When most people—Episcopalians included—think of the Episcopal Church, evangelism does not rush to mind. But evangelism was on the minds of over 400 Episcopalians (including 31 bishops) representing 37 states who came last month to the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina, for the launching of the church’s Decade of Evangelism emphasis.

At its general (triennial) convention in 1988, the church’s presiding bishop, Edmund Browning, called for a new focus on bringing people to Christ. In his opening address last month, Browning recounted his own conversion experience at a tent-meeting revival as a youngster. Speaking affectionately of that experience, he told of how he “went down front and accepted Jesus.” Some said they wished Browning would have been more explicit about his view of the meaning of New Birth. But many were heartened by his willingness to be personal and also by his warning against seeking to fill the church with numbers instead of with real converts to Christ.

The conference was organized around plenary speakers, respondents, and small-group discussions. The plenary speakers were United Methodist minister William Willimon of Duke Divinity School; Fleming Rutledge of Grace Episcopal Church in New York City; and Bishop Fred Borsch of Los Angeles.

Wheaton College theology professor Robert Webber, one of the respondents, expressed the view that the church cannot evangelize until it is renewed. In his address, Webber emphasized the need to be clear about the gospel and to “declericalize” the church, to release “every person to ministry.”

The church plans additional national conferences on evangelism, as well as diocesan conferences and the development of local church strategies.

Webber said that if the enthusiasm conveyed by those who met last month is any indication, the church might soon expect the fulfillment of the prayer for evangelism published by the church’s New York office of evangelism ministries. It reads, in part, “Almighty God … awaken in us such a love for you and for your world that in the coming decade of evangelism we may so boldly proclaim Jesus Christ by Word and deed that all the people may come to know him as savior and follow him as Lord.”

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