Andrea Bain is a Florida native and grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, so by her own admission, she is no stranger to evangelism. Yet, in her work with the Living Local, Joining God team at St. Paul’s, Lynchburg, she’s finding a new kind of evangelism that is leading her congregation to some deep and unusual places.
When the group formed in early 2017, they began by reading Scripture together in a practice many in the diocese have come to know as Dwelling in the Word. As a group, they would take turns reading the Scripture passage aloud several times, with the instruction to listen for a word or phrase that stood out to them. Bain admits that as a Southern Baptist who’d studied the Bible and heard the passages so many times growing up, she expected to find “nothing new,” but to her surprise, “I heard things I’d never heard before.” She said she also enjoyed watching other team members get so excited about Scripture.
The focus of this first phase was learning how to listen.
“It’s about developing a lifestyle,” Bain says, “The listening part is hard to grasp because we are ‘doers’. We had to learn how to listen to Scripture and each other without giving our opinions or trying to fix anything.”
Listening to Learn
Phase two of St. Paul’s LLJG journey was to take what the team had learned in listening to Scripture and each other into the wider community. They began interviewing members of their congregation and going out in small groups to learn more about their surrounding community.
Bain found the congregational interviews exciting. “It gave us insight into the church, and what makes people feel spiritually alive.”
The journey into the neighborhood also led to some surprising insights. One of the first areas the team explored was in downtown Lynchburg along the Riverwalk and near the Lynchburg Market. Some team members who had lived in Lynchburg for years were curious about the people they encountered.
“There were so many we didn’t know! Who are these people? Where do they live?” the team wondered.
The other benefit of these excursions was that the team discovered they had formed deep bonds with one another. “We all understood what we were doing and where this was headed,” says Bain.
Learning to Experiment
The exploration of the Lynchburg Market area led the group to their first small experiment. One of the unique services at St. Paul’s is their Celtic evensong, so the group decided to take a few of their Celtic musicians down to play at the market on a Saturday morning. They set up a table with information about their contemplative evensong service and struck up conversations with market shoppers. Going forward, the team will reflect and analyze whether this experiment worked and how it might be tweaked or expanded on.
This third phase will also include educating the congregation on this continual process of listening, discerning and taking action. Some congregants have been wary of the process, as they feel uncomfortable with the traditional idea of “evangelism.” Bain points out that this is a different way of spreading the Gospel.
“This is not a Bible-thumping Christian hard sell. Instead, it really follows the Episcopal tradition that’s more gentle and hospitable. It’s about learning how to listen and speak to people in a way that draws people to God.”
Bain also points out the goal isn’t to attract people to the Church itself, but instead to embrace a way of life that points to God.
“And what better way to point people towards God than to listen, discern, and take action?”
This article was researched and written by Emily Sproul.