Lay people from Denton, Hastings, Lincoln take Gospel to streets
Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - A new St. Paul Street Evangelization team (SPSE) has launched in the Diocese of Lincoln, reaching out to people at the Lincoln Haymarket farmers market each Saturday morning this summer.
SPSE was started in Michigan in 2012 by a faithful layperson named Steve Dawson. Currently, there are more than 100 SPSE teams across the country.
“SPSE employs a non-confrontational method that is very appealing,” said Wayne Ringer of St. Mary Parish in Denton, founder of the local team.
He discovered SPSE on Facebook just a few months ago, and it stirred his memories of hearing Saint John Paul II’s call to preach the Gospel “from the rooftops” during World Youth Day in Denver back in 1993.
Ringer felt called to start up an SPSE team in Lincoln. After consulting with his pastor, Msgr. Mark Huber, he began recruiting volunteers. Currently, there are 12 street evangelists and 30 more people committed to praying a weekly Holy Hour for the apostolate.
The national apostolate provides online training resources, which helped Ringer get things rolling. However, he emphasized that any person can become a street evangelist.
“We don’t wait until we have become ‘masters’ of apologetics,” he said. “Most of your training is done by doing evangelization.”
He quoted Pope Francis in Evangelium Gaudium (121): “…Each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are.”
The team sets up on the corner of 8th and P streets, one of the busiest corners near Lincoln’s Farmers’ Market, each Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon.
Four pairs of evangelists take one-hour shifts, standing by A-frame signs that have pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or Pope Francis on them, with the words “Catholic Truth” at the top. The signs also encourage questions and offer literature, prayers and “true joy.”
The evangelists offer a Rosary or a Miraculous Medal to passers-by, which is a great way to initiate conversation. They also have pamphlets and audio CDs to offer.
“The goal is not to win arguments, but to share the love of Jesus Christ, and the truth, beauty and goodness of the Church that He founded: the Catholic Church,” Ringer explained.
Since the farmers market opened in May, the team has experienced quite a few fruitful encounters.
Last week, evangelist Bob Sullivan, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings, spoke with a pair of Presbyterian youth ministers who were visiting from Minnesota. They chatted about Matthew 16:18-19 and the significance of Jesus giving Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, as well as the origins of the Protestant movement.
“They were interested to learn that Pope Francis can trace his predecessors all the way back to St. Peter,” Sullivan reported.
After spending some time in conversation, the couple accepted a pamphlet on salvation and CD by Scott Hahn, who was a Presbyterian minister before he converted to the Catholic faith.
Another SPSE evangelist, Bill Haldeman, of St. Michael Parish in Lincoln, spoke with a high school girl who identified herself as an atheist. He assured her of God’s love for her.
“It was a special moment, one of those ‘heart speaks to heart’ moments,” Haldeman recalled. “No complex theology, just one heart sharing with another.”
Ringer said that the SPSE team will also evangelize before Nebraska Cornhusker home football games this autumn.
He encourages all the lay faithful in the area to get involved in one of three ways.
More street evangelists are needed, “to call back lapsed Catholics, to invite non-Catholic Christians to the fullness of faith, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with non- Christians,” he said.
For those called to this kind of service, there is an online training program. The commitment would be to go out with another evangelist at least once a month and to pray a weekly holy hour for the apostolate.
Ringer is also hoping to recruit more “prayer warriors.”
“It is the Holy Spirit who converts hearts to Christ, not us,” he said “Prayer is the very foundation of ministry, giving the evangelists the courage and grace to witness Christ, and the people to whom they witness the grace to respond to Christ’s call.”
The commitment is praying the Evangelist’s Prayer every day and praying a weekly holy hour for the apostolate.
The third way of participating is with financial support.
“SPSE needs your help to fulfill the mission of taking the Catholic faith to the street,” Ringer said.
Resources are needed to provide Rosaries, literature, CDs, holy cards, and other materials for the street evangelists to distribute.
“The world is hurting,” Ringer stated. “It needs Jesus Christ; it needs His Church, and it needs the Sacraments, which are the means of distributing the merits of His life, death and resurrection.”
He added, “All we do on the street corner is plant seeds. It is the Holy Spirit who makes that seed grow.”
The growth is inspiring for all the diocese.
“It’s very exciting to see SPSE taking off here in Lincoln,” said Nick Jorgensen of the diocesan evangelization office. “It’s a ministry of the New Evangelization that is capable of reaping a great number of souls for the Lord. I strongly encourage those interested to participate and get involved in the ministry. It would be amazing to have enough evangelists to be down there all week!”