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A cathedral is a suitable place for an evangelist  

19 July 2019

But the way in which they communicate the gospel will differ from in other contexts, says Stephen Hance

THOSE in the Church who have been passionate about evangelism have typically not seen cathedrals as centres for evangelism, and those who have thought deeply about the ministry of cathedrals have generally not seen things differently.

But I would argue that the cathedral is, indeed, an appropriate place for the ministry of an evangelist — in fact, it might be one of the most appropriate contexts for the work of an evangelist that the Church of England has to offer. It might not be the most appropriate context, however, for every style of evangelism, or every type of evangelist.

The effective evangelist in the cathedral needs to be able to speak about Christ with gentleness. This is presumably true in most other contexts as well, but it is not always self-evident. Many of us have seen, or been on the receiving end of, evangelism which has been far from gentle, such as the stereotypical street preacher haranguing passers-by about the doom that awaits them if they do not turn to Christ.

The cathedral evangelist will be what I call a pastoral evangelist: that is, someone who takes time to build relationships, to listen as well as speak, to invite and suggest rather than to judge or declaim, to preach the gospel of Jesus with clarity but also personal winsomeness and a lightness of touch.

THIS leads us to another characteristic of the effective cathedral evangelist: patience. In cathedral evangelism, we start with people where they are — often a very long way back — and we travel with them at their own pace, encouraging but never pushing them to make a response for which they may not be ready.

A better way of thinking about evangelism in a cathedral context is, perhaps, as follows. Everybody is on their own journey towards God. The task of the evangelist is to lay the stones on which those whom we accompany will walk, and then to invite them to take the next step, whatever that might be. This requires great patience — and resilience, too — to cope with many inevitable disappointments.

Another image which I have found helpful over the years in thinking about these issues is bounded sets and centred sets, based on the work of Paul Hiebert, in his book Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Baker Academic, 1994). A bounded set is established by its boundaries, its walls. This makes it easy to define who is in and who is out. Many churches are like this. In a bounded-set church, the work of the evangelist is to tell people how they can get inside. A centred set is established by the thing at the centre, and people’s participation depends on whether they are moving towards or away from the centre.

Cathedrals are almost always centred sets: many people are in all kinds of relationships with the thing at the centre, which, in our case, is God revealed in Christ. Such a set has very fuzzy boundaries.

Cathedral evangelists will be centred-set people, inviting everyone one step closer to Jesus, if they are ready to make the move, and resisting all temptation to draw hard and fast lines of who is in and who is out.

THE cathedral evangelist will seek to be responsive, flexible, and open. Crucially, they will be non-partisan, welcoming of different expressions of Christian faith, respecting the breadth of theology to be found in most cathedral communities, while being confident in their own tradition. They will be keenly attentive to the danger of driving people away or breaking trust. They will not be so wedded to one model of evangelism or to one image of conversion that they cannot see how God is working in diverse and creative ways.

They will understand evangelism as part of the cathedral’s mission, but not as the only dimension of that mission, and so be able to value and promote the mission of the cathedral in the civic sphere, in interfaith dialogue and friendship, in social outreach and contribution to the common good.

Some will argue that the work of evangelism and discipleship appropriately belongs to the local or parish church, not to the cathedral, with its complex responsibilities and large number of visitors. My response to this is that, while cathedrals may not be only local churches, they cannot be less than local churches, and must do the work of evangelism and discipleship to which every church is called.

The Very Revd Stephen Hance is the Dean of Derby. He will take up the post of the C of E’s National Lead on Evangelism and Discipleship in September.

This is an edited extract from Anglican Evangelists: Identifying and training a new generation, edited by Martyn Snow, published by SPCK at £14.99 (CT Bookshop £13.50).

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