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REvangelism conference attendees experience fellowship and prayer

Speakers point out pitfalls to avoid and offer habits to embrace

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts

LOUISVILLE — Saying that “evangelism is the business of every disciple of Jesus Christ,” Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri  and the Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts  kicked off their discussion at the REvangelism conference Tuesday afternoon, which is exploring the 8 Habits of Evangelism.

According to Cintrón-Olivieri, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the habit of fellowship, which she and her husband wrote about, is all about authentic relationship.

“Evangelism is the business of every disciple of Jesus Christ,” she said.

Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri

“These relationships should reflect what we have witnessed of God’s grace, love, and justice,” she said. “These are the values of our communion together within the context of our community of faith.”

After reading from Acts 2:42-47 on how the early followers of Jesus devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, Capella-Pratts, pastor of First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami, shared with the some 150 participants registered for this conference five pitfalls to avoid.

“These are things that don’t foster fellowship,” he said, before naming them off:

  • Fireworks welcome
  • Pew entitlement
  • Coffee hour murmuration
  • James’s church
  • All are welcome…not

For Capella-Pratts, the problem with the “fireworks welcome” is that after the explosion, there’s only smoke and then it’s dark again.  The short-lived welcome is followed by conversations that continue with the same old friends — leaving those coming for the first time feeling ignored.

‘Evangelism is the business of every disciple of Jesus Christ’

“Pew entitlement” is self-explanatory, but even today Capella-Pratts sees longtime members in communities of faith, gently and not so gently invite newcomers to sit elsewhere, but not in their pew.

He remembers in his community of faith a man coming up to him after participating in his third Sunday of worship. The man said he’d heard people talking about church problems.

“He told me, ‘I have enough problems in my life,’ and he never attended again,” Capella-Pratts said. “Be aware that people are listening to your conversations [“coffee hour murmuration”] in the narthex, hallway or parking lot.”

For Capella-Pratts, the “James’s church”  image portrays a sad picture of a faith community. In James 2 wealthy, powerful people receive preferential treatment at the expense of others.

In our time, he says, people who are experiencing homelessness or those who are considered poor are treated as recipients of charity, not as fellow siblings in Christ, sharing the same table.

“Sadly the ‘All are welcome…not’ pitfall also happens too often,” he said. “Churches say they want young families, until the children laugh or cry or run in the sanctuary disrupting worship. Or they have signs that say, ‘All are welcome’ but then they ignore the same-sex couple that attends worship.”

Cintrón-Olivieri and Capella-Pratts encouraged participants to avoid these pitfalls that they might resonate within their local context and consider how their faith communities are making space to listen to the plight of people and to the Holy Spirit.

“What does the fullest incarnation of Jesus look like to you?” they asked.

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bagley

In Tuesday’s final session, the Rev. Dr. Tom Bagley said in writing about the habit of payer he observed three things about the early church’s prayer life.

“The early church prayed with a sense of intimacy, following the example of Jesus who called God, ‘Abba.’ They also prayed with expectancy and perseverance,” he said.

Bagley, a church revitalization coach and the pastor of a small Presbyterian congregation in Normandy, Tennessee, believes that we often pray and then don’t think another thing about it. But the early Christians prayed expecting God to be active. In Acts 12:5 the early church prayed all night for Peter who was in prison. Later in Acts 12, he is rescued from jail by an angel of God.

“They earnestly prayed for him, and persevered — like a running back hitting the line, lowering the shoulder and pressing again,” he said.

“When was the last time your church prayed the whole night for anything?” Bagley asked.

Bagley also shared three practices of prayers that he is incorporating into his life. Quoting John Calvin, who said that “prayer is the chief exercise of our faith,” Bagley said he is making time for daily prayer. Bagley is also practicing corporate prayer and prayer walking in the neighborhood around Normandy Presbyterian Church.

“Ask to see how God is at work,” he said, “in the people you come in contact with.”

‘When was the last time your church prayed the whole night for anything?’

Inviting people to close the day in their online discussion groups, Bagley asked participants to consider what one habit their faith community could do to create curiosity in their context. And regarding prayer, what one action could they take to create community?

The groups ended their online session by praying together.

The REvangelism conference continues Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern Time with the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger’s presentation on teaching. Closing worship is slated for 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

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