I remember my final year of seminary when I found out where my first job was going to be. I called up one of my mentors – my field education supervisor and said, “I know where I’ll be working after graduation!” He asked the name of the parish, and when I told him, he replied joyfully, “Great! Pray for their conversion!”
This might sound like a backhanded compliment toward that particular parish, or maybe a passive aggressive statement about the state of the Episcopal Church as a whole. But my mentor meant neither of those. He believed conversion – the transformation of the heart brought to bear by the Holy Spirit – was not a moment in time but a lifelong reality for Christians and our churches. To seek to follow Jesus is to be transformed, and that transformation is ongoing, not momentary. To pray for the conversion of an organization is to pray that they are open to ongoing transformation by the following of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit has been working on EES – on our conversion. Our transformation is ongoing, and our desire to follow Jesus is clear. I am so grateful to be part of a body that never shies away from wrestling with our identity and purpose, and I have to say, our Executive Director Day has been phenomenal at keeping us restless and pushing us to take seriously our vocation in the church and the world.
As has been written about before in this space, the primary place of our conversion as a Board these last few years has been in our understanding and articulation of evangelism itself. Our hearts have been converted to the language and (I hope and pray) the active practice of decolonizing our evangelistic lens.
We are done believing that evangelism is an action of us insiders bringing Jesus to those on the outside and making them more like us. We can see Jesus at work in the world, at work in the hearts and lives of those we meet. We are being challenged to recognize Jesus in others, to be transformed by the Jesus we meet in those who widen our perspective. Evangelism, then, becomes an act of looking for and naming Jesus where we see him, of seeking to love those we meet the way Jesus loves, seeking to live into relationships of mutuality and blessing in which we are all transformed, all converted by the Holy Spirit.
At our recent meeting, Board Member Sandy Milien called this an Embodied Evangelism. I love that.
We are seeking not just to promote evangelism, but to embody it. While our hope is that our grantees’ work be transformational, we pray that they are transformed by that work. What’s more, we as an organization are transformed when we listen deeply to their stories and experiences. Each grant, each project changes EES, each grantee is an agent of our conversion. This has changed the makeup of our Board, the way we discuss grants, the kinds of projects we seek to fund, our budget, our staffing, all of who we are.
I welcome you to this issue of the Lantern, and I invite you, as you read through this issue, to consider your own ongoing conversion. How can you partner with God not only in speaking the Good News but embodying evangelism today?
The Rev. Philip DeVaul
EES Board Chair