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Evangelizing Verleen

William Willimon, longtime chaplain at Duke University and now a Methodist bishop, remembers a new member drive organized in the small congregation he was serving years ago. Groups of two were sent out on a Sunday afternoon with a city map and assigned streets to knock on doors and invite people to church. One elderly couple took their street map, turned left instead of right, and ended up in the "wrong" neighborhood. When they returned to report, Helen and Gladys said they had discovered a real prospect, Verleen, who, indeed, not only showed up the next Sunday but signed up for the woman's Bible study, which Willimon himself led.

The topic was temptation, and Will began by asking, "Have any of you been faced with temptation and, with Jesus' help, resisted?" The responses were pretty mild: one woman confessed that she had been tempted to keep a loaf of bread the supermarket checkout clerk had neglected to charge her for.

Then Verleen spoke up: "A couple of years ago, I was into cocaine real big ... you know how that stuff makes you crazy. Well, anyway, my boyfriend - we knocked over a gas station, got $200. He says to me, 'Let's knock over the Seven-Eleven.' And something says to me, 'No, I've held up the gas station with you, but no convenience store. He beat me ... but I still said no. It felt great to say no ... made me feel like somebody."

Willimon remembers that after he recovered, he mumbled something like, "Well, that's certainly resisting temptation."

In the parking lot later, as he was helping one of the longtime group members to her car, Helen said, "I can't wait to get home and get on the phone. Your Bible studies used to be dull. I think we could get a crowd for this."

Will reflects, "Time and time again in our life together, just when we get everything figured out, the pews all bolted down and everyone blissfully adjusted to the status quo, God intrudes, inserts someone like Verleen just to remind the baptized that God is large, unmanageable, and full of surprises."

- John James, St. Andrews United Church, Niagara Falls ON

Original source: William Willimon, The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized (Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 2-3.