Thirty Anglican provinces gather to discuss evangelism

An inner-city priest from southern Ontario will travel to Africa in May to report to the rest of the Anglican Communion on the progress the Canadian church has made in evangelism and perhaps return to Canada with some ideas that have worked elsewhere. The consultation is meant to capitalize on the momentum gathered by the ’90s Decade of Evangelism.

Rev. Sandy Copland, rector of St. Peter’s, Hamilton, Ont., leaves Canada for Nairobi, Kenya, in early May for the week-long international consultation.

Although the Anglican Communion’s Decade of Evangelism ended in 2000, the church’s commitment to evangelism as a top priority is not diminished, said Ellie Johnson, director of the Partnerships department of the Anglican Church of Canada. The decade (1991-2000) was dedicated to evangelism in 1988 by the primates (or head bishops of each province) of the communion.

“Because the decade was successful in many parts of the communion, people got excited,” said Ms. Johnson, adding that the Canadian experience was not as successful as that of other provinces. Canadian Anglicans, she said, are “still trying to figure out how to make the gospel relevant in an increasingly secularized society. I don’t think we’ve figured it out yet.”

The Mission and Evangelism Provincial Co-ordinators Consultation is intended to bring together the evangelism co-ordinators from each province of the Anglican Communion. Thirty provinces will be represented at the consultation plus two representatives from Anglican mission agencies and three from the Mothers’ Union.

Since the Canadian church does not have a national evangelism co-ordinator, and since many Canadian Anglicans who are involved with evangelism through the Primate’s Evangelism Commission were already committed to the Good News Can’t Wait! conference in late May, the search was on for a Canadian representative.

The diocese of Niagara was a natural place to turn, said Ms. Johnson, because of its focus on evangelism: it is currently advertising an opening for an evangelism officer and recently completed an $8.5 million Survive and Thrive campaign aimed at changing and improving future ministry in Niagara parishes.

The diocese of Niagara recommended Ms. Copland.

“I was delighted and surprised and a bit taken aback,” when asked to represent the Canadian church at the consultation, said Ms. Copland, who worked in Africa in the early 1990s with the Feed the Children organization.

In preparation for her trip, Ms. Copland has spoken with some Canadian leaders in evangelism, including Ms. Johnson and John Bowen, director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, Toronto. Ms. Copland serves on the Institute’s board.

From those discussions, Ms. Copland says she has learned to be “careful how we use the word ‘evangelism’ – it should not be considered evangelism when a suburban church grows as the result of urban flight. Those numbers boosting the church in the suburb are the same numbers which likely left a once-thriving downtown church.”

Ms. Copland is familiar with that phenomenon. Her inner-city parish was booming 50 years ago but is struggling with low membership now.
“The question is, what do you do to make it grow? Maybe we can learn from others,” she said.

“Overall, the Anglican Church of Canada is not growing in numbers. Evangelism is, or should be, a way of communicating with people who didn’t go to church at all.”

Ms. Johnson said the Canadian church is still struggling with the mistakes it made in mission work and evangelism of aboriginal people in the 1800s and early 1900s, particularly its participation in the residential school system.

The consultation will be held from May 6-13 at St. Mary Magdalene Retreat House, just outside Nairobi.


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