If you’ve ever felt the Holy Spirit urging you to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, you might want to get in touch with the people at St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE). The SPSE evangelizers know a lot about evangelizing.
What sets the SPSE folks apart from other evangelizers is that they are not pushy. They do not proselytize. As Anne Harman, a Michigan area SPSE Regional Missionary, Trainer and Workshop Leader explained at a recent presentation entitled “10 Great Ways to Evangelize,” the SPSE evangelizers are joyful missionaries. They evangelize with a smile, an offer of a prayer, and by handing out rosaries or Miraculous Medals.
“We are joyfully proclaiming Jesus in a non-confrontational way,” says Harman. “Here in America, you can stand near any sidewalk, as long as you don’t block the sidewalk, because it’s public property, and ask people, ‘would you like a rosary?’ or ‘would you like a miraculous medal?’ or ‘can we pray with you this evening’?”
As the name implies, the SPSE folk do evangelization on the street – on street corners, in soup kitchens, at outdoor markets, outside libraries or their parish church, at fairs, in parks, near university campuses, and so.
Becoming an Evangelizer
Anne Harman, married for over 28 years with two children, has been an evangelizer with SPSE since late 2013. Her husband Stewart, a convert to Catholicism, co-leads one of her two evangelization teams.
“As my younger child’s graduation approached, I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal what I was going to do with my time. God was at work! A friend told me, at the last minute, about an SPSE Basic Evangelization Training that was being held Friday night and Saturday late in 2013. What I learned blew my mind! I had no idea that Scripture, the Popes, the Documents of the Church, and the Saints all were pointing to the fact that we must spread the faith.
“Once spring arrived and the outdoor evangelization season began, I went out with a local street team, and then with numerous other teams that needed evangelists. The next year I received training to be one of SPSE’s Regional Missionaries.”
As a Regional Missionary, Anne’s role expanded. “I currently run two teams as well as do 90-minute “10 Great Ways to be an Evangelist” presentations. I also do full-day Basic Evangelization Training. If a church wants to start a team, I will also go out with them the first few times and help them get rolling.”
A Parish Ministry
Mark Joyce, who sometimes evangelizes with one of Harmon’s teams, has been an SPSE evangelizer for four years.
“I learned about SPSE in 2014 and joined as a member soon after, meeting with some folks at another parish who had already been going out for a short time.”
Joyce asked his parish to host a one-day seminar in early 2016.
“From that, I helped start a chapter in my parish in 2017. We have around 30 people, of whom around 10 are regular weekly evangelizers.
“We get out every week during the months of May through mid-October, so approximately 1/2 the calendar year we are out at a spot in our town near the library called Rotary Park. During the winter months, we’ll look for good weather days or special events that create lots of traffic. Since we began in 2016, I’d say our team has handed out several hundred medals, cards, etc., and well over 1000 rosaries.”
Stories from the Street
One of Joyce’s more memorable evangelization stories involves Carol, a young lady he first met while evangelizing with his friend Randy Husaynu, an SPSE Regional Missionary. The team first met and talked to Carol while she was out jogging. They again met and talked with her while she was out jogging during the following weeks.
“I was with her when she entered the church at Easter, in 2017. She is still a part of our team even though she is very active in other parishes. She is a good evangelizer as a convert, and has affected many around her.”
Carol’s story is just one of many stories recounted on SPSE’s series of podcasts called “Stories From the Street.” Husaynu talks about meeting Carol, her journey to Catholicism, and a whole lot more, in Episode 16. Currently, there are 24 Episodes. All the episodes feature exactly what the title says – stories from the street, told by ordinary Catholics who felt called to share their faith.
Anne Harman and a team were recently at the Matchan Nutrition Center, in Pontiac, MI. The Matchan Center was opened in 1984 at the St. Vincent de Paul Church. At the time, Oakland County was one of the most affluent counties in the country. The city of Pontiac, however, which was the Oakland County seat, was the second most depressed area in the country.
The center’s mission is “to serve hot, well-balanced meals to our neighbors in need and to provide other life-changing assistance that leads to self-sufficiency.” The Center also provides fresh vegetables for people to take home, gives away bread and bakery goods, partners with the Christian Legal Aid Program to offer free legal advice on Tuesdays, and gives away donated clothing.
The SPSE team had a table set up on one side of the dining area. Next to the table was a sign saying “Catholic Truth” with a picture of Jesus on it. Below the picture of Our Savior were two questions – “Got Questions?” and “Need Prayer?” – and two statements – “Free Literature” and “Find true Joy.” The table itself was covered with pamphlets, holy cards, rosaries and miraculous medals.
Just Smile and say ‘Hi’
The six SPSE evangelizers, Anne and her husband, Mark Joyce and three others, certainly did not proselytize. For the most part, they stood near the table, occasionally chatting amongst themselves, smiling and nodding and saying to people as they passed by, and waiting for someone to come up and ask a question.
During the two hours they were they, quite a few people came up to them. Some asked for a rosary, a medal, or a holy card, some asked for prayers, and some had questions. In each instance, the evangelizers simply talked to the person. They answered questions and asked a few questions themselves. They also offered to pray with the person or offered the person a rosary or a medal. Depending on how the conversation went, the evangelizer might say “we are Catholics” and ask if the person wanted to know anything about the Catholic Faith.
A Catholic Stand SPSE Evangelizer
While the SPSE evangelizers talk to many Protestants and those who are non-denominational, sometimes they find themselves talking to ‘lapsed’ Catholics.
Catholic Stand Columnist Allison Low is an SPSE Team Leader in Tyler, TX. In addition to being a full time primary care sports medicine physician, writing for CS, teaching adult faith formation and RCIA, and maintaining her own wonderful website Pillar and Foundation that’s full of resources for Catechists and Catholics who want to learn more about their faith, Allison tries to hit the streets with her team at least once a month.
“The majority of people I meet are either fallen away Catholics or Catholics not going to Mass. But I have spoken to atheists, agnostics and Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and various Protestants,” she says.
“There was a man who was raised Catholic but in his adult life fell away from all faith. Then he experienced a conversion and joined an evangelical church. He was out evangelizing and encountered us as we were doing the same.
“We had a very extended conversation with him about salvation, purgatory and the Eucharist. We helped him to see he had many misconceptions about what Catholics believed and challenged him about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It was evident that he walked away with his soul stirred by John 6.”
Moms, Dads, Kids and Baptists too
Sometimes Allison’s team even gets to talk to a whole family.
“I recall meeting a family of five with three high school-aged children. They were Catholic but were not going to Mass regularly. We spoke with the parents primarily and explained that the most important thing they can do for their children whom they love is to take them to Mass and bring them closer to Christ. We explained how everything God offers us, especially the Mass, is for our salvation and, as parents, they had a responsibility to help their children become holy and get to heaven. It was an extended but fruitful conversation.”
Texas is sometimes considered to be part of the Bible Belt, so it’s a good bet that Protestants will be well represented there. Allison recalls a Baptist couple she thoroughly enjoyed talking to.
“I met a couple who were Baptist but were excited to hear I was Catholic because they ‘loved the nun they always saw on TV.’ And in talking more, they were speaking of Mother Angelica and watched re-runs of her show all the time. They loved her and humor, had learned some things about the Catholic faith and had questions for us. Both were particularly fascinated by adoration and the monstrance they would see on TV, so we spoke about this.”
Evangelizing is also a family activity for Allison. “My dad lives in Dallas and is a part of SPSE as well. They have a larger team and they also have some people who are retired, which is a benefit for them as they are able to coordinate and go out even more than my team can.” Allison even joins her dad’s team in Dallas from time to time.
Share Your Faith
As the SPSE website says, “There is a common misunderstanding that street evangelization is the same as “Bible thumping” or “proselytizing.” Street evangelization is not about screaming at people, proselytizing, or telling anyone that they are going to hell. Rather, it is about offering a listening ear, sharing in a conversation about Jesus Christ, and praying (for any reason) with those that want it. By taking our Catholic faith to the streets we aim to make the message of Jesus Christ accessible to everyone by being available to anyone.”
And as the Catechism points out:
905 Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.”
A Little History
You may have already heard about or read something about the organization. SPSE has been written up in numerous online publications. It’s also been talked about on Catholic Radio, in various podcasts, and even on the EWTN Nightly News.
St. Paul Street Evangelization was founded by Steve Dawson in Portland, OR, in 2012. It is, as the SPSE website says “a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking the Catholic Faith to the streets.”
SPSE moved to Michigan in 2013, where Dawson is originally from, and then to Indiana. It moved back to Michigan in 2018. All the while the organization was growing by leaps and bounds. By 2014 they had over 100 teams and by 2016 they had over 225 teams. They now have over 330 teams on five continents.
In July 2018, the St. Paul Evangelization Institute was set up as the umbrella organization under which SPSE, the St. Paul School of Evangelization, and a new religious order of brothers, the St. Paul Society of Evangelists, all operate.
Anyone in the SE Michigan area wishing to get in touch with Anne Harman about becoming an evangelizer can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about SPSE, the organization’s website is: www.streetevangelization.com/