parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing

       UNBINDING THE GOSPEL

I was unaware of the nature of the Unbinding the Gospel group when I first joined. I had been talking to Julee about how I wanted to be part of a small group again, and she mentioned that a new set of small groups was forming at Parkdale. Before I knew it, I was signed up. I had no idea that the purpose of the Unbinding group was to explore evangelism.

As soon as the nature of the group became clear, I had my reservations. Aside from confusing proselytism with evangelism, I was somewhat worried about what the nature of the discussion would be. After all, who would join a group that centred on evangelism. What could I say, what would I even be able to say, in such an environment? Despite my concerns, however, I also kept an open mind. At the very first meeting, my reluctance evaporated. 

 It's not as if everyone else in my small group shared my outlook. Not at all. They are  a thoughtful and diverse group, all seeking a safe space to explore and talk about their faith. For as strange as it may sound, one of the things we discovered was that few of us had ever really had a meaningful, open discussion about our faith within the church or with other people in the congregation!

The group was framed within the question 'What is evangelism, and what does that mean for me and the church?', but that question was also the means by which we could talk about what it meant to pray, what we found inspiring, even our fears and doubts about our religion. It was amazing that despite the diversity of ideas, I (and I believe everyone else) grew comfortable with sharing at least a few thoughts that I never imagined I could tell anyone,  especially with people who were more or less strangers a few weeks before. But there I was, doing so - sharing my faith, whatever its flaws, however different from everyone else's.

Strangely, however,  I also ended up discussing some of these things with friends from outside of church as well. That, I came to learn, was one of the key meanings of evangelism - the ability and confidence to share one's faith, both with those inside and outside the church. Indeed, I had to become comfortable with even using the word 'faith'. The focus on evangelism and the motive to share one's faith is not meant as some crude effort to turn others to your own point of view, to convert your friends to Christianity or even persuade them to come to Parkdale. Those might be potential goals for some people I suppose, but the core of the experience was simply building the capacity to talk about one's faith, what that might mean, whatever its highs and lows, its inspirations or limits.

But the small group not only gave me the confidence to share these things, but also to see the value in it. A church is by its very nature a community. Evangelism is nothing more or less than sharing your faith with the community around you, whatever form it takes. Before participating in the group, it seemed strange to share even a small degree of my spiritual life with anyone- that's private stuff! Now it seems strange not to be able to - after all, while a church is many things, one of them must be a community of faith - how odd not to be able share your faith there. 

I haven't spoken of any of the details of the 8 weeks of Unbinding the Gospel- the particular discussion topics, the prayer exercises, specific instances I found meaningful, or getting to know (and accept the entire idea of having) a prayer partner - that is something one must discover for oneself. All I can say is, I surprised myself, I met some wonderful people,  and I went away hoping for a deeper connection to this community of faith we call Parkdale.

Blaine