Everyday Adventures: Just How Big Is the Concept of Evangelism?
In spring 2018, the Evangelism Office of The Episcopal Church created the Episcopal Evangelists Facebook group. It was born from the desire to begin connecting evangelists - young and old, novice and experienced - across the Church.
Here on the Evangelism blog, we share stories from the Facebook group—stories we think can help others in their ministry of sharing the Good News—and hear their stories of Adventures in Evangelism. Today’s story comes from Kim Dougherty of St. George's Episcopal Church in Nashville, Diocese of Tennessee.
Growing up, I learned about evangelism and came to understand it as bringing people to the Christian faith who previously had not had the benefit of a formal introduction to our God. That meant to me that I needed to find those “unchurched” souls and somehow convince them that I knew what was best for them. And, it also meant that evangelism had nothing to do with people I met along the way who already were either nominally Christian or actively attended church.
In recent years, however, I have been wrestling with my understanding of evangelism in its broadest sense and with what my role should be in fulfilling the commandment of Christ to love God and love my neighbors. After all, most everyone I encounter in a meaningful way is not unchurched or they at least appear to know about Christianity.
I grew up in and was confirmed in the Methodist Church but made my way as an adolescent to The Episcopal Church via hometown friends before college and then through the in-depth immersion among Episcopalians at Sewanee, where I attended college. I joined The Episcopal Church while a junior there and knew that this was the well of faith to which I would always drink. That feeling still stands today.
As an adult, I have lived and moved about the country a lot and have been fortunate to find amazing Episcopal churches most everywhere I lived. I have always gotten quite involved in the life of each parish with volunteer work as a Lay Eucharistic Minister, youth leader, ECW member or officer, and other outreach and formation-related activities.
But my understanding of how much bigger evangelism can be than only introducing non-believers to Christ has been a journey that continues to evolve. The questioning began right out of graduate school when my realtor was helping me to find my new home and I asked her if she knew of a good Episcopal Church that I could attend. She referred me to St. Columba’s in the northwest area of Washington, D.C. (for which I will always be grateful). I had a new job that was terrifically exciting, a new home I loved, and I really thought everything was set for me as an adult - except for the increasingly insistent feeling I had that I would rather be at church than anywhere else all the time! I went to speak to the rector at St. Columba’s (the wonderful Father Bill Tully), and as I tried to explain how I was feeling, he gently smiled and said, “Kim, this is a conversion experience for you.” I told him of course that couldn’t be true since I was already a Christian! He then explained that I was experiencing a conversion to a deeper relationship with Christ, not just the first introduction.
At each church I have attended, my relationship with Christ has become richer and more informed through example and teaching by other parish members, the different worship customs and various personalities, and insights testified to by the clergy at all of them. It has puzzled me how all these interactions and relationships would not be a form of evangelism, but since even the Lambeth Conference of 1988 proclaimed evangelism to be “the making of new Christians”, I decided finally that I must be wrong.
However, my natural tendency to question and push back against ideas that I have trouble reconciling with experience has led me to decide that evangelism is bigger than what I have always assumed. In the last few years, I have come to believe that evangelism also encompasses assisting others to develop a deeper and closer relationship with Christ than what they might have thought possible. I have been the recipient of evangelistic outreach when I have been invited to attend a particular church, to become a member of church groups, to participate in formation programs and outreach service or events. In turn, most recently I have invited others I meet at work or elsewhere to come to my parish’s daily Eucharist, to stay for coffee and conversation after our Saturday morning Eucharist service, and by sharing what I know about The Episcopal Church with people coming from other denominations. Even explaining the “frozen chosen” jokes to new members is a way that I can help others feel welcome to explore and enjoy the many dimensions of faith and worship in our church tradition. And, to be able to say to others who are not familiar with our church, that, yes, the bishop who preached at the royal wedding in England with his authentic and passionate voice about the many facets of God’s love is a real Episcopalian.
While I worry at times about “poaching” from other Christian denominations, I believe that I am evangelizing when I am able to create the opportunity or environment in which someone wants to explore their faith in a more robust way than they felt able to do in the past. I feel like it is all our responsibility to welcome anyone who might consider entering an Episcopal Church - without judgment about who they love, what ethnic and gender category they find themselves part of, their economic status or how much or how little they know about what is in the Bible. In this, we help them to become closer to Christ.
Fortunately, my questioning about what my evangelical efforts should look like is coinciding with the many new initiatives and resources for evangelism that are pouring forth throughout The Episcopal Church. Presiding Bishop Curry has ignited a new zeal to evangelize among those of us who have for too long relegated the “E-word” to everyone else but ourselves. I suspect that we will see new definitions and stories of all types of evangelism as we open our hearts and mouths to actually share our own longings and experiences in the love of God.
While raised a Methodist, Kim began attending her local Episcopal Church as a teenager and then became a member officially while in college at the Episcopal institution known mostly by the name of its location, Sewanee. Her journey since college has taken her to many different Episcopal churches around the country to her current parish of St. George’s in Nashville, Tenn. Kim counts among her many church “hats” that of lay Eucharistic minister, lector, outreach volunteer and small group leader. She is an avid Rite 2 follower with occasional interludes with Rite 1 liturgy. Professionally, Kim has served as a leader in the corporate and nonprofit sectors, with primary focus on marketing, communications and leadership development. Kim currently works as an independent consultant to individuals and organizations who seek to share their particular expertise with others in unique and unusual messaging platforms. Kim has many, many nieces, nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews with whom she loves to share the message of God’s promises as often as possible. She believes her primary responsibility to these younger members of her family is to assure them they are loved, by those around them as well as by God.
How are you seeking, naming and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence and inviting other folks to discover that goodness for themselves? Tell us HERE! The Episcopal Evangelists Facebook group is a gathering space for Episcopal Evangelists to ask questions, share resources, and encourage each other around the practice of sharing the Good News. To that end, we respectfully ask that you limit your post here to questions, ideas, events, prayers, memes, links, and stories, that can help the wider church learn about and practice joyful and faithful evangelism! By providing a place to share stories, ask questions, and trade resources, we hope that the Episcopal Evangelists group will be a place of learning and growing together, as we share our gifts of imagination and experience and tell out the Gospel wherever we find ourselves.