Spread the Word: When Evangelism Means “Staying In”
By Kathleen Moore
A couple weeks ago, a good friend asked me to lunch. We met at a local restaurant and fell into the easy kind of conversation friends do – catching up on what’s going on in our lives, at work at school and with family. Then without warning, my friend directed the conversation into unexpected territory. She wanted to talk about God. She reported that she has been feeling a profound sense of “something going on” that is not quite explainable. She has been sensing the presence of a benevolent “energy” in the world that is at work in her life and in the lives of people all around her. She said another friend had advised her that she needed to “figure out what she believed about God.” “That’s why I needed to talk to you,” she said.
As I engage in ministry in Vermont I find that so often the people I talk to, including my friend, have no religious background at all. They have grown up with a sense that talking about religion or God or any kind of higher power is simply not “something we do.” It is a great privilege to be the first person to open the door to safe and open discussions about God. In my experience, however, these conversations have been with acquaintances who have heard that I am “involved with church,” and reached out to talk. “God talk” has been the starting point of these relationships. Having this discussion with someone who was already a good friend felt like something entirely different.
It is a great privilege to be the first person to open the door to safe and open discussions about God.
I took a deep breath. For a moment, I wondered if evangelizing to a friend was “appropriate.” Something felt uncomfortable – impolite, even. Then I remembered the real reason I evangelize: Jesus Christ is the most important and greatest thing in my life – to not share that with others simply feels wrong.
So, I gathered myself and we talked. I helped her understand that her sense that this benevolent presence is not a male (or, for that matter, white) anthropomorphized figure does not mean it cannot be called God. We talked for some time about what it felt like to sense the presence of God. I finally took a breath and said, “And here’s the thing – I believe that energy you feel actually became incarnate, became human – was born into this world and lived here with us. That’s who Jesus is. That’s why he is so important to me.”
As soon as I said this, it felt like a weight had been lifted in our relationship. I realized I had been keeping a part of myself hidden – a part of myself I find it easier to share with people I don’t know well. That part of myself is the love of Christ, and my friend taught me that afternoon how very wrong it is to cut off that love from anyone, much less a close friend.
…It feels far more risky to share my faith with people who are already important to me – people I love and care for.
It is always a risk to share our faith, but this experience taught me it feels far more risky to share my faith with people who are already important to me – people I love and care for. The risk feels greater because there is simply more to lose. If my friend had reacted with fear or suspicion or outright anger, I could have lost someone important to me. If the same happened with someone I had just met, my life would not change in any significant way. My friend wasn’t fearful or suspicious or angry. She was grateful. She said her “mind was blown,” and she was surprised that what she was feeling could “fit” with my Christian faith.
In discussing evangelism in The Episcopal Church, I think we often focus on evangelizing to the “great unknown” of unchurched people in our communities. And indeed, it is so important to commit to spreading the Good News to people we meet at the coffee house, the homeless shelter, the farmer’s market, the hiking trail, and the town square. But I realize I have not been fully attentive to those standing right in front of me – the people I know and love. And so, I have had to readjust my go-to vision of what evangelism is. Evangelism is not always a “going out.” Evangelism can also be the work of “staying in.” It can be the work of opening that door to the love of God to those we know and love best.
Evangelism can be the work of opening that door to the love of God to those we know and love best.
Kathleen Moore, a member of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Arlington, Vermont, is a member of Green Mountain Witness, the evangelism initiative of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Former communications minister of the diocese, she is a candidate for ordination and a student at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. She is also communications manager at Canticle Communications.
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