Spread the Word: Evangelism Means Knowing
and Telling Our Stories
By Jamison Dunne
When moments of anxiety, stress or fear come into my life I usually find myself at the well worn spot at my bedside. As my knees touch the floor, I can already feel a weight lifting from my shoulders. As I pick up my well loved pocket Book of Common, 1928, my fingers instinctively find their way to the “Family Prayers” section. As I begin to pray, the Elizabethan English words pour out me; “O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and in rest…” (For Quiet Confidence). In this moment I am both lifting all things to God and at the same time joining myself to the Church of centuries past. The book, though small, is heavy in my hands as I contemplate that 80 million Christians pray in the same tradition as I, all of us lifting our hearts to Jesus. In these moments I am glad to be a Christian in the great Episcopal tradition.
I shared this story as I explained to a friend of mine how I was handling a problem in my life. In that moment I was an evangelist, and, God willing, the next time my friend is looking for peace he may pray or even turn to a Prayer Book. In a recent Green Mountain Witness column Titus Presler called us to consider what evangelism Vermont-style would look like. In a later column Robert Barton recounted his powerful story of conversion and called us to be evangelists of the Good News, instead of or alongside the sin-focused evangelism the word “evangelism” sometimes brings to mind.
When one realizes the need to evangelize, though, one must learn how to do it. One way is through story sharing. Telling the story of how your life has been transformed by life in Christ is a powerful form of witness. No longer is Jesus in the abstract of dogma or theology. Instead he is found at my bedside lifting the heavy load of life. In this type of sharing one sees the visible power of God’s work in this world.
Telling the story of how your life has been transformed by life in Christ is a powerful form of witness.
We must first know our faith story in order to be able to share it to the world. So I am calling on all in the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, some six thousand of us, to take time as we move towards Diocesan Convention in October to learn our story of faith. There are various ways one can practice this, but several have worked well for me.
I encountered one during Lent, when I was asked to map out a timeline of my life, not using years or decades, but instead times when I felt close to God or far from God. In putting pen to paper and looking at my short life in this way opened my eyes. I saw moments in my life when the world seemed right and I was close to God, but also when life was so good I became too busy for God. In the same way there were just as many hard points in life where I was both close to and far from God. I found I had a story to tell about faith in hard times, when we question how God has allowed something hard to happen. I realized I had felt closest to God over the year after a friend of mine was diagnosed with serious illness. In a moment when my faith was totally shaken, I was praying five or six times a day for the strength to help my friend.
In an exercise at the Evangelism Matters Conference in March, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings discussed those who had evangelized them. Bishop Curry recalled the dynamic between the High Church Episcopal life he lived at home and the Baptist roots of his grandmother, whom he would summer with. He pointed to his grandmother as one of the main evangelists in his life. President Jennings described the pain of losing a loved one after she had been ordained, and how a fellow priest evangelized the love of God to her, praying for her when she herself could not. When I looked at my own life this way I was able to identify more stories to share with others, from the quiet persistence of my United Church of Christ minister during my angsty middle school years to my mentors in high school who helped me mature in my faith.
These are two simple ways to identify and articulate your own story. Whatever your method may be, we must, as evangelists, pause to reflect on our lives in Christ. For when we know our own stories of life with Christ, we can then share them powerfully with the world.
When we know our own stories of life with Christ, we can then share them powerfully with the world.
I will leave you with one more story of my walk with Christ. On the first weekend of my junior year at my boarding school, I was caught using marijuana, violating a major school rule. I was suspended immediately and scheduled for a judicial board hearing that Wednesday. While there was much to work through on my three-day suspension, my biggest fear was facing those in my youth group. I had been on the leadership board of our school’s youth group from the week I had come to Christ, almost a year before. This group had nurtured my growth in faith, and all I could think about was how much of a letdown I must have been to them. I had gotten caught doing something good Christians do not do.
As I walked up the hill towards the room where we met to discuss the upcoming week’s program, I was shaking. All I could think about was, “How can I face them?” When I got there the meeting went as it usually did, so I was surprised when our faculty advisor asked me to talk when I was about to leave. Pulling me aside, she told me of her own family’s struggles with similar issues, and that I had nothing to worry about regarding my leadership role. Then she reminded me that she and Jesus loved me, that nothing was unforgivable to him, so nothing was unforgivable to her. In that moment she modeled for me the love of God I had so feared I had lost, and she saved my faith for another day.
Nearly four years later I still get chills thinking of how God loves us unconditionally and what that means to us as followers of him. Who wouldn’t want that love?
Jamison Dunne, an undergraduate student from Hartland at the University of Vermont, is a member of the Green Mountain Witness team, the Diocese of Vermont’s evangelism initiative. He is a member of Trinity Church in Shelburne, and in the summer months attends St. Paul’s in Windsor.