Day Two of the 2019 regular fall meeting of the House of Bishops. The Eucharist was celebrated, keeping the lesser feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey, with the Bishop of Puerto Rico presiding and the Bishop of West Tennessee preaching.
Both morning and afternoon sessions featured Adam Hamilton, founding and senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist congregation in the world (average Sunday attendance over 12,000), located in Kansas City. He is the author of several books and a highly sought-after speaker on the areas of leadership development and evangelism. Without any doubt, this was the best and most worthwhile outside presentation in all my eight-and-a-half years in House of Bishops. He is a remarkably gifted leader, pastor, evangelist, and teacher. By his own admission, he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but articulated it in freshly compelling ways that were inspiring. The planning team got it right this time. Even though I am saddened that Pastor Hamilton comes down on what I believe is the wrong side of some controverted issues, particularly on marriage, his humble faith and dedicated discipleship of the Lord Jesus are authentic.
In his ecclesial context, Pastor Hamilton’s approach to evangelism has a certain coherence. He carefully orchestrates the Sunday morning experience to be accessible to people with little or no faith or faith formation. They are his target, because, he would say, they were Jesus’ target. I’m not going to argue with his targeting decision; in fact, I wholeheartedly support it. But I would lament Episcopalian leaders emulating his example with respect to the Sunday liturgy. The Eucharist, which is normative in TEC while not in the UMC, is not for “seekers,” not for “lookers.” It is for the initiated, for dedicated disciples. We ought not to be using the Sunday Eucharist as our “show window,” as the primary point of connection with the unchurched. This is an abuse of both the Eucharist and the unchurched. (I wrote about this some time ago.)
Rather, we need to be about finding ways of connecting people with the gospel in their world, not in ours. (Indeed, Pastor Hamilton gives an excellent example of conducting an Alpha series in back room of a cigar shop.) Or … if we can’t break away from the “invite your friends to church” model, let’s at least structure worship services that are low-demand, accessible, with room for a 30-minute teaching sermon, but are non-eucharistic. (In the Anglican tradition, of course, we have something ready-made for this end. It’s called Morning Prayer.) This means that a parish would want to have a celebration of the Eucharist, with low-key publicity, in addition to a seeker-0riented observance of Morning Prayer, or a more loosely-structured worship event, which would impossibly strain the resources of most of our parishes. But in a post-Christian society, the Eucharist cannot be asked to bear the freight of evangelism. That’s not what it’s for, not what it is.