“I said that in Anglo-Catholic expression of worship there’d be a dedication to Our Lady. But everything really is centred around the Mass and about the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass. So the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus. Mary is a high number two. But that’d be the number one.” She sits back in her seat and resumes eating, satisfied that she’s got her point across that the Mass is absolutely the key.
“I get it that the Eucharist is very important in Anglo-Catholicism, just as it is to me personally,” I say, “but it’s what happens in church and it’s important to your existing congregation. How do you explain this to and share this with people who don’t yet know Jesus? What has this to do with evangelism?” It feels like we’re about to hit on something very important.
“I guess it’s by invitation. Relationship building. So I do a lot in the school and loads of the community are involved in the kitchen. Because the Mass is so central to what we do, the stuff in the school is centred on Mass, and in the kitchen everyone’s invited to stay and we do Mass at the end. I guess it’s learning by osmosis or immersion. People see and do. We wouldn’t have an all-age family worship service that was non-Eucharistic. That wouldn’t make sense to me. There has to be Mass.”
This is really challenging what I’d believed about faith sharing. The way I’d always done it up until now- and I say this as a self-identifying evangelist who believes she’s actually been called by God to tell people about Jesus- is potentially deeply lacking. Or at the very least, completely different from how others, such as Anglo-Catholics, do it.
I’ve always just been about words. Important, life-changing words yes. But in the four years I’ve been telling people about Jesus and why I’m a Christian, I don’t think I’ve invited any of them to specifically take part in the Mass. I think I’ve always seen that as something I do, personally, as a committed Christian when I worship God in church, and perhaps one day, they might find themselves doing it too. But I’ve never directly suggested to someone that the way to God is through encountering Jesus through transformed bread and wine.
All this has really opened my eyes. Not just to the beauty and significance of the different rituals that go on in these quiet, peaceful and often highly adorned church buildings (and indeed the highly adorned priests that serve in them). But also what lies at the humble heart of these churches. The desire to emulate and share God’s deep, deep love for his people.
What I’ve learned from Father Kyle is that evangelism is a slow burn thing achieved through long-term presence in a community, usually a pretty poor community. It’s about relationship building with the express aim of bringing them into church to share in Jesus’ body and blood. Church, community and Mass are all key.
What I’m learning from Mother Gemma is the same, just worded differently. Sharing one’s faith in this tradition is about showing, doing, inviting. It’s practical. It’s meeting a need. In her case, in her church, that’s the practical needs of the poor. Or in other words:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35)
She feeds them. That’s how she tells people about Jesus, and part of that is the blatant and unashamed invitation to take part in the Mass. That’s Anglo-Catholic evangelism. That’s sharing one’s faith.
And it’s not what I expected at all. Probably because it’s not how I do it. I’m really feeling challenged that despite how much the Eucharist is a core part of my faith, I don’t habitually mention it to non-Christians. Yet I do believe it’s how we have the deepest relationship with and connection to Jesus. Maybe I ought to mention this sacrament to people more often when I’m telling them about Jesus! This is my biggest revelation.
Yet despite the fuzzy feeling that I’m getting somewhere, I’m still left pondering how I might serve the people in these pews. I think I get how the priests do it, but I still don’t really know to what extent ordinary Anglo-Catholic lay people share their faith, or if they even see that as something they’re called to do. So I don’t yet know how I’d go about supporting them in doing what we’re all called to do. The Apostle Peter wrote,
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)
This need for actual words is reiterated by the Apostle Paul:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)
Whatever flavour of God’s church we’re from, I still maintain that we need to each find a way of being able to speak about Jesus, about church, about what it means to be loved unconditionally by God, to be forgiven for all we’ve done wrong, and the hope that we have in eternal life, even if, or rather especially if this is to lead them to the sacraments. We all need equipping to do this because there are just so many people who will go to bed tonight not knowing.
My investigations must continue as, although I understand a great deal more, I don’t yet understand the perspective of the Anglo-Catholic lay people, so how can I support them? I don’t think I’ll find the answer by talking to any more priests, so my next venture surely has to be among the worshipping community. Onward I go.