Evangelism the old-fashioned way

As long as we’re talking about Western saints, here’s this item from Aaron D. Wolf (what a great name) by way of Ben at the Wittenberg Trail (to whom I’d love to link, but I can’t, because the Wittenberg Trail is evidently a private forum) by way of Alden Swan:

Here’s what I can’t figure out: How in the world did Saint Patrick evangelize all of those Druid priests and clan chieftains without a mission statement? After all, history and tradition tell us that he walked around preaching and performed an occasional miracle. But how did he know what his mission was? Aaron D. Wolf, The Mission of Souls: When Experts Attack

[…] Mr. Wolf raises some interesting questions and challenges to modern Evangelical concepts of evangelization and mission, contrasting the wisdom of being “pupose driven” to the pre-marketing (pre-modern) habit of simply proclaiming the Gospel.

Wow. What a concept.

This gets me thinking about something which has occurred to me before — I have to believe that liturgy is one of our better and more underappreciated evangelism tools. I guarantee you that St. Patrick wasn’t just walking around preaching and “performing occasional miracles” — he would also have been celebrating the Mass, with the Eucharist as his “mission statement.”

small country churchThe model of evangelism that would be wonderful, if cost-prohibitive, would be to go places where there aren’t churches and start by building simple, but identifiable, churches (such as Trinity Church in Antarctica of all places, pictured at right) where they would be visible and accessible, start publicly holding services so that people can tell that’s what you’re doing, and equip them so that they can host a soup kitchen or something similar. The problem with so many missions is that they can ill-afford being in a place where they would actually be visible and it would be clear what they are doing, so they wind up evangelizing only the people who are already there. Right now, at least in the Antiochian Archdiocese, you have to have some number of pledging families (25?) before you can have a priest assigned to you; that’s good business and fiscally responsible, no question about it, but who’s doing the evangelism in that case but people who aren’t necessarily equipped to do it? I’m not saying that any Orthodox jurisdiction in this country has the money to spend, say, a half million to a million dollars planting missions so that they have buildings, priests, and services for the poor at the outset, but I sometimes wonder if that wouldn’t be a better witness all around.

I’m still waiting. Actually, I’m waiting on a couple of things — one fairly big thing, and one thing that is big-ish, but not on the same level as the other thing. (Confused yet?) In the meantime, however, I can reveal that I’m presenting a paper at Indiana University’s Medieval Graduate Symposium on 29 March. I can also give a heads-up that my church choir will be publicly presenting music from Holy Week as part of  IU’s Middle Eastern Arts Festival on 29 March. (Yes, the same 29 March. It’s gonna be a busy day.) Details for the whole ongoing program are here, but here’s the blurb for this particular event (I’m not going to use the word “concert,” for several reasons):

Concert: Choral Music of the Middle East
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: chants from Holy Week in the Lebanese and Syrian tradition

March 29, 2008, 8 pm
St. Paul’s Catholic Center

The All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Christian Choir under the direction of Richard Barrett will present an evening concert of liturgical music from the Middle East. The program will highlight music from the Syrian and Lebanese traditions. Meditative and celebratory selections drawn from Holy Week and Easter services exemplify how this music became an integral and functionally practical part of Orthodox ritual. While the traditional liturgical languages for the Orthodox in the Middle East are Greek and Arabic, selections will also be performed English.

I didn’t write that, by the way. I will be writing a set of program notes, however, which I will post here. I can say that this is exactly the kind of thing I hoped we’d eventually be able to do, and I’m really encouraged by how the rehearsals have gone — it’s stretching them beyond what their comfort level has been, but in a very doable fashion, and it will be a good thing for us to participate in this kind of outreach. Hopefully I can post a snippet or two from the evening itself afterwards.


12 Responses to “Evangelism the old-fashioned way”

  1. 1 dangreeson 15 February 2008 at 9:27 am

    Evangelism is through by prayer and holiness. How can we speak of God to others if we don’t know Him ourselves?

    I would love to hear this paper you are giving? I probably a lot of the others.

    i think the choir will do fine. especially that ison 🙂

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 15 February 2008 at 9:57 am

    I think that, more broadly, what we can say is that evangelism is through being bold in one’s faith (which is assumed to be a struggle for holiness aided by prayer). “Being bold in one’s faith” != “Being safe and comfortable with what you’re given”. I sometimes think, when looking at what the financial costs associated with existing as an organization, we forget the parable of the talents. The question is, I guess, what does it mean to be bold in one’s faith, and to what extent do we also have to take into account that sometimes there’s only so much you can do?

    Again, not that I think the jurisdictions have money to burn (except maybe the Greeks) for this stuff; just that I think sometimes we get some things backwards out of fear.


  3. 3 Fr Gregory Jensen 17 March 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you for the post on evangelism.

    Not to blow my own horn, but I largely followed the model of evangelism you outlined when I was the priest in Redding, CA. Yes, it is expensive, upfront at least, but it also works. While early on I was interested in making convert, I very quickly (okay, not sooo quickly) came to realize that my “job” was to say my prayers and be of service to others. Once I made this shift–okay, repented–the parish grew and grew quickly (which became its own kind of problem since I was in the GOA).

    BUT, St Patrick’s approach, which is St Herman of Alaska’s approach, works and works well.

    Again, thanks for the post.

    In Christ,


  4. 4 Richard Barrett 17 March 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Bless, Father.

    Thank you for your comment. I’ve never seen the approach tried with my own eyes; I hope someday I get the chance to see it and participate in it. I’m glad to hear from a priest who’s given it a shot that it can work.

    A convert priest under GOA so close to Platina? That must have been a very, uh, interesting situation indeed.

    In Christ,


  5. 5 Fr Gregory Jensen 19 March 2008 at 9:56 am


    Yes, to say the least, my time in Redding as a convert priest under the GOA so close to Platina was interesting.

    In Christ,


  6. 6 Richard Barrett 19 March 2008 at 11:28 am

    I can only imagine!

    Thank you again for taking the time to comment, Fr. Gregory.

    In Christ,


  7. 7 Fr. Bailey, C.Ss.R. 21 March 2008 at 10:52 am

    I don’t know if you would be interested in knowing that an Anglican Use Roman Catholic parish did exactly that. Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas started with eighteen people and has grown into a large vibrant parish. The first thing they did was build a church and celebrate the liturgy. They now have a school and multiple ministries, but at the center of it all, as it has been from the beginning, is the Holy Mass.

  8. 8 Richard Barrett 21 March 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Fr. Bailey, I didn’t know that, but I am certainly familiar with Atonement. Nice to hear that that’s the path they took — it certainly seems to have worked in their case! Ideally, that’d be a model for more to follow.

  9. 9 Fr. Bailey, C.Ss.R. 22 March 2008 at 8:31 pm

    To me it makes perfect sense. Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness then the rest would be given. The Holy Mass is the Kingdom of God made present in the here and now. It couldn’t be any simpler, but until I read your post I hadn’t put it together in this way. I’m grateful.

    A Blessed and Holy Lent

  10. 10 Richard Barrett 22 March 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I agree — the way you put it together makes it pretty obvious. Would that we could make it so plain to everybody!

    Thank you for dropping by–hope to see you again. A blessed Gregorian-reckoned Easter to you!


  11. 11 susan eapen 17 January 2009 at 10:02 pm

    This has been puzzling me-What is Evangelism? Is it telling others Christ is risen? Our Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church of Kerala considers Liturgy (Qurbana) the chief aim of the Church. I believe that this makes us grow in Christ until He is seen in us by others.
    There is little conventional evangelism, but we run hospices, educational institutions, hospitals, homes for people with AIDS, orphanages, mentally challenged, blind, physically challenged etc.

    There are 3 Christians in the Department I work in. Stella & Stevie are Catholics and I am Orthodox. One is a Muslim and the remaining 15-16 are Hindus. Once our boss said that there is a difference in Stevie, Stella and myself-in our attitudes which makes us trustworthy and dependable, dedicated to the job at hand, non competitive etc. I believe that it is our life in Christ.

    Recently one of my Hindu friends attended the marriage (1 hour service, recalling all the members of the Holy Church from Adam & Eve, Abraham & Sara, Jacob & Rachel, Issac and Rebecca, Joseph in Egypt etc, even Tamar ‘s ring etc. It is a beautiful ceremony. My Hindu friend was burning with questions. She was immensely attracted by all this and the homily by the bishop on true marriage and its nature (Christ & the Church). I believe that this is powerful Evangelism.

    But should we go round distributing tracts? These do help. But in a country where the Hindu Religion ( also contains great truths) is the predominant one, wouldn’t such actions be disrespectful? Shouldn’t we wait for them to come?


  1. 1 Thoughts on new Orthodox missions « Leitourgeia kai Qurbana: Contra den Zeitgeist Trackback on 19 September 2012 at 1:11 pm

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