Culture can’t be ignored, say evangelists

In order to be effective, evangelism must be made a priority: by bishops, by dioceses, by clergy, by laypeople.

That is one lesson learned by Rev. Sandy Copland, the Anglican Church of Canada’s representative at an international Anglican consultation on evangelism held recently in Africa.

Ms. Copland, a parish priest from an inner-city church in Hamilton, Ont., was one of only a handful of women priests at the gathering. Contacted in Kenya at the consultation in early May, Ms. Copland says those churches which report success with evangelism make it a top priority by providing funding and training.

“Bishops need to set the tone and clergy need to help lay people and to train them in what we mean by evangelism.”

Other churches also reported that successful evangelism should also have a holistic approach.

In Kenya, said Ms. Copland, the Mothers’ Union is influential and its representatives “go in and teach young mothers about Christ and, for example, how to raise chickens.”

While the Kenyan and Canadian churches may be vastly different, the lessons are applicable, said Ms. Copland – although she said there is no “cookie cutter solution” that will fit all churches.

The Australian church, which also sent a representative, may be more culturally similar to Canada and its representative reported it had also had to respond to cultural changes, for instance, by adjusting service times. Sunday services in one area now include a 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eucharist, with a meal in between; the late afternoon service attracts young families and young adults tend to come to the early evening worship. The meal in between is an attraction for all.

“The church had to be responsive to people, to culture, to the changing needs of society,” said the Canadian priest.

At the conference, Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, of the diocese of Rochester, spoke of the importance of the church being visible and accessible – in language, in worship, even in appearance.

“He spoke about changing the buildings, those big stone buildings with heavy wooden doors,” said Ms. Copland. “He has encouraged his parishes to install glass doors, simply so people can see in.”

Bishop Nazir-Ali, who is considered a leading candidate for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, told the gathering about “industrial chaplains”, lay people supported and trained by local congregations, who might work in industrial areas, office buildings or even large department stores or malls. They might “wander around the buildings, in the cafeterias,” with the goal of helping workers make the connection between spirituality and the work they do.

The 40 participants at the gathering were interested in the Canadian church’s challenges of dealing with the fallout of residential schools.

The Canadian situation is well-known in the Anglican Communion, Ms. Copland said, and some representatives were “puzzled how the sins of the fathers could be visited upon the child.”

The Africans, however, had a better understanding of how the colonizing churches were sometimes insensitive about culture and land issues. The point was driven home, said Ms. Copland, by the explanation that the conference setting – a retreat centre called Resurrection Gardens – had once been appropriated as “white land” since the Nairobi region’s high altitude makes for a more moderate climate in the east African country.

The Mission and Evangelism Provincial Co-ordinators Consultation was intended to bring together the evangelism co-ordinators from each province of the Anglican Communion. About 30 provinces were represented at the consultation, as were representatives from Anglican mission agencies and the Mothers’ Union.

Ms. Copland was chosen to represent the Canadian church, which does not have a national evangelism co-ordinator, because she had once worked in Africa and now serves an inner-city parish, which is challenged with increasing its membership. Her parish also belongs to the diocese of Niagara, which has put a priority on the issue and is currently seeking a director dedicated to evangelism.

Thirty Anglican provinces gather to discuss evangelism
Consultation to build on work from evangelism decade

— website news story

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .