Q&A: Amanda Perkins McGriff, author of Will You?

Amanda Perkins McGriff is an Episcopal priest who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband Wil, their son Darwin, and their retired greyhound, Goose. She currently serves as a chaplain at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and as curate at St. George’s Episcopal Church.

A graduate of Bexley Seabury Seminary in Chicago, she is the recipient of a 2021 Episcopal Evangelism Society grant to create a curriculum exploring connections between baptism, eucharist, and evangelism. This project is available now as Will You? a five-week Lenten study on the Book of Common Prayer’s baptismal promises. Learn more about Amanda and her work in this author Q&A.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

Will You? began as a project  for a Bexley Seabury Seminary class called Reimagining Congregations in Mission. The assignment was to design a five-session formation offering specific to my context that invited participants to think about mission in new ways, and I had the idea to build my curriculum around the five “will you” questions of the Baptismal Covenant. These promises that we agree to, or that are agreed to on our behalf, in our baptisms are supposed to guide our individual and corporate lives. It should not be a surprise that they can guide us into a fresh understanding of evangelism as well. After graduation, I received an Episcopal Evangelism Society grant which allowed me to expand that initial project, through two piloting phases, into Will You? and the accompanying Group Leader Guide.

What is your hope for this book?

My hope is that Will You? will help Episcopalians come together during Lent to engage in lively and fruitful discussion about where our Baptismal Covenant is calling us. I hope that the book leads people to think deeply about the connections between evangelism and these promises we make in our baptisms.

Your book examines the five baptismal promises from the Book of Common Prayer. Which promise resonates the most with you? Are there any of the promises you struggle with?

I struggle with all of the promises, but the promise that I think about the most as I go about my day is to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” I am a hospital chaplain, and my prayer every day is that the love of God will shine through me, that I will see and treat all those I encounter as the beloved children of God that they are. The promise that was the most difficult for me to write about was “proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” This is the most obviously evangelistic baptismal promise, and it is also what I am called to do as a priest. But I struggled because there are so many different ways to interpret “proclaiming the Good News.” I wanted to be careful because some of our past interpretations of this mandate have led to some of our worst corporate sins, but I also wanted to invite readers to think boldly and creatively.

What does evangelism mean to you?

I think that the cover art for Will You? is a perfect illustration of my definition of evangelism. I am so grateful to artist Jason Sierra, who created it. He was able to really encapsulate the concept of the book, which is that the “will you” questions of the Baptismal Covenant follow an arc, from a gathering in to a sending out. The art on the cover is inviting readers to go out of their church doors, but it is an invitation issued from inside the church. And that is what I think we miss about evangelism and why it is so helpful to look at it through the lens of the Baptismal Covenant. It is indeed going out of our church doors and participating in God’s healing work in the world, the essence of those last three “will you” questions. But those actions need to be grounded in our beliefs, in prayer and discernment in community, and in self-examination of our past mistakes and repentance of sin. These are the elements that make up the first part of our Baptismal Covenant, and we get into trouble when we leave these important pieces out of our definition of evangelism.

Do you have a favorite prayer?

My favorite prayer from the Book of Common Prayer is Thanksgiving Over the Water. It is part of the service for Holy Baptism and is found on page 306 in the BCP. I love the imagery and the balancing of the phrasing in it. And I love that it conveys our story so succinctly yet so beautifully.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

I first want to highlight that there is a comprehensive free Group Leader Guide available. As someone who has led small groups in the past, it was very important to me to give group leaders the tools they would need to facilitate weekly discussions that follow along with the book and delve deeper into the Baptismal Covenant questions. Find the Group Leader Guide here or on the Will You? page on Forward Movement’s website.

I also want to share my sincere gratitude to all of those who are considering making Will You? part of their Lenten practice, whether individually or in a small group. I am so humbled and honored to be on this journey with you.