Why Evangelism Isn't Just about Increasing Attendance

By Kelsey, Dallas | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), April 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Why Evangelism Isn't Just about Increasing Attendance


Kelsey, Dallas, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


By Kelsey Dallas

Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY - The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, has witnessed an incredible amount of change over his 40 years of ministry.

He's seen women serve as priests for the first time, congregants struggle over same-sex marriage and the church expand its understanding of evangelism, watching in amazement as worshippers overcame their differences to work toward compromise.

"There's a consensus to be compassionate," he said. "We don't have to all agree, but we can agree - even when we disagree - not to be disagreeable."

This approach to conflict has served Bishop Curry well in recent years, as he has transitioned from leading the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina to heading up the entire denomination. He was elected presiding bishop in June 2015 during the Episcopal Church's general convention in Salt Lake City, and he will serve in that role until 2024.

As the face of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Curry spends much of his time traveling and speaking. His job duties include searching for common ground - both within his church and in society at-large - on some of the most contentious issues of the 21st century: immigration reform, religious freedom and racial justice.

People won't always be able to find a perfect compromise but getting to know each other as humans is a much better approach to conflict than shouting and name-calling, he said. Even as he's proclaimed the importance of speaking publicly about faith, he's emphasized the value of good listening.

Bishop Curry, 64, was raised in Buffalo, New York, as an active member of the Episcopal Church. His dad was a priest, and he encouraged his son to find ways to serve marginalized people, such as poor families, throughout his life. As a teen, Bishop Curry decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a priest.

He attended seminary at Yale Divinity School, where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1978. Later that year, he was ordained, and he served at the parish level in North Carolina, Ohio and Maryland before taking over the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in 2000.

This week, the Deseret News met with Bishop Curry during a break from his responsibilities as a guest at the Episcopal Diocese of Utah's annual convention. He shared his thoughts on how the election of President Donald Trump changed his ministry and how evangelism makes the world a better place.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Deseret News: In June, you'll celebrate the two-year anniversary of your election as president bishop. Has the job matched your expectations?

Bishop Michael Curry: I knew that, on a very practical level, the job would involve a great deal of travel, and it's certainly lived up to my expectations.

When I was the bishop of a diocese, I got in a car and went to 920 different churches. Now, instead of a car, I almost always have to get in a plane.

The biggest task for a presiding bishop is to be the church's most visible and primary ambassador to itself and to the wider world. That means you have to go wherever the people are.

DN: When you were elected, you spoke about the importance of evangelism and your interest in spreading the "Jesus movement." How has that work gone?

MC: I think I'm evolving as the church is evolving.

One of the things that I'm aware of is that we hear the word evangelism and think automatically about someone telling somebody something so that they'll change. But the truth is that evangelism is as much listening as it is sharing.

It involves two people actually sharing their lives with each other. They share their stories and a new story gets written.

That's what evangelism is. It helps all of us find our way into a deeper relationship with God. And if there's a deeper relationship with God, there's going to be a deeper relationship with each other as well. …

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