Cathedral Evangelism Challenge

I did my Chaplaincy stint at Winchester Cathedral this morning, and as usual it was full of grace, delight and surprise.  But I’ve been left unsettled by one conversation…

“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind my asking, this is difficult, but where is Jesus in this Cathedral?”  asked the visitor from Sydney, Australia.  Those of you who know me are aware of my strong facetious streak, and will be relieved that I didn’t reply “through the arch, up the stairs, second on the right”.  And as the conversation unfolded, I was glad I hadn’t.  I pointed out that she had heard the Lord’s Prayer being prayed, but that didn’t meet the case.

As a Myers-Briggs “T” I wondered if she meant imagery, and so took her to a place of peace and contemplation for me, in the Lady Chapel, in front of the sculpture of Mary holding her dead Son.  As the more clued up among you will have guessed, this was not her meaning. She wrote off the sculpture with “I glad it means something to you, but in Theology Jesus should be higher than Mary” so we walked away from the chapel.  It emerged that what she meant was that every visitor is another potential convert for Jesus, and that she couldn’t see any overtly educational conversion leaflets lying about. 

She is right, there aren’t.  She and her husband joined forces to ask whether I loved Jesus and if I did, why I wasn’t handing out tracts to every visitor like they did in their church back home.  I tried the “many ways of speaking of God” but that cut no ice, and they left, patently disappointed that I (on behalf of the Cathedral) wasn’t doing a proper job.

A few thoughts occur to me about this encounter
1.  If ever you see me asking people if they are saved, and handing out Scripture Union leaflets, it will be either because God has called and equipped me in a very different way than is the case now, or that I have been taken over by aliens.
2.  How far should I, as a volunteer Visitors’ Chaplain, be trying to ‘evangelise’?  I try to make sure that God gets a mention in every conversation I have, and probably manage that about 80% of the time.  I try to model a welcome of a Hospitable, Loving God for everyone who I see – through a smile, a “hello” or deeper if appropriate.  But I don’t try to teach the rudiments of Christianity unless I’m asked (although I had a great time talking about Baptism to a little girl and her big informed know-the-answers brother).
3.  How can I best deal with people who “know” their way is best, when personally I am convinced that different methods work for different people with different callings?  I’m not called to the “are you saved, do you know Jesus” approach, and if I tried it, it would be fake.  I recognise with thanksgiving that it works for other people.

All ideas and comments gratefully received!


9 responses to “Cathedral Evangelism Challenge

  1. For some people their way of “doing” their faith will always be the only acceptable and “right” way of doing faith.

    Their question essentially boils down; Why aren't you me?

  2. Hmm – I've long suspected that the comparative popularity of cathedrals is that you can go into them while not-exactly-doing-god: their halfway house status between a religious place and stunning medieval architecture, allows you to choose one or the other, or not be quite sure which you're doing. I doubt the overtness this couple were looking for (who sound *quite* saved enough already…) would work for that many people. I take the view that religions and religious people are impressive through how they are, not what they try to do at you.

    Southwark Cathedral gets it right – I sometimes just wander in there cos it's nice and I quite often find there's a service going on, which I can listen to or not. It's all very casual. If they showed any sign of overtly trying to save me, I'd definitely flee. The 'are you saved' model is the image I had of religion for years and its very smallness and rigidity persuaded me that there was nothing of value there for anyone who thinks or is interested in the mystical, nebulous or complex.

    So he who 'saves' the passing punter shall probably lose them – she who is just quite nice to them may be making a much stronger case for their faith. I'd tend to go easy on the earnest expression and the pamphlets…

  3. – it also smacks of the sort of questions know-it-alls ask in Q&A sessions to get one over on the lecturer/speaker. The kind of question that displays their self perceived superiority, but actually makes everyone else present just think they're an a*se. There are plenty of other ways of asking how a British Cathedral exercises its evangelistic ministry if that is what one is **really** interested in.

    I hope that my answer to the actually asked question would have been “in the people walking through here” and talked of encountering Jesus in one another… maybe!

  4. Having been to Sydney cathedral, there ain't much of Jesus there. Lots of Very Shiny TV Screens, and a mix match of furniture and decorations reminding you that of the worst of inherited cluttered Victoriana. Not much Jesus.

    (The RC cathedral, however, is completely different).

    Evangelism is not just about handing out leaflets or preaching from the wayside. It can also be about creating holy spaces for people to experience the divine.

  5. Well since Cathdral service attendances are on the up there must be something right about what they are doing without the tracts.

  6. I think you have to be who you are and God always uses that. Tracts terrify me, I have to admit – as my father used to say, there's more than one way to skin a rabbit … 🙂


  7. I wonder why they should think that we spend all day handing out tracts to visitors? If they do that in their church at home, bully for them!

    Your presence and ministry of welcome is the sort of Evangelism that Jesus would prescribe, not preaching and converting.

    Conversion needs to come from that transformation that meeting Jesus through heart, mind and spirit through others. Not printed literature.

    I often see a street preacher in our town Centre. He is young, from a new Community Church plant with an evangelical background. His preaching is gentle and persuasive. He is approachable and will stop to talk with people who want to speak with him. He issues invitations for people to visit his community church, not a summons to attend. And, I'm sure that he meets some who will at least visit.

    If he is heckled he responds by answering their questions, he has that gift for defusing and disarming situations that makes him ideal for what he is doing.

    I just can't see myself doing that, but admire his courage and conviction in his calling to evangelise.

  8. Thanks so much for all your comments, they have helped my own reflections. I am still of the view that we all touch the lives of others in the way God gifts each of us. I have learned from the sense of urgency of the people I met, and need to retain that in my conversations – without getting on people's faces in a way unnatural for me.

    I will do my best to be myself – but every time I change, I hope I become closer to the way God images me.

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