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News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

PAOLI, PA--Doug, (that's not his real name) is now 17. He started taking drugs at the age of 12. He was quickly hooked, and was fast heading toward an early grave. Then he encountered some young Christians who took an interest in him and told him there was a way out. Desperate, Doug took it. Through an encounter with Jesus Christ at a Faith Alive weekend, Doug surrendered himself to Jesus, and thus began the long journey back to a drug-free life.

He told his story before some 500 Episcopalians at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania recently at a lay witness weekend put on by Faith Alive, a 100 percent Episcopal organization involved in renewing the church, changing people's lives from the inside out. Faith Alive is one of the still thriving (after 30 years) evangelical ministries within the Episcopal Church.

A Faith Alive weekend program embraces adults, youth and children with a program of music and the telling of faith stories with a direct connection to the service of baptism: "I renounce the evil powers of this earth, the sinful desires that draw me from the love of God, and I put my whole trust in His grace and love..." said Tom Riley, President of Faith Alive who speaks glowingly of the organization he leads.

"We continue to focus on the baptismal covenant while steering clear of church politics," said Riley. "It is a policy that has rewarded Faith Alive with registrations for its 'lay witness weekends' from a broad range of Episcopal Churches seeking spiritual refreshment," he told Virtuosity.

How it works is this. A parish must invite Faith Alive into its life. Faith Alive never pushes itself on anyone, says Riley. After dinner there is a general session of music and introductions with sharing by the visiting team many from other parishes who come in with their own fresh testimonies to relate.

People then break up into small groups where people tell their faith journey stories and personal testimonies of what God is doing in their lives.

Clergy are asked not to participate in group discussions. Laity lead it. At the end of the weekend there is an altar call, a call to renewal, commitment to Christ and for some a recommitment to Christ.

For Vincent Czepukaitis, a weekend coordinator for Faith Alive and an active Episcopal layman, its an opportunity for him to tell his story of how he was raised a strict Roman Catholic. "I knew all about control and since the church was the No. 1 control in my life I wanted to control all the other areas of my life." Barbara his wife picks up the story. "We had been married for 13 years. I met the Lord at a Marriage Encounter weekend even though I was raised an Episcopalian. Vince saw what I had received and wanted it for himself." Thus began a new chapter in their marriage relationship and a new ministry beckoned on the horizon.

Vince was a lector in the Roman Catholic Church and Barbara sang in the choir of the local Episcopal Church. We found a godly Episcopal Church in Massachusetts, but later we moved to Yardley and then New Hope, PA.

"Faith Alive was a natural place for us to use our gifts. We got into Scripture and this volunteer renewal movement naturally evolved into a ministry for us," he said.

There are some 100 coordinators nationwide, and Faith Alive can be found almost every weekend of the year in one parish or another.

Tony Walter, Diocesan Youth Coordinator for the Diocese of Milwaukee lends his support to Faith Alive weekends and travels around the country handling the youth side of these three-day Faith Alive weekends. At 58 he doesn't seem the right age group, but he gravitates to youth as they gravitate to him. His joy is leading young people to Christ.

Barbara Czepukaitis describes a Faith Alive weekend as "close as it gets to heaven on earth. We are absolutely focused on Jesus not issues. In time issues pass away. We look for the perpetuation of the ministry through weekends like this."

Lucia Englander and Heather Niedland Good Samaritan parish coordinators say that the parish has been blessed by the visit of the Faith Alive team who come at their own expense to share the love of Jesus.

"We see people renewed in their faith, some coming to faith for the first time, marriages healed and restored, and much more," said Englander.

Faith Alive was launched in 1970 by members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew who had participated in a Methodist Lay Witness Mission. To date Faith Alive has held its weekend program in more than 2,400 churches nationwide. In addition to holding Faith Alive Weekends in Episcopal Churches - the ministry expects to hold 40 in Year 2004 -- while being active in Anglican churches in the Bahamas. Faith Alive has also held its program in other denominations, including Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.

Asked how the present controversy within the Episcopal Church, following last summer's action by the General Convention, has affected the ministry, President Tom Riley said, "Churches in virtually all dioceses of the Church continue to look to Faith Alive as a resource for spiritual refreshment. Already this year we have held Weekends in the dioceses of Central Florida, Eastern Carolina, Southwest Florida, Arizona, Western Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. In March, Faith Alive Weekends will be held in churches in the Diocese of New Jersey, Washington, South Carolina, San Joaquin, Chicago, West Virginia and Springfield.

"In the early days of Faith Alive there was considerable pressure from parishes and from our own board members to take a stand on the Charismatic Movement that was sweeping through our Church. Our founder and longtime president, Fred Gore remained adamant, 'The mission of Faith Alive is to bring individuals into an encounter with Jesus Christ that results in their recognition of Jesus as their Savior and their commitment to Him as Lord of their lives. We cannot accomplish this if we take sides on this issue or any other."

"On the contrary, we must be sensitive to the rector and parish we serve, which means that we respect the piety of that parish, watch our vocabulary, and probably avoid raising our hands in worship. In some churches, we may use songs exclusively from the Episcopal hymnal. We accept these people where they are, we provide a climate in which the Holy Spirit can move, we make ourselves available to be used by the Spirit, and we give God the glory for the great works accomplished."

"That continues to be our policy," Riley said, "and it works! Literally thousands of Episcopalians each year discover on Faith Alive Weekends that they have not yet made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives - 'Wherever you would have me go, however you call me to serve, Lord, the answer will always be yes.' Rectors are thrilled at the large number of parishioners participating in a Weekend -- generally two-thirds of the average Sunday attendance -- as well as the numbers of parishioners on the periphery of parish life. The altar ministry on Sunday, and the small-group ministry in homes of parishioners continue to make lasting impressions.

Follow-up is an integral part of the Faith Alive program, spawning men's ministry, house churches, youth programs, a refreshed children's ministry, varied music ministries, mission and outreach. And with personal commitment to Jesus Christ comes a whole new approach to giving. Tithing becomes the norm, the starting point of Christian stewardship. The church's annual financial report a year after a Faith Alive Weekend is a tangible example of the program's impact on a parish!"

NOTE: Anyone interested in having a Faith Alive team come to their parish should drop a line to Tom Riley at FAweekend@AOL.COM

Faith Alive is on the Internet at www.faithalive.org


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