Everyday Adventures: To What End?
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 will be sharing stories from the Facebook group—stories we think can help others in their ministry of sharing the Good News—and hearing their stories of Adventures in Evangelism. Today’s story comes from the Rev. Steve Pankey, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Diocese of Kentucky.
To What End
It was sometime in October when life changed drastically on the 1200 block of State Street. For years, sharing a city block with the Public Library has meant that our neighbors experiencing homelessness were around, and we knew about them, but we didn’t really have to get to know them. I’m still not sure how it changed, but all of a sudden, one day, we realized that a few people spending the night in our cloister had turned into a semi-permanent campsite. At first, it was wildly uncomfortable. People, all of their personal belongings, and all their baggage were just here, in our face, and we didn’t really know what to do about it.
Our parishioners were, by and large, patient and kind. They came to Sunday services, navigated through cigarette smoke, folks sleeping on pallets, feet out in the walkways, and piles, I mean piles, of blankets, couch cushions, and whatever else could turn a brick patio into something kind of comfortable for sleeping. It couldn’t last, however. It was all unsustainable. The problems that bring people to the place of homelessness are only exacerbated by a lack of stable housing. Some, certainly not all, struggle with unchecked mental illness and addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Something had to be done. Yet, the old model of simply shutting it all down didn’t seem quite right this time either.
So, we did what every self-respecting Episcopal congregation would do: we formed a committee. A small group of people who had recently completed Seeking Shalom, a course offered by the Lupton Center, were now ready to look at our outreach ministries as opportunities for relationships. We began to pray, first for, and then with, our Cloister Community. We sought their input on what concerned them about life on the porch. We developed community expectations, figured out who wanted to live within them, and began, slowly – too slowly, at times – to build relationships. By now, we are engaged in ongoing conversations with maybe two dozen guests, seeking ways to help them find a more permanent housing solution.
Six months into this new way of living, this Way of Love, we are beginning to wonder what our next steps might be. One possibility we are evaluating is applying for a mission fund grant from our diocese. These grants are meant to respond to the real human needs and concerns of the people in our communities while spreading the message about – and inviting others to share in – God’s grace and forgiveness. As with any grant program, there is a requirement for some kind of metric to evaluate the success of the program. Common metrics of evangelistic endeavors would be average Sunday attendance, pledging units, and overall giving. As more people are invited into the community, these things should naturally go up, but I wonder if these are the true ends of evangelism.
[Learn more about the Way of Love.]
Yes, in theory, we would love it if our Cloister Community would join us regularly for worship, but are butts in the pews the real end of evangelism? Everybody would like more money in the budget, but is fundraising why we share the love of God? Building relationships with a transient, low-income, highly-challenged population will produce very little fruit in the traditional metrics of the church, but it seems to me the telos of our evangelistic efforts isn’t to boost our numbers, but rather to help as many of our neighbors as possible find their way into the saving embrace of Jesus Christ. The end of evangelism is, as our Catechism describes the mission of the Church, the restoration of all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Ours is not to strong-arm conversion. We are not called to save souls. Forcing folks who are already pretty uncomfortable with their situation to sit in a pew next to folks who are dressed nicer than they are, probably smell better than they do, and certainly know when to stand, sit, and kneel better than they do isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he sent the Apostles out to proclaim the Good News to all nations. No, our mission as evangelists is simply to be faithful to the call to love, to share the hope that is in us, and to let God handle the details. The end of evangelism isn’t metrics, it is mercy, and there is more than enough of it to go around.
The Rev. Steve Pankey is the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Steve holds an MDiv from Virginia Theological Seminary (‘07) and a DMin from the School of Theology at the University of the South (‘17), but the degree he seems to use most often these days is his BS. As a disciple, a husband to Cassie, a father to Eliza and Lainey, and now a rector, Steve struggles to keep it all in the right order, and is constantly thankful for forgiveness and grace. You can read more from him at his blog where he used to write with regularity draughtingtheology.wordpress.com.
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.