Join Us in the Jesus Movement: Reflections by The Rev. Canon John Newton
For the past several years, I have been privileged to serve on the board of the Episcopal Evangelism Society, an organization that dates back to 1862. EES serves as a catalyst and resource for innovative witness to Jesus Christ. Change, adaptation, and learning are built into our organizational DNA. Our earliest work was to offer scholarships to seminarians preparing for the priesthood. In a stable world and church, we used to be lubricant that kept things running smoothly. However, our world is changing, and we are changing with it. The work we do, the projects we fund, and the questions we ask are much different than they used to be.
At our recent meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, the board came alive as we discussed Bishop Curry’s proclamation that the Episcopal Church is part of the unfolding Jesus Movement. We believe that we have a role to play in both giving voice to this movement and catalyzing it into being so that innovation becomes a normative part of the culture of the Episcopal Church.
We catalyze the Jesus Movement primarily through our grant-making program. We are spiritual venture capitalists, and at our recent meeting, we approved almost $50,000 in seed money for creative projects that will bless the world and breathe fresh life into the church. Yet our larger role in this unfolding Jesus Movement always remains to develop an emerging, evolving definition of innovative evangelism that will foster a conversation in the wider church.
Our understanding of innovative evangelism continues to unfold, but on some matters EES has clarity. For instance, we believe that the Good News of Jesus is caught before it is taught. Innovative witness to Jesus Christ thrives and grows in a culture of permission, vision, and courage. Evangelism flows organically and freely in and through people and communities who are open to God’s Holy Spirit.
We also know that the Jesus Movement is roomy, inclusive, and broad. This is true not only because God is generous, but also because evangelism is deeply contextual and both begins and ends with relationship. Authentic evangelism is two-sided and is a process that transforms everyone involved. Innovative evangelism brings Jesus and finds Jesus all at the same time. Nothing is more antithetical to authentic evangelism than competition. A church committed to innovative witness to Jesus Christ will partner with the community as we embrace a very sacred tension. We always maintain a vision and clear sense of identity on the one hand, and yet we never let go of an expectation that the Spirit will interrupt our plans and lead us in new directions and ways of understanding. Finally, we believe that evangelism and racial reconciliation are distinct, but they always remain two sides of the same coin that is the Jesus Movement. Innovative evangelism will always foster an environment that encourages reconciliation, and where true reconciliation takes place, Jesus Christ is always proclaimed.
While our board grows in clarity around how we understand innovative evangelism, we still have questions. How can we honor our Episcopal identity, and yet remain fully inclusive and permissive? Where is the line between outreach and evangelism? How can our work be a catalyst for the wider church? These are just a few of the questions we ask of ourselves as our understanding of innovative evangelism continues to unfold.
I wonder what questions you are asking about evangelism and about the mission of the church. I wonder also how EES might become your partner in dialogue. The Church is on the cusp of something new, fresh, and exciting, and EES will continue to move with God’s Spirit. We remain engaged in a world and church where God is alive, and our deepest hope is that you will join us in this Jesus Movement.
The Rev. Canon John Newton
EES Board Member, Chief of Staff in the Diocese of Texas