The lectionary passage for Pentecost, or at least one of the pasasges for Pentecost Sunday included Acts 2:7-12 ‘7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’.
As I read this passage before preaching on Pentecost Sunday, I began to wonder, what names – nationalities – groups of people we might hear, if the first Pentecost were to occur in our time?
We can be sure, I think, that just like the the apostles…with Peter out there on the front line initially, we would be perplexed and uncomfortable with the new “mush” that God had brought together.
For quite some time, I’ve heard in Roman Catholic circles the phrase ‘The New Evangelization’, a term first brought into popular use by the late Pope John Paul II but given its wings by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with his establishing the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in 2010. To try and get a better understanding of what this New Evangelization thing was, I watched a few videos on youtube and two of the best, are of Cardinal Wuerl giving lectures on the topic – the two crossover in content here and there but they are certainly worth watching:
and the other:
Now, whilst obviously as a protestant, there are theological approaches and beliefs that I would struggle to adopt or promote, one thing that is utterly inspirational in hearing Cardinal Wuerl’s take on the New Evangelization is the simple way in which it is encouraged and explained.
As a young leader within the Church it is incredibly refreshing to hear a senior cleric encouraging the Christian people to be bold in their faith, to express it, to share it – to evangelize….! And for once, it wasn’t tied up with going on a course (the end result being that you will apparently change the community you came from overnight…!), or with different styles of worship, or how our churches look, it was to do with simple things – praying, making the sign of the cross, talking about what the Sacraments mean to us in our daily lives with those Christ brings us into contact with. In the words of the patron Saint of Wales, St David: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.”
It’s in doing the little things that we proclaim the first line of the creed to the world- if nothing else “Credo in Deum” – “I believe in God”. A simple reminder to all, that the pavements they walk on and the air they breathe belongs to the creator.
It’s sometimes a little disturbing to see all the ways in which we sometimes try to transform the Sacraments into things that are neither sacramental or things that cease to carry meaning under the guise of “trying to make them more accessible” or “watering it down”…if you need to water it down, perhaps you’re trying to turn the Sacrifice into something it isn’t…
As Methodist people, we need no reminding of the urgency of a new evangelization, but our response to the need often results in a cause of panic, or general lugubriosity. People feel as though there is not much that can be done, that the statistics must be taken (and I think they too often ARE taken) as Gospel, and that the task of evangelization is that of those who stand up at the front to lead worship.
There’s alot to be said for the way in which a change of our training, and use of our Presbyters and Deacons has disabled our laity (I’m told by people this is the case, not old enough to be able to tell!) but I’d like to know how we go about reversing this, if this has indeed been the case…
Our “rule book” CPD states in Section 52 SO 524 “There is an urgent need that the main doctrines of the Christian faith should be more plainly and systematically set forth in public preaching, so that the Methodist people may be established in the faith and better defended against error and uncertainty. Ministers and probationers are directed to consider together how this may be arranged”.
Again, the responsibilty here lies with those in the Ministry of the Church and I wonder how we can enable our lay people to be enabled catechists…
When I read books of ministerial training in the past, across the traditions, it seems to me that people were trained for a lifetime of ministry within the Church – regardless of their age at ordination, people were invested in to carry out their task until their dying day. They were trained to be evangelists, to be people soaked in sound teaching, and of course occasionally, as in the case of Leslie Weatherhead, the routine was cut short, for special reasons as it is still cut short for others today, or indeed lengthened! That said, I wonder how we can more usefully invest in our seminaries, to turn them into places where people are ‘established in the faith, and better defended against error and uncertainty’ themselves so that they can go out and live and teach sound doctrine in their stations? Is there a way in which we can make our seminaries places of theological rigour rather than places that appear to be impregnated with a missiological thalidomide?
Might the tools needed for mission (in the case of the ordained and those preparing for ordination) simply be: a smile, a cassock and an ability to have a conversation?
Might the only tasks we need to concern ourselves with be those things we are ordered in the ordinal to get on with….impossible as they seem to be?
When I look up the hierarchy (which people still tell me doesn’t exist) within Methodism and I see the Superintendents and District Chairs and Connexional Officers leading the way in thinking about mission and the direction of travel for us…it’s daunting how many have ceased to be pastors, but people who are consumed in trying to meander the interstices of the connexion.
If the Ministers of the Church are tied up with management, caught up in trying to work out how things work, or trying to udnerstand what is or isn’t happening within the churches life – is it any surprise that they are not able to be pulpit catechists, or street evangelists enabling the vocation and ministry of the laity? We need to revisit our understanding of ministry if we are serious about engaging in mission.
It would be refreshing to hear the Conference encourage and urge the Methodist people to be evanglists – what about a New Evangelization for the People Called Methodists?
What about a decent, more engaging catechism rather than the very thin red and white book that isn’t enough to feed a famished people…?
The New Evangelization will not suit anyone who is not prepared to roll their sleeves up and get dirty, like Peter stepping out of the house and into the crowds in the Pentecost reading from Acts, we need to realise that New Evangelization is not just something we need to do, but something and *somewhere* we need to be and it is the task of us ALL. It isn’t going to immediately appeal to the comfortable, or the mission-stiflers who are more concerned about theologically masturbating in the corridors of power wherever they may be, it is for those who are desperate to ‘re-prepose’ the Gospel to those who are of no faith, or who are experiencing a crisis of faith. It is for those who wish to show the world that the Gospel has something to say,can make a difference and is for everyone…and often it is those of us who think we know the Gospel, or think that we know what the Church is about who need to be re-evangelized the most.
I think the world is desperate for the Church, to simply be the Church – to be people of Joy as Pope Francis has so aptly reminded us when he said “some Christians are like Lent without Easter”…the Church doesn’t need to apologize for being the Church, it simply needs to be what it is and we are called as people of the One True Faith, to live and be, that immortal and ancient truth:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.