Canon Michael Patterson is tackling a job in the diocese of Niagara that many Anglicans find scary: evangelism.
As the first director of evangelism in a Canadian diocese, Canon Patterson acknowledged that aggressive proselytizing ? in the Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witness mode ? is not something many Anglicans embrace. “We Anglicans don’t ‘do’ evangelism ? that’s for the Bible thumpers and the Protestants,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Patterson hosted on Dec. 6 an information session called “Day on Evangelism for Frightened Anglicans,” featuring John Bowen, author of the book Evangelism for Normal People and director of the Institute of Evangelism at Toronto’s Wycliffe College.
“People think they can’t do evangelism, they can’t talk about the Bible or about Jesus. But evangelism literally means ‘good news,'” Canon Patterson, who is 48, said in an interview.
Bishop Ralph Spence, who developed the idea for the new position, located at the diocesan office, sees it as an essential mission. “For me, evangelism means bringing people into the church in order that they may hear Christ’s message to the church. It’s a ministry to help people learn what a life lived with Christ can be,” the bishop said when announcing Canon Patterson’s appointment last May.
While Bishop Spence acknowledged that one goal would be to stem a general decline in church attendance, Canon Patterson said that “putting butts in the pew” or boosting church finances should not be the starting point as Niagara Anglicans look at evangelism. “It’s about creating energy to allow growth in the spirit, rather than trying to ‘make’ things happen. It’s a new way of thinking, creating the fertile soil to allow God and the Holy Spirit to do the rest,” he said.
The world has changed, he noted, and churches cannot just open the doors, expecting people to show up. In fact, he said. they’re in Tim Hortons on a Sunday morning. “Metaphorically, we’ve got to go to Tim Hortons,” he said.
One could say that Canon Patterson, before his ordination in 1988, was an evangelist for a less spiritual entity ? he worked in public relations and advertising for the Keg restaurant chain. However, he has a family history in the Anglican church. His father was dean of the cathedral in Saskatoon. Canon Patterson has three children and was most recently rector of St. Simon’s, Oakville, Ont.
His first major task since beginning the job on Aug. 1 was to introduce a program called Natural Church Development to several parishes in the diocese. At a recent session at Grace Church in Milton, Ont., Canon Patterson explained that the program was developed in Germany and grew out of a survey of 1,000 churches worldwide. It starts with a survey of about 30 people in the parish, covering 60-70 questions about every aspect of life in church. The answers are tabulated and give a picture of where a particular church’s strengths and weaknesses lie, he said. “We need to understand ourselves first. What are our opportunities? What are we good at? Every parish thinks it’s the most warm and welcoming place, but that may not fit reality,” Canon Patterson said.
After the survey is completed, the parish analyzes the results, develops an action plan, implements it and evaluates it, he said, noting that 88 per cent of the parishes that have done Natural Church Development have seen growth. He would like to see at least three-quarters of Niagara parishes take the program, he said.
In a presentation to Niagara’s diocesan synod last November, Mr. Patterson said he doesn’t see himself as “the” evangelist, but rather as a trainer, mentor and resource person for Anglicans in Niagara who are proud to share their faith.