Spread the Word
Evangelism: It’s About Telling Stories
By Jennifer Ogelby
I am pretty sure that I became an evangelist when I was at Rock Point Summer Camp. I started out going to camp a little early because my father was director from the time I was five years old. I spent the summers there from age five to age eleven and then continued to go there for a week each summer until I graduated from high school. We learned about God, Jesus, and his disciples, and we spent time acting out stories from the Bible. We acted out C. S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and learned how this story intertwined with God’s story and our story.
I began volunteering at Rock Point as a young adult and later on became the Rock Point Summer Camp director. I worked with kids of all ages. We shared our stories with one another, and, better yet, we learned to listen to one another’s stories. Never once do I remember hearing the word evangelism.
Many of you know that I am a resource person and a longtime Christian formation leader and that I have been working at a bookshop for almost ten years. My tendency is to go for the book or the magazine article when I want to learn something. When it was declared that we would participate in the Decade of Evangelism during the 1990s I headed towards the latest books written on the subject. And there were many! But I still wasn’t sure what evangelism was all about.
Then three years ago we chose a new Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church. I was a deputy to that General Convention, so I was blessed to be there when the Holy Spirit came down and Bishop Michael Curry became our new Presiding Bishop.
What a preacher he is and, better yet, what a teacher he is! His passion for Jesus is very contagious. He has invited us all to become members of the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. What does this have to do with evangelism? I believe that it is all about love and spreading that love to whomever we meet. And a big part of that is listening to people’s stories in whatever way they are presented.
I believe that evangelism is all about love and spreading that love to whomever we meet. A big part of that is listening to people’s stories.
The 2018 General Convention in July was a real eye opener for me. On Sunday morning, July 8, we began the day by gathering with Bishops Against Gun Violence, in which our own Bishop Ely is active. The bishops had invited two speakers to share their stories with us. The first one was the father of Carmen Schentrup, one of the young people who was murdered in Parkland, Florida. The other was a young woman from Waco, Texas, who was deeply affected by the recent murders in many schools and who woke up one morning and decided to act. Both of these courageous people were willing to share their stories of how God was acting in their lives. Then we headed out to the Hutto detention center for refugees in Taylor, Texas. We were not able to talk with the women who were detained there, but it was understood that we were present because we cared.
As I shopped at grocery stores in neighborhoods around the hotels and convention center in Austin, I came to recognize many of the street people who slept on benches and asked for money to get coffee or snacks. At first I tended to walk across the street to avoid encounters with these men. And then I called myself all sorts of names. Who did I think I was attending a huge Episcopal Church gathering which was all about loving each other and sharing our stories, yet I couldn’t manage to walk on the same side of the street and greet these men and offer them a few dollars to get something to eat?
One of the men and I made eye contact on one of the last mornings as I was walking past a grocery store on my way back to the convention center. I thought he was going to ask me for money, but instead we exchanged morning greetings. I greeted him with a smile. He asked me how I was, and I said I was a bit tired. “Just remember to greet everyone with that beautiful smile,” he said.
“That’s how it is with God’s love: once you’ve experienced it, you want to show the whole wide world, you want to pass it on.”
It is time for me to remember those days at Rock Point Camp when I learned to listen to fellow campers’ stories, learned God’s stories and learned to share my story – all in a safe place. It is time for me to stretch out, stay on the same side of the street and pass God’s love on to the strangers I meet along the way. In the words of one of my favorite songs: “That’s how it is with God’s love: once you’ve experienced it, you want to show the whole wide world, you want to pass it on.”
Jennifer Ogelby is a parishioner of St. James’s Church in Essex and a member of Green Mountain Witness, the evangelism initiative of the Diocese of Vermont. She manages the Hopkins Bookshop, now a ministry of Trinity Church in Shelburne. She has been a deputy to four General Conventions.