The Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast
May 3, 2018

Views from the Bishop's Chair
by the Rt. Rev. Russell Kendrick,
Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast
A few nights ago I stood in Rick’s Crab Trap waiting to pick up a to-go dinner. At a table nearby were several younger folks energetically engaged in a conversation about the new "Avengers" movie. I could not hear all the details, but I could certainly sense their emotion fueling their heated impressions and heartfelt opinions. As I listened, I also began to wonder what it would be like to hear such energetic conversations about God. I also realized how simply overhearing their conversation inspired my own curiosity about going to see the movie. 

What I just described is evangelism. It is a word that stirs up stress and fear in the heart of many Episcopalians. I know this to be true because I have witnessed such reaction when I talk about it.  
In the above Peanuts cartoon, Sally is, of course, sadly mistaken. However, I suspect some have felt as if this is what evangelism is about - beating up people with Jesus. Evangelism: “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” This past Sunday morning I had a revelation as I listened again to Acts 8:26-40. One of the most common questions I am asked in vestry meetings and parish forums is, “How can we grow?” For a number of reasons, I worry about this question. I worry because it misrepresents the purpose of the church. The question of how to grow is secondary to the more provocative question of Why? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? That is a reflection for another day.

“How can we grow?” I worry about this question because it is born of anxiety which can work antithetically to the good news of God in Christ. More tragically, it is a question that can severely affect how we greet and nurture the guests that God sends to us.   
 “How can we grow?” Finally it is a question usually asked by those who are tucked away safe and secure within the hull of our institution. My revelation this past Sunday was that the answer does not lie inside the hull, but out on the sea. In other words, we will not grow until we learn and embrace the idea of talking about God as energetically and passionately as those folks at the restaurant were talking about a movie. After all, when the world wants to know about God, it is to us that they look and listen. What do they see? What do they hear?  

Last week I attended a conference entitled Missional Voices. The most captivating idea that I heard and continue to ponder was made by a young church planter who said that the church is called to be "awkwardly public" in our faith. He made this observation as part of a workshop that outlined his experiences while starting a church from nothing. One of the most important disciplines during his first 24 months was motivating himself and his people to be "awkwardly public" about their new church. He spoke about being present in the community, sitting in a coffee shop, attending community events, going to festivals, even walking in marches and parades [which he confessed he disliked the most but his parishioners loved]. He emphasized that being "awkwardly public" was not meant to get people to visit their church. Rather, it was meant to let people know their new church was very different from other churches.

Evangelism happens in the world, and it is more than a synonym for outreach. It is being "awkwardly" public by word and example in order to let the world know that there are Christians like us in the world. It is a kind of hospitality that begins well before someone walks through our doors. 

From the letters I receive, the number one reason that folks first visited one of our churches was because someone invited them. Often the invitation comes from a friend, sometimes a spouse, a grandson, even a coworker. Recently, I confirmed a man who worked in a county jail. People from the local Episcopal Church visit that jail every Sunday to give communion, sing songs and pray. “They always seem to genuinely care about the staff and the inmates.”  It is their energetic love that inspired his curiosity to visit their church.
On May 17th, our diocese will again join with other dioceses around the country to participate in Sharing Faith Dinners. Last year’s event was a wonderful success! Some of you wrote to us about the enriched relationships that resulted from energetic conversations about God. I want to challenge you to be "awkwardly public" and to think a bit more boldly about this year’s event. What if you were to host such conversations not in your homes or in your parish hall, but somewhere "awkwardly public", somewhere where that others might overhear you? What if you invited someone who was not a member of your church to the event? Yes, I know that it might not be as intimate as it would be tucked away in the hull of the church, but then again, maybe it is time for us to talk about Jesus out on the sea. Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  +Russell
May 6 - Visitation - Christ Church, Pensacola, FL        

May 9 - Visitation - Church of the Nativity, Dothan, AL

May 10 - Visitation - St. John’s, Mobile, AL

May 11 - Meet with Students - CGC School for Ministry

May 12 - CGC Sr. Wardens Gathering - St. Cyprian's, Pensacola, FL                         

May 13 - Visitation - Holy Trinity, Pensacola, FL

May 13 - Cursillo Closing - Beckwith Camp & Conference Center

May 14-18 - Living Our Vows School for Bishops - Richmond, VA

May 19 - Graduation - St. Luke’s Episcopal School, Mobile, AL

May 20 - Visitation - St. Luke’s, Mobile, AL

May 22 - Graduation - Episcopal Day School, Pensacola, FL

May 29 - Visitation - Trinity, Apalachicola
The Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

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