St. Paul Evangelization Institute wants to teach you how to evangelize

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Ministry team members of the newly formed St. Paul Evangelization Institute, the umbrella organization for St. Paul Street Evangelization and two new missionary entities, stand in the garden of their new headquarters in Warren on July 19. Photos by Mike Stechsculte | The Michigan Catholic

Street evangelization apostolate branches out with new school, missionary society

Warren — St. Paul Street Evangelization has come a long way since founder Steve Dawson first felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to share his faith with passersby on a busy street corner in Portland, Ore.

Since the first outing of “street evangelists” in 2012, what began as a simple effort to share the faith has exploded into a national apostolate with more than 300 evangelization teams in dioceses across the country — and even abroad.

Today, the organization, which equips and sends ordinary Catholics out as missionaries to share the Gospel of Jesus with people of all walks of life, is still primarily known for its meat-and-potatoes street ministry — the visible “Catholics on the corner” handing out rosaries, miraculous medals and prayer cards and talking to passersby about the faith.

But that’s not all St. Paul offers.

“I thank God that the Holy Spirit grew the apostolate despite what I was expecting to happen,” Dawson, a Michigan native, told The Michigan Catholic. “As it grew, one of the things that happened was that all sorts of dioceses, seminaries and formation programs contacted us seeking advice and training in evangelization.”

To meet that need, the apostolate began conducting one- or two-day “basic evangelization training” workshops for those interested in learning how to share their faith in everyday life, as well as an intensive, online “school of evangelization” for those looking for more theological substance.

“We became quickly convinced that God was asking us to take what we’ve learned out on the street and provide that to people in the Church, even if they weren’t necessarily interested in street evangelization,” Dawson said.

But while the workshops are effective, Dawson has long believed the apostolate can offer even more.

That’s why, on July 1, St. Paul Street Evangelization relaunched as the St. Paul Evangelization Institute, an umbrella organization that will oversee three main branches: the traditional street evangelization teams; a new St. Paul School of Evangelization, a two-year, formal program in evangelization that will debut this fall with live, on-site classes in two Metro Detroit locations; and the St. Paul Society of Evangelists, a new, evangelizing order of lay brothers.

“As Catholics, we know we’re all called to evangelize, but not necessarily every Catholic is called to do street evangelization,” Dawson said. “As time as progressed, we realized that we have a lot more to offer the Church than simply street evangelization, which is why we created the institute.”

Although originally founded in Detroit, St. Paul’s offices had been based in Indiana for the past few years. However, after conversations with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of evangelization for the archdiocese, the decision was made to return to Detroit, and on July 1, the St. Paul Evangelization Institute opened its new official headquarters in a renovated convent at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Warren.

Learning to evangelize

With paint still drying on the walls, ministry team members were hard at work July 19, preparing lesson plans, recording podcasts and gathering materials for missionary outings.

Joe Philip, director of the new St. Paul School of Evangelization, said teaching people how to evangelize will be a significant focus of the new effort, but the school’s true aim will be mentoring people in a life of missionary discipleship, so that “when we go out evangelizing, we’re not ‘working,’” Philip said.

“We can have evangelists who aren’t disciples. That’s kind of a crazy reality, but it’s true,” said Philip, who taught theology and worked as a campus minister in Flint for many years before being asked by St. Paul vice president Adam Janke, a friend, to consider helping with the school.

“When I think about myself, when I first met the Lord, I really had a burning passion to share about Him, but I loved apologetics,” Philip said. “I wanted them to know God, but I also liked to be the one who gave that knowledge to them, because it built my identity. I was working for God, almost like He was my employer, rather than working out of the reality that I’m a beloved son.”

The School of Evangelization will follow a “workshop model,” similar to the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan, with 25-30 minutes of lessons followed by prayer, small-group discussion and hands-on evangelization practice. Topics will be drawn from Archbishop Vigneron’s Unleash the Gospel pastoral letter, which include things like interiorizing the kerygma — or initial proclamation of the Gospel — growing in obedience to Christ and sharing the good news with others.

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Steve Dawson, president of the St. Paul Evangelization Institute, formerly St. Paul Street Evangelization, holds a miraculous medal in the downstairs warehouse of the apostolate’s new headquarters in Warren. The apostolate gives away roughly 1.2 million medals each year — with 100,000 in stock at any given time — for distribution by its street teams across the country.

Classes will be mentored by “ministry teams” of four or five individuals, who will have degrees in theology or equivalent. Classes will begin Aug. 30 in two locations — one at the Warren headquarters, the second to be determined — and completion of the two-year program will earn the student an “advanced certificate in evangelization.” A one-year program is also available.

“A lot of Catholics have never entered into a process of discipleship and have never been mentored on any consistent basis,” Philip said. “We realized we need a school where people can enter into that process, moving them through a process of deeper identity, so our work of ministry doesn’t become our identity.

“What did it look like when Jesus sat with his apostles? There was an informal nature to that, but there’s also the recognition that I’m sitting with God, and when he teaches, I listen,” Philip continued. “Wherever the Lord is calling us to evangelize, it has to come out of this joyful discipleship where we’ve sat at the foot of the Master for a really long period, and this whole process has to be prayerful.”

A whole new lifestyle

If prayer and accompaniment is a focus for the School of Evangelization, it’s even more of a reality for the new band of missionary brothers living upstairs.

“We try to go out to evangelize at least once a day,” said Patrick Brennan, superior of the new St. Paul Society of Evangelists, who along with two other men live, serve and have scheduled prayer time at the institute’s new home in Warren, which includes dorms for nearly a dozen men.

Though in its fledgling stages — the society has been working with the archdiocese on the steps necessary for formation, which can take years — Brennan said the brothers share a spirit of prayer and discipleship, and hope to made evangelization a full-time lifestyle.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I love it,” said Brennan, a former bankruptcy lawyer, preparing to embark on an afternoon of door-to-door evangelization. Along with Daniel Marcum of Ohio and John Nguyen of California, Brennan said he hopes to eventually form small discipleship groups with people in the community to focus on a life of prayer and growth.

“We want to disciple as many people into a relationship with Jesus Christ as possible,” he said.

Ultimately, Dawson said, the vision of the new St. Paul Evangelization Institute will be to foster discipleship in all elements of the Christian life, so that when street evangelization teams bring a new Christian into the fold, they are met by others who joyfully accept, mentor and disciple them into the greater life of the Church.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk about evangelization in the world and in the diocese, I still think a lot of people don’t really get it,” Dawson said. “Why is it urgent? What’s the big deal? That’s the first thing: we have to wake people up. It’s about how we can build the kingdom.”

St. Paul School of Evangelization

To learn how to sign up for the St. Paul School of Evangelization, a two-year evangelization training program beginning Aug. 30, visit streetevangelization.com/school.