By Rev. Canon Rob Lemon
“Learning our story and sharing our story” was the title of a workshop offered at Church of the Epiphany in Kingsville on October 20, by Shawn Branch, the Parish Development Officer for the Diocese of Fredericton.
Shawn came highly recommended by Bishop Linda and, on that recommendation, the Deanery of Essex invited him to come and help equip us to be faithful witnesses.
To start the day, Shawn had us acknowledge our fears around evangelism and the changing reality of the church. He suggested that the church has operated for a very long time on a method best exemplified by the famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.”
“That’s not happening anymore, people aren’t coming to us”, he said.
The conclusion that was drawn was that God’s people have to take the Gospel to people outside the church, the church has to go to them.
Shawn spent the rest of the day helping the people of the deanery to first figure out what the story of God in their lives was.
He invited the participants to recognize the times and places where God had touched their lives, because God is not an abstract idea or distant deity, but an intimate and personal reality in our lives.
He quickly summarized the story of the scriptures highlighting God’s love for humanity, our rejection of God, and God’s continuing efforts to reach us and live with us.
Shawn shared the story of his life, talking about how God had sought him out and touched his life and why he believes what he believes and why he chooses to serve God.
He said that he would never tell the whole story to someone in one go, but he tells bits and pieces of the story to others where his story and their stories connect so that he can help them see where God is working in their lives.
Shawn gave everyone a few minutes and asked them to figure out something to say, in thirty seconds or less, to a person that asked the question, “Why do you believe this stuff?” in relation to their faith. He suggested choosing one part of the story of their life where they recognized God and using that as the core of their response.
This method of storytelling was something that the participants found gentle and accessible. One person said, “I always thought of evangelism as going door to door, or going to another country and proselytizing, but this is actually doable.”
Towards the end of the day, Shawn said to the group, “This is not a church growth strategy, this is for growing the Kingdom of God.” It may result in people coming to the church, but it is not an instantaneous fix. Shawn likened it to planting seeds in people’s lives and encouraged everyone to take the time for relationships, for connecting with others, for spending time with people, because that’s where the opportunities to share the story will come from.
He said that we miss a lot of opportunities to share the good news of God because we get into the mode of existing where we always rush and don’t take the time connect and talk. When we do take the time and do share the story, we are just planting seeds and we rely on God to give the growth that will turn those seeds into fruitful faith.
Evangelism, sharing the story of the good news of God’s love, is central to our identity as the church. Shawn encouraged us to engage in that sharing through the stories of our own lives. It is a gentle and accessible approach that is very doable.
This workshop has helped equip us to be faithful witnesses to God’s love in the world and for that we are thankful.
Rev. Canon Rob Lemon is the regional dean of Essex