COLORADO SPRINGS. When Rick Lentz started donating funds to St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) he didn’t plan to become quite so involved as he is now. What began as simply providing financial support quickly turned into taking some of their online evangelization courses, which soon led him to find out what it would take to become a team leader for Colorado Springs.
According to the organization’s website, “St. Paul Street Evangelization is a grassroots, non-profit organization, dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking the Catholic Faith to the streets in a non-confrontational way, allowing the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of those who witness our public Catholic presence.
“The goal of St. Paul Street Evangelization is not to win arguments but to share the love of Jesus Christ with a hurting culture that is seeking truth. SPSE recognizes that to be an effective witness for Christ and His Church, one must seek to live a holy life.”
Since 2012, they have grown to having teams in over 300 U.S. locations. The website locations map indicates that there are currently six SPSE teams in Colorado.
Lentz, who is retired military and a longtime parishioner of Divine Redeemer, initially heard about SPSE through radio advertising and decided to find out more. Unknown to Lentz, parishioners at St. Francis Parish in Castle Rock and Ave Maria in Parker had already formed a team (see Dec. 1, 2017 article in The Colorado Catholic Herald) but it was not yet shown on the SPSE online map.
For Lentz, being a team leader is a natural fit with the full-time ministry he co-founded in 2007, Brother-to-Brother Ministries. Through that group, he has years of experience mentoring Catholic men on their spiritual journeys.
Nonetheless, once certified as a SPSE team leader, Lentz had a slow start putting together a team.
“In the last two months, the Lord’s brought some people who want to be in it . . . and they’re chomping at the bit to know when we’re going out on the street,” he said
The whole idea behind SPSE, Lentz says, “is to go out on the street in a non-combative manner, and engage people in conversations by handing out rosaries, miraculous medals, and crucifixes. Find out where they’re at, ask them questions, listen to their stories and find out how to help, if they want any help at all.”
Working with Father Kyle Ingels and some students from the campus ministry group at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS), they set up a table in December, during finals week, at the school’s student union building.
UCCS junior Jack Haskins was one of the student evangelists who responded to Father Ingels’ email asking for volunteers. Although he is a cradle Catholic and not necessarily comfortable with sharing his faith with strangers, he had some previous experience as a result of taking a mission trip to Ireland this past summer with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
“I got involved with FOCUS missionaries and we had to give testimonies,” Haskins said. “It was challenging at first, but it became more and more enjoyable.”
At UCCS, “there was some awkwardness with some students who were not raised with any faith,” he said, adding “We did get some who were interested.”
Some students have already responded to their invitations to participate in the campus ministry events.
“We did have a few come to the Thursday night dinners,” before Christmas break, Haskins said, adding that he is looking forward to doing more street evangelization.
“It’s definitely not the easiest thing, but it is rewarding,” he said.
One interesting contact made at UCCS happened as Lentz was packing up. A recent graduate approached him.
“She asked, ‘Are you Christians? I’m not religious but I’m spiritual and I’ve looked at all these other things and my mother’s just come to know Jesus Christ,’” Lentz recounted. Explaining that she had some family and relationship issues, she said she needed some guidance.
“So we talked with her; we prayed with her . . . we gave her a rosary and pamphlet on how to pray the rosary . . . the Surrender Novena — which we told her might help her stay calm and focus — and we gave her Mary Undoer of Knots. She asked us, ‘Who’s Mary?’” Eventually she asked for Lentz’s business card.
Mike Dill was another team member at that UCCS event, having met Lentz at the Inferno Men’s Conference in November. Dill has experience with street evangelization through other ministries but said he likes SPSE’s style.
“They have a beautiful approach. They lead off by offering something — in this case Miraculous Medals,” Dill said. Then, depending on the response, a deeper conversation about spirituality can often happen.
What struck him most at UCCS was hearing the students sharing their own testimonies, Dill said.
Lentz agreed, saying “These kids are on fire, and they’re giving me enthusiasm” by telling their stories.
Dill admitted that he sometimes struggles with the fear that most Catholics have about evangelizing, and he realized that resistance to sharing the Gospel often comes from being alone, from “not being part of a team.”
“Without the experience of seeing evangelization work within a team, it’s hard to know how great it can be,” Dill said.
It takes “people having the courage to step outside the box and just do it, Lentz said. “Those who have done it in other cities have found out it was very easy.”
As the team leader for the Colorado Springs SPSE team, Lentz is now able to provide training for anyone who might have an interest in being part of the ministry. Whether it’s one on one, or offering a course to several people, he will help others get the recommended training. While basic evangelization training is recommended, it is not absolutely necessary as long as the team members are properly briefed by the team leader.
“Anyone can actually do this — it’s our baptismal call!” Lentz said.
Street evangelization tables can be set up in any public area, including parish events, and only require two or three people. The limitation in Colorado this time of year is the unpredictability of the weather. But Lentz said that he is looking into possibly setting up at indoor locations during winter months. Now that he has more people enthusiastic about participating in the apostolate, he is hoping to get another event set up soon.
For more information about St. Paul Street Evangelization, see https://streetevangelization.com/