The power of personal witness

Progressively bigger stacks of coins grow plant shoots.

One of the things that Anglicans typically are not inclined to do is speak about their faith. The Natural Church Development program indicates that “passionate spirituality” does not rank high as a core strength for most mainline Anglican churches. We can be very hospitable, generous with our time and money, and inclined toward community outreach – but if you ask us to speak about why our church is important or why and where we worship, many shudder at the thought.

Yet it is the stories and testimonials shared among members of a congregation by individuals whose lives have been changed by their journey in faith that is often most powerful in moving us to action.

In my March article on the importance of saying thanks, I suggested that parishes begin to invite members of the congregation to come forward to share their personal faith stories as a way of honoring them and promoting the congregation’s good works. I want to give credit where credit is due. While the notion of giving a personal witness has been around for centuries, this format was introduced in our diocese by Andrew Duncanson at Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto.

The concept grew out of Growing Healthy Stewards, a year-round education program. Grace Church was one of the pilot parishes in 2013 and Andrew was chair of its parish stewardship committee. He introduced Faces of Grace to get people out of their comfort zone and into the habit of talking about their faith journey and why their parish was important to them. His effort has borne fruit: some five years later, more than 50 individuals, couples and families have come forward with their testimonies. You can even read a select number of them at www.gracechurchonthehill.ca.

Personal witnessing sends a strong message to church members about the giving of one’s self for what God has given to them. Christians throughout history have been raised to a new level of awareness by hearing how a deeper sense of spirituality has taken over the lives of people just like them.

The Faces of Grace model is now a mainstay of the Growing Healthy Stewards program. Two recent examples from parishes in our diocese demonstrate just how effective personal witnessing can be. At a recent meeting of Scarborough clergy, the Rev. Andrea Christiansen, incumbent of St. Timothy, Agincourt, explained that her parish used Faces of Grace during the four Sundays of Advent, and members of the congregation found the stories very powerful. At the same meeting, the Rev. Stephen Kirkegaard, incumbent at Holy Trinity, Guildwood, told the story of an agnostic man who comes to his church and really appreciates the personal stories. Stephen said that for this man, it is the most important part of the service.

Lay witnesses should be individuals who can relate well to other parishioners, feel comfortable speaking to a group about their personal experiences, and are enthusiastic about their mission.

The Bible is full of examples of people just like you and me whose personal witness impacts the actions of others. It can be used to promote a stewardship program; but perhaps most importantly, it gives people the opportunity to share why their faith is so important to them. Even though Anglicans are often reluctant to discuss their belief in public, Faces of Grace can be a simple and non-threatening way of exposing members of your congregation to the transformation that faith brings to people’s lives.

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