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Rebuild My Church: the call to be an evangelist

Author: Derek Williams

Rebuild My Church: the call to be an evangelist

Derek William, who is a layman and father of four, talks about his call as a full time evangelist in the Catholic Church

In February 1990 I first experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at Holy Souls prayer meeting, Acocks Green, Birmingham. This was truly a life-changing experience. After this I started receiving many prophetic words from various people indicating the charism God has given me and the work he had called me to. The word ‘rebuild my Church’ was repeated to me quite often over the subsequent years.

After this experience I immersed myself in scripture studies (my hunger for God’s word was a grace in itself), and frequented the sacraments. I figured what God had given me was an amazing grace and for a time I was convinced God was calling me to religious life. I went on vocations retreats both with religious orders and with the Diocese over the course of a few years, but remained unsettled and eventually did not go down that route. Instead I married Lynn (alleluia)!

From banking to evangelising

After getting married I worked for Barclays in Peterborough for a few years as an Investments Manager. During this time, with Christians of all denominations, I was evangelising within the bank by putting on various seminars during lunch breaks and after work, including a monthly healing service in the office with the local Anglican Vicar. In October 2003, after a time of discernment and seeking the advice of my spiritual director, I resigned from my job and after a short time began exercising a full-time lay apostolate. I joined Flame Ministries International and worked as an Evangelist for them for some years. For various reasons I left the organisation after much prayer and discernment and began an individual lay apostolate which I have been carrying out for nearly five years.

In spite of all of this ‘evangelism’ I had not received any ‘formal’ training or obtained any qualifications. So five years ago I began a distance learning degree in Divinity at Maryvale where I have been learning some outstanding theology and grounding my own faith firmly in the Living Tradition, the wellspring of the Catholic Faith. This has had a huge impact on my own efforts to lead people to Christ and my approach to what the Church calls ‘the individual lay apostolate’.

My ministry is that of the individual lay apostolate. It is an immensely tough area of ministry, one that I most certainly did not want to be involved in as I am and always have been a ‘team player’. However, the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (the Lay Apostolate), states several very important things that we should pay attention to:-

1. From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the layman’s right and duty to be Apostles (AA2).

2. The apostolate to be exercised by the individual…is the starting point and condition of all types of lay apostolate, including the organised apostolate, nothing can replace it (AA3).

My role as an evangelist flows from the grace God gave me, initially at Baptism; then strengthened at Confirmation. It is nurtured through receiving regular Communion and frequenting Confession, plus my daily prayer time, which keep me in and deepens my union with Christ.

As lay people we must not try to "be clergy”

Of course we can have problems as Catholics. There can be a certain amount of confusion about who is supposed to evangelise because in Catholic Church history the Saints, mainly priests and religious brothers, did a huge amount of evangelisation. Nonetheless, at Vatican II the role of the laity was clearly stated, ‘The individual apostolate is always and everywhere in place. Every lay person is called to it and obliged to it’ (AA16). There can be a tension between lay and clergy and I have experienced this quite keenly, and still live with it to a certain degree. I think part of the problem stems from past mistakes with lay evangelists who lacked formation (I was there myself and still make plenty of mistakes!), but also from a misunderstanding on behalf of the clergy. As lay people we must not try and be ‘clergy’. There are certain things we absolutely cannot and should not do. It is when we seek those things which do not form part of our ministry that matters go a little awry.

Many priests are desperate for sound lay evangelists to carry out the work of the evangelist in their parishes

I am fortunate in that many of the parishes I minister in have great parish priests and I work with their full backing. I find that many priests are almost desperate for sound lay evangelists to stand up and be counted, to carry out the work of the evangelist within their parishes. I was chatting with a priest at a conference about this very scenario. He was immensely frustrated with parish life and did not know how to approach the problem he faced. I explained that God had given him a grace (Gk. ‘charism’) as a pastor to the flock. However, his problem was an evangelical one and to deal with this requires another member of the body who has the ‘charism’ of the evangelist. The evangelist will lead the people to a place where they can have a personal encounter with Christ in the Sacraments. Then his role as a minister of the Sacraments and pastor of the flock will be able to bear much more fruit. This is the pastor and the evangelist working in harmony.

The most difficult and challenging aspect of my own experience as an evangelist, my heaviest cross, is the sense of isolation and loneliness. I remember standing at the back of a church in Manchester during the praise and worship. I felt utterly desolate, devoid of any message, weak, fearful, weepy, shaky, and basically pretty useless. Praise God it was a very powerful time and highly anointed. Eventually I had a chat with my spiritual director about it. He said that I was having an authentic experience of God’s anointing!! This was comforting, but not comforting (work that out)!

Anointing is not a matter of feelings

When the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus He was driven into the desert where He was isolated and tempted for forty days (cf. Lk. 4:1-13). Paul says that when he came to the Church in Corinth it was, ‘in fear, weakness and with much trembling’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5). I think it is very important that as we grow in faith we do not depend on comfortable feelings and a sense of ‘being anointed’ but we learn to trust in God’s power. God HAS anointed you for a task and you should trust in that anointing, over and above any feelings you may have.

As part of the body of Christ I can never be isolated or ever alone

I have got to the point where if I feel great before a teaching I get worried! If I face trials, difficulties, problems, desolation, weakness, etc, then I know it is going to be very powerful and I just need to ‘stand firm’ (Eph. 6:11), be silent in the face of adversity (Mt. 27:12-14), be a man of peace. I find it very important to remember that, as a committed Catholic, I belong to the Body of Christ, enjoy a certain communion with Christ, belong to a parish community, and thus cannot be isolated or ever alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) who are rooting for us and have already walked this journey that we find ourselves on. None of us ever works in isolation regardless of how we feel because Christ is with us (Mt. 28:20).

Derek’s ministry is principally to teach the word of God, and he speaks at Life in the Spirit Seminars, days of renewal, retreat days/weekends and conferences, and runs scripture courses for parishes and groups. His website is www.wordandspirit.org.uk He can be contacted via e-mail at derek@wordandspirit.org.uk  

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