of the larger story of God’s work in our lives.  Ponder, as Mary does, how our expectation of the birth of Jesus into the world is a story that is thrown alongside your expectation. Reflecting on your own story and making the connection with THE story of the overarching love, grace and redemption of God is how we begin to find voice for our faith in a world that longs to hear the ways in which we are connected.  Consider sharing your thoughts and reflections with someone by way of practicing evangelism!


The epistle and gospel for Advent 1 urge the followers of Jesus to “Wake up!” to the possibility that Jesus’ return would not be as any of them had planned or expected.  Instead they are urged to pay attention to what God is doing in the present moment and join God’s work in the world.   Sometimes we all, as individuals and as God’s Church, need a ‘wake-up’ call and I believe I was blessed to experience that at the Evangelism Matters Conference in Dallas.  The Episcopal Church seems to be ‘waking up’ to the reality that we have taken our identity as “God’s shy people” a bit too seriously and failed to commend the faith that is within us, even with one another!  In one of the large-group plenaries, Rev. Stephanie Spellers asked people to share reasons why we find evangelism so difficult, and one person responded, “We don’t want to be tacky!”  Sounds very Episcopal, doesn’t it?

Certainly there are models and methods of evangelism that are not only tacky, but manipulative and disrespectful, and we are right to be wary of them. But there are also ways of speaking that create relationships, and offer others the ‘loving, liberating, life-giving’ that we share with God in Jesus Christ.  The conference featured many workshops that offered very practical ways for doing this.  One of the workshops I attended focused on storytelling and how to connect our personal story of faith to the great narrative of scripture.

In another workshop, we used the business model of the “elevator speech’ to frame a way to talk about the gospel. Just as an entrepreneur is ready to share his great idea when he meets the CEO in an elevator, we were encouraged to remember that “the world is our elevator’ and be ready to share the Good News when those elevator moments present themselves.

I tried a variation on the ‘elevator speech’ with my congregation yesterday morning. At the end of the sermon, I brought up the well-used slogan “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  I then asked them to think for a minute about if and how that slogan was true for them, then invited to share their thoughts with someone near them in the pews. And they did!  And they (mostly) enjoyed it. 
One of the freebies being offered by at the Office for Evangelism and Reconciliation was a little backpack with this motto:  ‘Episcopal Evangelist is not an Oxymoron.” It may take a while for most of us to feel comfortable sharing our faith with words as well as deed, but frankly, can you think of a time when our world, our friends and neighbors were in MORE need of some GOOD NEWS?  

The Rev. Pamela J. Mott
Canon to the Ordinary
The Episcopal DIocese of Western Massachusetts
37 Chestnut Street
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 737 - 4786