By Jamison Dunne
My family has always had a complex relationship with faith. My mom was raised with twelve years of Catholic education, and it is a very important part of her life. Yet, as a divorcee, her relationship to the church has been complicated. My dad is further removed from faith, having been raised nominally Jewish but not maintaining any connection to it now. My first real contact with my Jewish background was visiting our cousins for Passover when I was in high school. My other siblings have struggled to find a faith footing, and I am the only one who has found an active, visible faith life.
When I told my family that I was going to be confirmed, my mom’s first question was what my saint name was going to be.
When I told my family that I was going to be confirmed, my mom’s first question was what my saint name was going to be. My dad asked what confirmation meant. As the day got closer to my confirmation I was nervous. Would my family understand the significance? Would they know how to participate? Would they feel comfortable enough to come up with me and stand beside me when I was confirmed? All these fears were put to rest when Bishop Ely talked with them before the service. He explained better than I ever could what the service was about, along with the different parts of the rite. He reassured my parents and siblings that they could join me as I was confirmed. The service went off without a hitch! My family joined me as I was confirmed, sang all the hymns, and had a wonderful time at coffee hour after the service.
If you’re a frequent reader of the Green Mountain Witness column in The Mountain, you may know The Episcopal Church’s definition of evangelism: “Evangelism is the spiritual practice of seeking, naming and celebrating Jesus’ loving presence in everyone’s stories, and then inviting people to more.”
In the story of my confirmation this definition is turned on its head. Instead of first seeking, naming and celebrating stories, this journey with my family started with an invitation to more. If someone knows your faith journey and story as intimately as you know theirs, as is often true within families, how could you start from seeking, naming and story sharing? Inviting them to more jump-started the conversation, and it opened the door to a deeper understanding of the faith, both in my life and in theirs. While the goal of evangelism is not to fill church pews, the act of sitting in a church and being invited to pray can be what it takes to start one’s journey towards Christ.
My family has not had a radical spiritual transformation since I was confirmed. Yet Bishop Ely’s explanation and invitation to participate opened a door for them to understand what faith means to me, and what faith can mean in people’s live. No longer is it a strange thing when I sneak out early from Christmas Eve dinner or miss Easter morning brunch. My family were able to understand in a way that hearing an explanation from me would never do.
Our relationships with our families are extremely important, so the risk is higher in evangelizing to them.
Evangelism with those we love is hard. Our relationships with our families are extremely important, so the risk is higher in evangelizing to them. The fear of family taking our attempts at sharing faith in the wrong way can be paralyzing. In these situations it is okay and important to approach evangelism in other ways. All it can take to start the conversation is a simple invitation to participate in your faith life. That can break down barriers in a way that a discussion might never do.
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 he attends St. Paul’s in Windsor.