“Evangelism”—sharing the good news—is not always an easy word for mainline churches today. In fact, many of the ways in which evangelism has been done in the past have been harmful or hurtful.
A three-day ecumenical event in Nashville, Tennessee, October 30–November 1, 2015, sought to reclaim evangelism for this time in positive ways. A co-operative effort of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Canadian Council of Churches, and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, the consultation gathered about 70 people from Canada and the United States, including United Church participants, under the theme “Reclaiming Evangelism: Celebrating Change and Collaboration.”
Panel presentations addressed themes such as The Good News of God in a World of Poverty, Oppression, Marginalization, and Violence; Fostering Leadership for Evangelizing Communities; and Shaping Evangelizing Communities for a Multi-faith and Multicultural Environment.
One plenary speaker, Bishop Mark MacDonald—National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada and WCC President for North America—offered insights into Indigenous engagement with Christendom and the growth of the Indigenous church. He challenged the consultation to explore these stories as a clue to being church in the current cultural context and a framework for creating a church that the poor can afford.
Canadian participants also came from the Canadian Churches’ Forum, Knox College of the Toronto School of Theology, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Tyndale Intercultural Ministries Centre, the Vancouver School of Theology, and Wycliffe College of the Toronto School of Theology. United Church participants in this consultation included
- Michael Blair, Executive Minister, Church in Mission Unit of the General Council Office and a member of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism
- James Christie, Professor of Whole World Ecumenism and Dialogue Theology, University of Winnipeg
- Paul Peters Derry, ministry personnel and chaplain, Manitoba and Northwest Conference
- Adele Halliday, Team Leader for Discipleship & Witness, Church in Mission Unit
- Karen Hamilton, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches
- Irene Ty, ministry personnel, Toronto Conference
A series of webinars on evangelism offered by the WCC laid the foundation for this North American consultation, one of five regional consultations that the WCC is organizing on evangelism.
This is not the United Church’s first foray into exploring evangelism. Decades ago, there was a Board of Evangelism and Social Services, which brought together evangelism and social justice under one umbrella. More recently, in November 2014, about 35 United Church participants gathered for a Symposium on Evangelism, where they reflected on what evangelism means from the perspective of a mainline, liberal, justice-seeking church.
Moving forward, an ecumenical study guide on evangelism will soon be available for communities of faith. Video from the consultation will be distributed through the ecumenical group Evangelism Connections. And further opportunities for continued engagement about evangelism will be available.
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