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Finding the Holy in the Unexpected

January 24, 2018
Evangelism Initiatives

“‘Be Prepared.’ The meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” – Robert Baden-Powell

I grew up with this motto, “Be Prepared.”, as a centering principle of my life. For years now, the concept has guided my path and directed my work. Preparation is, for me, the key to success. It’s not inaccurate to say that I evangelize preparation as often as I evangelize digital ministry. The work that goes into each revival event is a testament to that philosophy. 

Countless hours of planning and strategizing go into every aspect of a revival weekend. For our part as the digital evangelism team, preparation is focused on a small frame of the larger picture. We’ll plan out a timeline of social media posts, think through photos and videos we want to make sure to capture, and recruit local volunteers to assist (or often lead) parts of the effort. Lists of needed equipment will be made, rentals will be set up, logistics will be worked out. Internet upload speeds at event sites will be tested–more on this in a moment.

Each revival teaches us something new; through interactions with folks on the ground in the revival city or meetings ahead of our first trip to the site, we learn about the place we’re going to serve and the church or diocese with whom we’re partnering. When the event is over, and we’re reflecting on after-actions (or post-mortems, as we often call them), we analyze data and metrics and views and likes. Even as an event ends, we’re beginning preparations for the next one.

All of our learnings, all of our preparation, came into Savannah with us the weekend of January 20, 2018. All other factors notwithstanding, this would be a perfect weekend. Then, the other factors came into play.

It snowed. And when I say it snowed, it snowed…everywhere. NOAA reported that on January 17, it snowed in all 50 states. The further south you went, the more this became a problem. As it relates to our weekend, the problem started in Tennessee, home to the FedEx facility responsible for shipping all the rented equipment we needed in Georgia. Our best-laid plans to have all the hardware on-site three days ahead of the event turned into a mad rush to track packages and reroute volunteers to pick up pieces and drive them to the revival site two hours away from the delivery address. In some cases, missing equipment meant we simply had to redraw the tech and streaming plan entirely – not a comfortable place for a preparer/planner to operate.

Having solved all the problems we could possibly encounter, our team went confidently into Pennick, Ga., on Saturday morning. The small Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, site of the work of the incredible Deaconess Anna Alexander, was overflowing with folks who had come to celebrate Eucharist and hear a sermon from our Presiding Bishop. All of this preparation and planning we’d done, all the technological hurdles we’d overcome, would allow us to bring the service to the world in real-time. More importantly, we’d be able to bring the service to the room full of young adults joining us in the adjacent parish hall, since the small chapel space was full. All other factors notwithstanding, this would be a perfect service. Then, the other factors came into play.

Pennick, Ga., is a beautiful place. But it isn’t a place with strong cell phone reception. And once the church is filled with folks live-streaming the Presiding Bishop’s message from their phones and tablets, that reception just doesn’t hold up for the “official” stream. To say the stream was spotty would be, well, generous. We certainly weren’t going live to the world. That’s okay, we thought. It’ll be recorded and we can post it soon after the event. The bigger issue was – what about the room full of young adults next door?

All the preparation, all the planning in the world, wouldn’t bring a technical solution that morning. As the person on the Presiding Bishop’s staff with the word “digital” in my title, this was frustrating and a bit heartbreaking for me. As the opening procession loomed, it felt to me like all our work was in vain. We weren’t going to pull this thing off. These are the moments I look back on later and realize how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit works even when cell service doesn’t. And when the Holy Spirit shows up, and God shows off, it’s something to behold.

All those young adults next door? The ones who couldn’t fit in the room because it was full? They were invited in anyway. Were there enough chairs? Absolutely not. Folks were sitting three-wide down the center aisle, from the front pew to the back. People were standing in the doorway and sitting on the altar steps for the whole service. (This, by the way, is incredibly frustrating for a technical director when we’re in the midst of the event.)

But if I’m honest, I have to admit that I wasn’t a technical director at an event that day. I was a witness to a movement of the Holy Spirit. As he began his sermon, Bishop Curry described that moment simply as the Holy Spirit saying, “Let me intervene. And the Spirit said, ‘Let me go get some more people. In fact, let me get some young people.’”

Each revival teaches us something new.

Sometimes, we learn about our audience. Maybe we find that morning events trend toward an older online audience. Or we may see that posts on Instagram outperform Snapchat stories. On January 20, between 9:30 – 11:30 a.m., I learned once again that this thing is bigger than us. This Jesus Movement that we’re a part of isn’t bound by cell signal or seating capacity or human ability. 

As this event wraps up and we do the post-mortem analysis, we’ll review the stats and views. We’ll be tracking the #GArevival2018 hashtag and the #JesusMovement hashtag. There will be conversations about how to limit our reliance on equipment that has to be shipped from third-party locations, and we will always be tweaking and tuning our processes and best practices. 

We absolutely have to prepare. Alexander Graham Bell was almost right when he said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Just before preparation, though, is God. When we leave room for God to work and move, and we give our best efforts to come alongside that work through preparation and planning, we’ll see the world change in ways we’ve never imagined.

The Episcopal Church is hosting revivals in 2018 and beyond. To learn more about upcoming locations and dates, click here.

The Rev. Canon
Stephanie Spellers

Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care

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Sarah Alphin

Associate for Church Planting and Evangelism

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