This is the second article of a nine-part series on empowering a faith community to impact the world.
The “E” word has been stolen! This stolen term and its meaning generated aspirations for some churches and guilt for others in days gone by. The ensuing actions or lack thereof sullied the intent. Now progressive Christianity shuns the “E” word and conservative Christianity veils its reference. Shame on both groups.
We are talking evangelism, of course.
Walter Brueggemann says Christians have “spiritualized and privatized” evangelism (Biblical Perspectives on evangelism: living in a three-storied universe, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1993). To privatize and spiritualize the sacred Story is to alienate the Story that belongs to all of God’s creation. The testy-telling and cold-calling marginalize those in sincere pursuit of a faith-based search for purpose and meaning.
Knowing one’s own faith story and finding its intersection in the sacred Story fosters faith formation. Therein lies the place for an incarnational approach that reveals the sacred Story. What does that look like? How is that accomplished? One example is Charlotte’s Place.
Charlotte’s Place (CP) in Lower Manhattan lives out an approach that denies the absurd urge to ask, “if you died today, would you go to heaven or hell?” CP is an open, safe space where one’s story is unveiled through radical hospitality.
There is no physical evidence of church or religion at Charlotte’s Place. And the space is off the church campus. The space includes hosts, lunch tables, computer stations, restrooms, art classes, movies, music, and dance. The website also states that the CP is free and open for people to water plants, use free wi-fi, read a book, or whatever else comes to mind.
There is no payback expectation from the sponsoring congregation, The Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church. Here the sacred Story is revealed through hospitable offerings of human touch based on common human interests.
In this space organic relationships spring forth between hosts and guests and between guests. Some relationships flourish and some flounder. But for all it feels safe. Out of this openhearted environment many guests develop relationships conducive for exchanging their stories of life.
Story-sharing in this manner opens hearts and minds. Out of that openness God’s heart for wholeness and well-being come forth. This is the stuff of evangelism – human intervention for shared stories in real time that surely God honors.
The hoped-for outcome in this evangelism crucible envisions a person who joins a pathway to purpose and meaning in life toward the end that this life finds his/her place to impact the world for good. Therein evangelism and justice are married.
Can we find the “E” word again?