Episcopal Evangelism Emerges at YaleFeatured, Social Justice — By Becky Garrison on December 7, 2011 at 6:45 am
While programs designed to train missional pioneers remain very much works-in-progress in most dioceses and seminaries, students infused with an Episcopal-entrepreneurial spirit are presently taking the initiative to enhance the missional aspects of their seminary education by forming the Episcopal Evangelism Network (EEN). Founded by Otis Gaddis III, a thirty-year-old postulant in the Diocese of Washington, the EEN is an inter-seminary student organization that connects the seminarians who are interested in starting new contextual missional communities either from scratch or as a renewal of an existing Episcopal community such as in contexts where a parish or a chaplaincy has significantly declined. Their dream: to be able to start new contextual mission shaped ministries upon graduation.
At General Convention 2009, Otis watched as the Episcopal Church demonstrated its commitment to its progressive social justice theology and its attention to issues relevant to contemporary life. In the face of declining income the Convention reaffirmed the church’s passion to end global poverty by reappropriating 1 percent of the Episcopal Church’s budget to the Millennium Development Goals. It endorsed liturgical resources to help people reckon with the loss of a child or the end of a marriage, as well as strengthening its affirmation of LGBT members of the Church. Coupled with the church’s long standing support for the equality of women, these actions created a social justice portfolio that Otis perceived to be very appealing to unchurched young adults and opening the door for the clear proclamation of a different kind of Christianity, the kind of progressive spiritual path for which he feels a massive swath of young adults are looking. “As a church, we are real about social justice—socio-economic issues, gender, sexuality, and stuff that affects people’s lives—we are on point. Now on race we are still working, but we are working at it,” says Otis. “We are a faith where young adults do not have to keep choosing between being a good Christian and begin a good person. So our social justice theology is a real plus for accomplishing the mission to make disciples for Jesus.”
At the time, Otis perceived that affirming the full humanity of gay people would help broaden the missional opportunities for the Episcopal Church, especially when combined with the rest of what the church proclaims. He references a 2007 Barna Group survey indicating that 91 percent of unchurched young adults (ages 16–29 at the time of the survey) think that Christianity is anti-gay (see www.unchristian.com). This understanding of Christianity was the most common perception by unchurched young adults of what Christianity taught, even more than basic Christian tenets like the divinity of Jesus. When combined with a host of young adult surveys that reveal that young adults are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, this anti-gay perception of Christianity is missionally devastating. “Basically,” he explains, “our work on sexuality helps people who have written off Christianity to take a second look. Now, when they do that we
have to be ready to give them what they are really looking or—which is a living relationship with God.”
Otis realized that as a progressive expression of Christianity, the Episcopal Church defies the Barna Group’s statistics of what makes unchurched young adults hostile to Christianity; yet, most Americans, especially young adults, do not even know that the Episcopal Church exists let alone know what it teaches. “So I started EEN to help get our Church’s story out,” Otis says, “so we could reach the people almost no one else will be able to reach. Because, if we’re going to take the step to affirm women and LGBT people, and are willing to fight for the global poor even when our own income is declining, and have conservatives not be happy with us, then we should make the social justice theology of our church work for us in our missional approach to the unchurched, who are actually attracted to that theology.”
From Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-shaped Ministries (http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Future-Disciples-Mission-Shaped-Ministries/dp/1596272317), by Becky Garrison (160 pages, $18.00, ISBN: 978-1-59627-231-6), and used here with permission of Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing Inc., New York. For more information, visit