8th August 2023

Evensong 23.7.2023

Sunday 23 July, 2023

As someone who lived through (or survived) the Decade of Evangelism, led a Deanery as Rural Dean, been part of the Bishop’s Leadership Team in Carlisle and been a Proctor in Convocation on the General Synod of the Church of England, I have seen a good few visions and vision strategies come and eventually go. Over time the straplines have grown snappier, but the intentions remain the same – something that will impact upon our evangelism, to gain new converts and arrest, even reverse, decline. Such evangelistic strategies are still popping up around the country, accompanied by their slogan – my quick trawl via Google threw up the following: –

• ‘Discovering God’s Kingdom – Growing the Church’ – Truro
• ‘God for All’ – Carlisle
• ‘Proclaiming Christ + Growing Disciples’ – Hereford
• ‘LiFe – Leadership/Imagination/faith/Engagement’ – Gloucester
• ‘Healthy Churches Transforming Communities’ – Blackburn
• ‘Growing in faith and discipleship’ – Newcastle.

Some will be more to your liking than others – some sound better than they are, giving a sense of momentum, a false dawn of renewed hope perhaps? The Diocese of Salisbury has a new one which I am sure you are familiar with, but more of that later. Let us now turn our attention to the second lesson this evening, from the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and verse 12. ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ Confident words of Peter emboldened by the Holy Spirit and his experience of meeting the risen Christ. He was talking to those who were familiar with the terms he was using, religious discourse and debate something that occupied Pharisee and Sadducee, Levite, and Rabbi and those who regularly attended the temple and village synagogue Sabbath by Sabbath. I hazard a guess that if we were in Peter’s situation, we would be far less confident in our pronouncements. We may be secure in our faith, but far less certain about how to communicate it to others, what words, and terms to use. I wonder what people would make of this statement by Peter? It reminds me of a footballing joke I heard years ago: ‘Jesus saves, but Dalglish scores on the rebound.’ The early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles reveal a confident church, with bold proclamation, using concepts and terms that those who listened would be familiar with and understood. If we use these terms for ourselves, to speak about Jesus, how would people respond? Because there is a general ‘religious’ illiteracy, people are likely to be bemused, by what we say – we might as well be talking a foreign language!

This is unfortunate for us, as the strapline for our Diocesan vision is ‘Making Jesus Known’ – a simple enough statement and worthy intention, but in the light of what I have said before, in what terms are we to make Jesus known, what words are we to use? ‘Atonement’; ‘Redemption’; ‘Resurrection from the dead’; ‘Life everlasting’; ‘Salvation’; ‘Spirit-filled’; just a few of the terms we might use, familiar terms in their day, but ones which away from the church, in our modern world, have lost their connection to Jesus and will have little if no meaning to the very people we want to draw-in to our fellowship. Talk of an all-powerful, all loving God, may cause a few raised eyebrows, or provoke testing questions, like the ones I faced at the BWS multi-faith day, or from Heathfield School’s Philosophy class, even before the subject turn to human sexuality, which it did on both occasions. Using words and concepts that need explaining or are open to challenge because of the church’s stance on certain issues, might suggest that we are not in a good place for making Jesus known.

To make our message fit for purpose, we need to reframe our message and choose words that will make an immediate connect with those who are listening. You might remember in the pandemic that much was made of Muslim groups helping, not just their own faith communities, but other communities country-wide, who were struggling. News reports of these activities resulted in a reappraisal of Islam by many and a rejection of the stereotype which is all too often presented to by the media. A new positive narrative emerged for Muslims, which is what Christians and Christianity needs, one which is accessible free from jargon and obscure theological terms, one with which people can readily engage.


Christianity needs to present its message – needs to ‘Make Jesus Known’ in words and concepts that people understand and authentically reflects what we are about. This shouldn’t be a struggle for the evidence is there – we have the appropriate behaviours in most of our parishes and Christian Communities: Christians caring for the poor and the marginalised; Christians being accepting of others; Christians creating inclusive and welcoming communities; but sadly our back story gets in the way, or the judgemental and critical attitude of some Christians, causes people to reject what we say about Jesus, accusing us of hypocrisy and turning away.


I actually think that our Diocesan slogan is a good one and I am keen that we should ‘Make Jesus known’, but to do this effectively we need a story for today, we need the narrative that shares the vision of a world, where the vicious circle of selfishness is broken and the kingdom values of welcome, acceptance and unconditional love are evident, enabling these values to be confidently proclaimed. This reinvention is a prerequisite, if we are to become confident Christians who can properly engage with those around us, in words they will be understand and in activity which builds up community and clearly demonstrate how knowing Jesus has made a difference for us and can make a difference for them.