Decade of Evangelism: That Highly Troublesome "E" Word

By Carriere, Vianney | Anglican Journal, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Decade of Evangelism: That Highly Troublesome "E" Word


Carriere, Vianney, Anglican Journal


For Anglicans world-wide, the final decade of the second millennium has been cause to reflect on or celebrate two fundamental aspects of their lives and their faith: evangelism and the role women play in the church. We are now more than mid way through the Decade of Evangelism and the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. People involved in both `decades' express the hope that work begun on women's issues and in evangelism will carry on well beyond the 10 years allocated to them for specific attention.

From the beginning, it was a troublesome word. But it took the resolution, at Lambeth, 1988, declaring a special decade dedicated to evangelism for many to appreciate just how difficult the word could be.

And perhaps not surprisingly for a group as diverse as the world-wide Anglican Communion, the naming of the last 10 years of the millennium as a decade of evangelism drew dramatically different responses.

In many parts of Africa, for instance, where Anglican churches were already coping with the impact of huge numbers of converts, evangelism through the first years of the decade followed a somewhat triumphalist course.

On the other hand, in much of Europe and North America, where churches faced stagnation and decline, the call to evangelism took a much more subdued, reflective tone.

"In Africa," says Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, "a spectacular response to the Decade of Evangelism was not difficult at all. For other places, even to raise evangelism is difficult."

As the decade began, for instance, people in Canada and the United States witnessed the rapid decline and fall of a number of popular television personalities calling themselves evangelists who became embroiled in scenarios of sexual or financial misconduct. Their highly visible ministries, while they lasted, were the only kinds of evangelism many people knew.

And yet, the decade set itself goals that, once understood, few people could quarrel with.

The chief task, says Dr. Eleanor Johnson, director of Partnerships for the Anglican Church of Canada, was to move the church from ministry to mission.

In Canada, says Archbishop Peers, the Decade of Evangelism offered an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the fact that "the old mission strategy that said if you put up a church, people will come, was not good evangelism any more. Rather, in North America, there has to be an intentional reaching out in several ways, one of which is through proclamation."

The truly evangelical parish, he says, is the truly welcoming and inviting parish.

From the outset, the Canadian church displayed some confusion about how to respond. General Synod, in 1989, accepted the challenge of the Decade of Evangelism and agreed that the national church should embrace the task as an urgent priority.

But when devising a course of action to do this was passed on to the then Program Committee, that group concluded that the national church ought to play a relatively small role.

Rather, the committee said, the task of evangelization ought to take place at the local level, in dioceses, parishes and theological colleges.

"The recognition by Program Committee was that we were engaged in a parish-based evangelism, not a crusade," Archbishop Peers recalls. …

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