Increasing the numbers of Episcopal missionaries is the intent of a resolution before the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City. Passage of the resolution is urgent in view of the startlingly low current number of Episcopal missionaries, whether Young Adult Service Corps members (YASCers) or Episcopal Volunteers in Mission (EVIMs).

The updated June 2015 roster of missionaries on the Episcopal Church website lists just 47 individuals, including 4 married couples. 12 of the 47 are YASCers, leaving 35 adults not in the young adult category.

These are remarkably low numbers for a church that claims to be committed to global involvement expressed in the incarnational presence that is a touchstone of Anglican identity in mission.

Moreover, the current numbers constitute a significant decline – 22% – from the 60 missionaries that were listed in 2012. That number included 8 YASCers. In commentary at that time I noted:

The Episcopal Church’s investment in international missionaries is small.  The current figure of 60 missionaries is down from over 100 just six years ago, and that represented an increase from low numbers in the 80s and 90s that were similar to today’s.  The current missionary number means that Episcopalians have just one missionary for about every 35,500 members.

The Episcopal situation stands out even among the historic mainline denominations, all of which have far fewer missionaries than they did in, say, the 1950s.  Yet in 2011 the Presbyterian Church (USA) had the same membership total as the Episcopal Church  – about 2.2 million, maybe even fewer – but they fielded 3.5 times as many missionaries: 217 serving in over 50 countries.  That works out to one missionary for about every 10,150 members – still not good, but a lot better than 1:35,500.

In Resolution A112 “Encourage Support for YASC and EVIM,” the Standing Commission on World Mission proposes:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church encourage dioceses, seminaries, and parishes to recruit and support both Young Adult Service Corps members (YASCers) and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission members (EVIMs); and be it further

Resolved, that the General Convention continue its commitment to increasing numbers of YASCers by 10 per year for the triennium 2016-2018, (30 in 2016, 40 in 2017, and 50 in 2018, for a total of 120 for the triennium); and increasing the number of EVIMs by 10 percent each year, for the triennium 2016-2018; and be it further

Resolved, that the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance increase the budget for the Young Adult Service Corps from $1,100,000 to $1,800,000, and a 10% increase for the Episcopal Volunteers in Mission, for the 2016-2018 triennium in order to implement this resolution.

Read More…

Support for the Christians of Pakistan has become prominent on the agenda of the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, currently meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Under the general theme of expressing solidarity with the Church of Pakistan, Resolution D035, “Support Christians in Pakistan,” calls on members of the Episcopal Church to learn about the Church of Pakistan (CoP) and the oppression of religious minorities in that country, initiate partnerships with CoP, and undertake “visits to provide active engagement and support for the persecuted Church.”

The resolution calls on the Government of Pakistan to ensure the protection of religious minorities and to fulfill its international obligations, with specific attention to the abduction and forced conversions of women to Islam.

In extended testimony before the Legislative Committee on World Mission on Friday, June 26, Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator and primate of the Church of Pakistan, cited details of the pressure experienced by Christians in Pakistan. He noted the fear in which Christians live, including “our friend from the Episcopal Church,” referring to Titus Presler, principal-in-exile of Edwardes College in Peshawar.

“What is the way forward?” asked Bp. Azariah. He suggested strengthening inter-church partnerships, initiating visits from people of ECUSA, and advocating for Christians in Pakistan, especially from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Governmental Relations in Washington. He noted CoP’s current interfaith initiatives with Muslims are “very necessary for our survival,” even though ‘the majority of our people think, ‘Why should we talk with people who are oppressing us?’’’  (Click here for Episcopal News Service story and video of Bp. Azariah’s remarks.)

Following the testimony of Bp. Azariah and his wife Khushnu, a priest of the Diocese of Los Angeles, I testified in favor of the resolution and cited the witness of a Christian who was martyred in the suicide bombings at All Saint’s Church in Peshawar in September 2013. I noted that British Anglican mission societies initiated Anglican presence in both Africa and Asia and that Episcopalians tend to be much less engaged with Asian churches than with African churches. Bp. Azariah commented that relations between CoP and ECUSA are currently loose and that he would like to see them strengthened.  “We need to get more serious about our church relationship,” he said.

D035 was submitted by the Very Rev. Melissa McCarthy of California, who noted that her interest in the state of Pakistan’s Christians began after the massacre of 16 Christians in Bahawalpur in October 2001.  The resolution will be acted on by convention in the coming days.

The Church of Pakistan was established 1970 from the ecumenical union of Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians – hence the addition of “(United)” sometimes after its name.  Like the other united churches of south Asia (South India, North India, Bangladesh, it is a full member of the Anglican Communion.

In a related observance, on Sunday, June 28, the House of Deputies observed a short period of standing in silence to commemorate Christians who have been murdered in religious violence in the Middle East.  The recognition was suggested by Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville in the Diocese of Florida.  She mentioned incidents of persecution of Christians in Egypt. Read More…

During the question period at the panel discussion luncheon hosted by Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS) today during the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, the panelists were asked to complete the sentence, ‘The mission of God is . . .’

‘The mission of God is the cross, which brings life and hope and resurrection,’ replied Bp. Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, in a reply that reflected that church’s experience of suffering in persecution.

‘Find God in the face of the neighbor,’ said Bp. Paul Kim, primate of the Anglican Church of Korea.

‘We empty ourselves and are filled by the love and grace of God,’ said Bp. Francisco Da Silva, primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, adding later, ‘To be reconciled we must first be emptied of ourselves.’

‘God leads, we follow in his wake,’ said Bp. Graham Kings, newly designated Mission Theologician in the Anglican Communion, whose address, ‘The Mission of God and the Future of the Anglican Communion,” opened the panel. The question that prompted these responses was asked by David Copley, mission personnel officer of the Episcopal Church.

An interesting sidebar to the discussion arose in connection with Kim’s statement that he is disheartened when any of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission are emphasized to the exclusion of others and his view that all five should be emphasized equally. When I asked the panelists to reflect on that, they had a consensus that all are equally important but that contextual circumstances might prompt a church to stress one more than others at any particular time.

Picking up on his keynote theme, ‘holistic mission mirrors the co-inherence of the Holy Trinity,’ Kings emphasized that the Five Marks co-inhere with one another.

The event, which was co-funded by the Compass Rose Society, was ably emceed by CACS Director Robert Heaney. It is good to see the center living into its calling to be a catalyst for mutual engagement and reflection on the life of the Anglican Communion. At the moment there is no comparable center or institution in the Episcopal Church, and the role CACS is playing is vitally important.

[Just as a refresher, the Five Marks of Mission are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth]

‘Missionary expedition’ is an image Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori used prominently in her June 24 remarks to the bishops and deputies assembled in Salt Lake City for the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

As Tracy Sukraw wrote in her Episcopal News Service story:

Jefferts Schori described The Episcopal Church’s trek as ‘a missionary expedition,’ using a space exploration analogy that played off the TREC acronym for the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, whose restructuring proposals are a high-profile topic coming before General Convention.

“There is abundant adventure ahead on this heavenward trek, and it asks our courage to engage unknown beings, new challenges and unexpected opportunities,” Jefferts Schori said.  “We’re bound for the galaxy called Galilee and the edges of the known world, because that’s where Jesus sent us and that’s where he promises to meet us.”

‘Missionary expedition’ is a term that critics of historic Christian mission – let’s call them missio-skeptics – would ordinarily frown on as connoting horseback and ox-drawn-wagon ventures undertaken by 19th-century missionaries they imagine to have been bigoted Europeans and USAmericans going out to evangelize and ‘civilize’ what the adventurers thought were ‘benighted’ people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Yes, some expeditioners held views of indigenous peoples we would not affirm today, but the negative stereotype is just that, a stereotype that does not fit the overall historical reality. I think of mission figures from the past 150 years in two settings where I have ministered: George Broderick and horseback pastor Canon Cristelow at Bonda in what is now Zimbabwe, Thomas Hughes and Worthington Jukes in Peshawar, and Theodore Pennell at Bannu in Waziristan in what is now Pakistan. At that time just getting to their stations required these missionaries to undertake expeditions or, in the terminology of Africa missionaries, ‘go on trek.’ They ministered sacrificially and sensitively. Not perfectly, of course, but who among us ministers perfectly, or, especially, will be deemed to have done so with the perspective of 50 or 100 years from now?

The fact that Jefferts Schori used the image without apology may indicate that the negative stereotyping of missionaries is finally ebbing. But what does her use of ‘missionary expedition’ convey? What does it say to a church that tends to be comfortable with the word ‘mission’ when it includes everything the church already does but less comfortable with the word ‘missionary’ when applied to a particular person ministering on a cultural, linguistic, religious and national frontier? It’s not easy to discern Jefferts Schori’s intent: Is she trying to rehabilitate the notion of a missionary expedition? Or was she simply struck by the image as a useful metaphor? Read More…

It was an honor and a privilege to be asked to deliver the opening keynote address at the 2015 annual conference of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) that was held May 6-8 at All Saints’ Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Picking up on the apostle Paul’s statement to the Corinthian Christians, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things,” I focus on minority Christians’ experience of persecution, especially in the Muslim world. Pakistan and my experience there contextualize the biblical and theological reflections. The second half of the talk focuses on the relationship between difference and danger in mission at this historical moment in relations between the West and the Muslim world, and offers some suggestions.

GEMN has kindly put an expanded version of the talk on their website in PDF format. It also appears in the convenient Flipgorilla format.

The other keynoters were Suffragan Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts, who spoke about the evolution of her view of mission during collaboration with the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Bishop Santosh Marray of Alabama, who reflected theologically and experientially on the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission.

Special thanks to Ted Gaiser, GEMN’s outgoing president; Jim Boston, the incoming president; Judy Quick, GEMN’s vice president; and Karen Hotte, the executive director, for the invitation and arrangements.

Posted by: Titus Presler | June 12, 2015

General Convention: Sacramental politics among God-bearers

In the run-up to this year’s General Convention in Salt Lake City, here’s a reflection of mine that Episcopal Life published some years ago for another General Convention:

General Convention is sacramental.

Politics expresses discipleship.

These assertions are counter-cultural in the Episcopal Church today. As heirs of the 1960s, we are skeptical of institutions. We embrace the work of small, local groups in the church, but we suspect that national structures are mere bureaucracies and that large meetings are simply their spinning wheels. With the individualism inherent in American religion, we treasure our personal and local spirituality, but we marginalize community life on the larger scale.

Yet when I plunge into General Convention, my experience is that I am entering a sacrament of the Church, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. And the politics that engage me at General Convention I experience as an expression of Christian discipleship, that is, individuals and communities seeking to follow Jesus. These experiences give me energy, hope and joy amid the pessimism that often pervades discussion of churchwide issues and the upcoming General Convention. Moreover, I believe these experiences are grounded in an incarnational theology that is central to us as Anglicans.

The Church is the Body of Christ, we say in our catechism, but we tend to reserve that affirmation for our parishes and, maybe, our dioceses. When discussion touches the Episcopal Church as a whole, many people question its usefulness, its faithfulness, its authenticity. “It’s too political,” is a frequent complaint. People assume that politics is something unsavory and unfaithful, and therefore unworthy of the Church of Jesus Christ.

What we need is a theology of the institutional Church. In our deep-seated ambivalence, we say that we value tradition, but we dismiss the structures by which such a tradition is mediated into our future. We wax eloquent about the Body of Christ in Corinth or Philippi, but mutter darkly about its legislative work in Phoenix or Philadelphia. Of course, much criticism is prompted by dismay at particular decisions, but that is precisely where we need a bedrock understanding of the Church that offers us confidence beyond the ebb and flow of particular issues that concern us. Read More…

  • “Inching toward witness” is what liturgical Episcopalians may be doing as a result of interaction with evangelicals, says presiding bishop candidate Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio. “What will it look like when evangelical liturgy and liturgical witness come together?”
  • “Chief Evangelism Officer” is the sense in which the presiding bishop should be a CEO, says candidate Michael Curry of North Carolina. He calls on Episcopalians to “live out the meaning of the Great Commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’” and “share in the Jesus movement of our time.”
  • Owning their “baptismal call to be evangelists of the good news of God in Christ as they participate in God’s mission in the world” is what candidate Ian Douglas of Connecticut would urge on all Episcopalians. He stresses the “larger question of how we understand the mission of God in the world today.”
  • “Episcopalians have the capacity to be effective evangelists,” says candidate Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida. “We simply have to know our own stories honestly, to reveal joyfully how we’ve been called, changed, and claimed by Christ.”

Not only are these statements manifestly missional but they are strikingly evangelistic in their import. High on the agenda of all four candidates, it would seem, is the importance of Episcopalians sharing with others the story of their personal faith in the triune God, with particular emphasis on Christ Jesus.

It’s fair to say that such an evangelistic emphasis has not been characteristic of presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church, nor has it been a distinguishing feature of Episcopalians relative to members of other denominations, nor is it high on the agenda of this year’s General Convention, at which the House of Bishops will elect one of these candidates to the ministry of presiding bishop.

The vignettes above appear in the interview summaries published in the June 14 edition of The Living Church in an article entitled “Who will lead Episcopalians? The election of the 27th presiding bishop reflects a church in flux” by Tom Sramek, Jr., co-rector of Good Samaritan in San José, California.

It could be that this emphasis emerged because Sramek specifically focused on the evangelistic and missional challenges of the church in the 21st century. However, several candidates made their evangelistic points specifically in contrast to the institutional reorganization that is high on this year’s convention agenda. Breidenthal is uncomfortable with the chief executive officer role envisioned for the presiding bishop by the Re-envisioning the Episcopal Church report. Curry says the church’s task is not organizational development but community organizing. Douglas is wary of technical fixes for what ails the institutional church.   So it seems more likely that the prominence of witness was the candidates’ own doing. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 3, 2015

Freestanding darkness: Experiencing Good Friday

From Jane Butterfield’s Good Friday homily today in Trinity Church, Shelburne, Vermont:

There is something in the human soul that needs to feel the absence of God.

We need to feel the depth of the emptiness that God fills.

God took the risk of absence, the risk of powerlessness.

God entered the darkness, that we might know our own darkness.

We are used to the notion of God in Christ sharing our journey, sharing the suffering of the human family. Striking in Jane’s reflection is the recognition that Good Friday deepens our awareness of the suffering of the human family. It pushes out the boundaries of the wasteland. As Frederick Faber wrote in his hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”:

There is no place where earth sorrows

are more felt than up in heaven.

Our prayers often have the subtext, “God, don’t you realize how painful this is?” In fact, God knows the pain more deeply than we do because, unlike us, God doesn’t push the pain away. In the cross God helps us realize just how much we need saving. The fact that God experienced degradation helps us see just how deeply we’ve degraded the human situation.

Two bits of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion are especially vivid in this regard. At the opening of Part 2 the soprano sings:

Ach! mein Lamm in Tigerklauen!

Ah! my lamb in tiger’s claws!

And, as religious leaders and thieves reproach Jesus on the cross, an alto sings:

Alas, Golgotha, hapless Golgotha!

The Lord of glory

must wretchedly perish here;

the blessing and salvation of the world

is placed on the cross like a curse

(Wird als ein Fluch ans Kreuz gestellt).

Making God into a curse. We’re familiar with that from the inclusion of God’s name and Jesus’ name in expletives both casual and passionate. At Golgotha God was willing to be regarded as a curse and to become a curse as a life-and-death matter. Actually, a death matter. Dying.

The scandal of the cross is the scandal of particularity, the contraction of the universe’s spiritual and moral structure to a wretched and disgraceful episode on a Friday outside Jerusalem. Yet that is where God engaged the darkness and became its victim.

We have a few desolate words from Jesus on the cross. Psalm 22, which we recite on this day, elaborates eloquently the inner desolation.

The latter part of Psalm 22, beyond the Good Friday lection, anticipates the missional reach of redemptive suffering, a missional reach that fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. . . .

My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.

May it be so.

 

 

Welcome in Holy Week is the news that Bishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon has been appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. The appointment was announced on Anglican Communion News Service earlier today in a story entitled, “Nigerian bishop to be the Anglican Communion’s next secretary general.”

The announcement is silent, perhaps appropriately, about three salient features of the appointment: First, Bp. Idowu-Fearon will be the first secretary general from the Two-Thirds World, his predecessors having been from the U.K., Ireland, and North America. Given that since 1981 Christians in the Two-Thirds World have outnumbered Christians in Europe and North America – a demographic shift reflected in the Anglican Communion as well – it is appropriate that the next holder of the post hail from the Global South.

Second, the new secretary general is an African. From the Pew Research Center today comes the results of a six-year project in religious demography. Reportedly, while 25% of the world’s Christians are currently in SubSaharan Africa, by 2050 that percentage is predicted to be 40%. The African percentage of total Anglican Communion membership is something like 40% today, and the African percentage of active Anglicans may be a good deal higher than that. So it is appropriate that the secretary general be an African.

Third, the new secretary general is from Nigeria in particular. Two points about this: While the U.K. has the highest number of self-identified Anglicans, about 26 million (out of the global total of about 80 million Anglicans), the weekly attendance is about 1 million or less. Nigeria’s Anglicans number about 18 million, but the average level of church involvement is vastly higher than in the U.K., as it is among Christians throughout Africa. Weekly attendance figures for Nigerian Anglicans may not be available, but it is likely that 6-8 million Anglicans are in church every week.  So the next secretary general will come from a major global center of Anglicanism. Read More…

It is good that the April issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research that came out yesterday coincides with Holy Week, for this quarter’s theme is the experience of Christians under pressure in various parts of the world. One bracing consolation that persecuted Christians can rely on is that God in Christ shares their experience through Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Included in the issue is my article, “A Toll on the Soul: Costs of Persecution among Pakistan’s Christians.” It is based on a talk I was invited to give at the American Society of Missiology Eastern Fellowship’s gathering at the Maryknoll Mission Institute in November 2014.

The IBMR issue also includes: Duleep de Chickera, former bishop of Colombo and now a member of the WCC’s Commission on International Affairs, on the persecution of Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka; Mary Mikhael, former president of the Near East School of Theology and now with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, on the situation of Christians in Syria; Peter Tze Ming Ng, who teaches in Hong Kong, Shanghai and at Fuller Seminary, on Chinese Christians under pressure; and a report from the Korea Research Institute for Mission on Korean missionaries unable to return to service.  An exposition of the Old Testament book of Lamentations, “Lamentations: A Book for Today,” by Christopher Wright of the Langham Partnership provides a helpful biblical foundation for concern for suffering religious communities.

In a generous gift to the world church, IBMR provides free electronic access to its publications.

Posted by: Titus Presler | March 30, 2015

Holy Week: Driven to desolation – God locked out of the cockpit

This week Christians are immersed in the central story of our faith: Jesus in the way of suffering and death. The story is so central that the cross that stands as its climax is the definitive symbol of Christianity the world over, as it has been since the early centuries of Christian life. It is a story of betrayal, arrest, judicial travesty, howling mob, violence, agony, abandonment, death and burial.

It does not exhaust the story of Jesus. Not long ago, after all, we celebrated the stories of his conception and birth, and, indeed, this week’s story derives its significance from the fact of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus, that in this Jesus God was, in the words of Paul, reconciling the world to God. Since Epiphany we have been hearing stories of Jesus teaching, Jesus expressing compassion, Jesus carrying out mighty works of deliverance.

Yet it all comes to climax in this week’s story, this week’s journey from Passion Sunday through Good Friday and into Holy Saturday. At Jesus’ conception Matthew tells us that he was to be Emmanuel, God with us. In the story of this week, we see the depth of that God-with-us-ness – God with us in betrayal, God with us in heartrending parting from friends, God with us in dread, God with us in violence, God with us in aloneness and abandonment, God with us in dying.

We hear the story every year, so we know all the details in advance and we know how it ends. Yet in hearing it again the magnitude of God’s reaching out to us is imprinted afresh on our hearts and minds. Reading it aloud, listening to it set to music, seeing it in dramatic enactment – all this plows a fresh furrow for it in our imaginations.

None of it had to happen just the way it did. The particulars of how it happened – which disciple betrayed Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane instead of some other place, the particular slanders brought against Jesus, the crown of thorns and the mocking purple – all these details that could have been otherwise. But the major trajectory of the story from popularity with palms to utter misery – that has an air of inevitability, a sense of humanity driving itself to desolation.

Driven to desolation – that sums up the Passion Sunday story.  Driven to desolation – that sums up the human story.

This past week we’ve been arrested by another story that ends in desolation, the desolation of the Germanwings jet and its passengers scattered over barren winter slopes in the French Alps. We cannot know entirely the mind and heart of the copilot, but we know a few things. He felt driven to fly. Torn-up doctor’s orders indicated he wasn’t supposed to fly.  He probably feared losing his job if psychiatric or physical problems became known to the airline. So when he had a chance to end it all he seized it. The captain left the cockpit for a biobreak and then could not get back in – on the voice recorder he’s banging on the door and shouting right up to the end. The end was utter desolation for all 150 people on board – and for their families and friends.

The Holy Week story is a story of God shut out of the cockpit. In creating humanity in God’s image, God intended humanity to be companion and partner in the great enterprise of forming fruitful community that would bless all people and bless the world and the infinite universe beyond this world. God the captain, we the copilot. Read More…

The new Church of England report on the church in rural areas – Released for Mission, Growing the Rural Churchcatches my attention because of the title combines the themes of mission and growth, which are themes similar to those challenging the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal students in the missiology class I’m currently teaching at Pittsburg Theological Seminary (PTS), an institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

What does the CofE report mean by mission? How is mission as understood by the report related to growth? Does this report represent an advance in a major church’s thinking about mission in the 21st century?

Nearly two-thirds or 65%, of Church of England congregations – 10,199 – are in rural areas, according to the report. Average Sunday attendance in these congregations is 40 (versus 60 in urban congregations), and almost all the rural congregations are in what the CofE calls “multi-church groups,” clusters of congregations served by a single clergyperson or clergy team.

The 35 students in the missiology class at PTS are generally from Pittsburgh and from rural western Pennsylvania, and many testify to the difficulty of stimulating mission awareness, vision and engagement in congregations that are small and rural, intent on maintaining existing patterns of church life at the same time that they worry about their economic and demographic viability. Rural congregations in Vermont face similar challenges, as do rural congregations of many denominations throughout the USA. Read More…

Following is a message received from the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, Bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan, in the wake of the Dec. 16 Taliban attack on Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, in which 148 children and teachers were killed:

Thank you for your kind letter of condolence, love and prayers. The recent attack on the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar has broken everyone in our region. The double suicide attack at [in September 2013] All Saints Church was of a different nature, but here in the school, shooting in the heads, eyes, mouths and beheading small children is simply brutal and barbarous. No human having the fear of God can do it, but this is how the terrorists did it.

The Diocese has cancelled all its Christmas celebrations. We shall be celebrating Christmas in a simple way. Many people have asked us, “This will be the second Christmas without celebrations?” but we tell them the tiny Church is here to be a source of solace for the total people of God.

Despite all the atrocities, I personally feel the local and the International Church can still play an effective role to be a source of comfort for everyone in this, one of the most dangerous regions, which our Diocese is trying to help in its very humble way.

Recently, we have constructed a church on the border of a Tribal area, and, in addition to five Parishes, we have started two new Parishes in the Tribal areas. We feel it is essential to have the Church presence even in the most dangerous areas. We are also looking after the Christians, Hindus and some Shia Muslim Internally Displaced Persons from the war zone area of Miranshah in Waziristan. I will be spending the evening of Christmas with them in Bannu.

Keep us in your special prayers, especially our Priests and the outreach workers for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for their protection. Thank you once again for all your love and prayers.

Posted by: Titus Presler | December 19, 2014

Peshawar school massacre prompts Christians to prayer and outreach

The massacre of children, youth and teachers at the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar on Tuesday, Dec. 16, has rightly been met with shock and outrage around the world and throughout Pakistan.

Recalling their own trauma in the bombing of All Saints’ Church in Peshawar on September 22 in 2013, when 128 church members were killed and 170 wounded in a Taliban bombing, Christians in Peshawar have responded in prayer and compassionate outreach to the families of the 148 people killed and many wounded in Tuesday’s attack.

Insar Gohar, Youth Coordinator of the Diocese of Peshawar, sent out this missive on Tuesday:

Dear Friends & Prayer Partners!

Our city of Peshawar is once again under the terrorists’ attack: a school has been attacked by the terrorists and about 132 school children and teachers have been killed and many other are injured. The parents of the children are in deep grief, and the whole environment of Peshawar is under terror and under grief.

The situation in our city is very tense. All the major roads within the city are blocked, and people have been stuck on the way. Some of the school and college students are stuck in their schools, as the school administrations are not allowing the children to go to their homes unless their parents come. Parents are not finding a way to reach there. My niece is also in her college and we are trying to bring her to our home.

This reminded the Christians of Peshawar of last year’s attack on All Saints’ Church. They are crying with the parents of today’s deceased children.

Please pray for all this situation, for protection of our city, and for peace in our region.

Insar Gohar

An op-ed piece in the New York Times on Wednesday opened with a touching vignette of one small expression of caring by Peshawar Christians in response to the catastrophe:

Outside the main ward of the Lady Reading Hospital, where five teenage Muslim boys lay fighting for their lives, a Christian had come bearing roses.

“Cannot go inside!” said the officer in plain clothes.

“But these roses,” pleaded the Christian man.

“You may give these flowers to me,” said the officer. “Thank you.”

The officer turned to us. “The Christians have called off Christmas, you see,” he explained — in honor of the schoolchildren murdered here this week.

In 2013 as well the Christian community’s Christmas celebrations were muted, at that time in the wake of the toll of the September church bombing. The community’s solidarity this year with the suffering of so many Muslims at the hands of the Taliban is salutary and exemplary. As many Muslims reached out in care after the All Saints’ attack, so now Christians are reaching out in care.

Wednesday I had a long conversation with a Muslim colleague in Peshawar who lost a number of associates in the massacre. He is discouraged, but undaunted.

I have been heartened by the response of so many friends and colleagues in the USA and elsewhere to the news of the December 16 massacre. It is clear that many people around the world are alert and paying attention, even as they may find it difficult to know how to make a difference.

The Nativity that we celebrate in Christmastide took place in desperate times. Grinding poverty, random violence, and imperial oppression were grounds for despair, and many did give up hope. The incarnation of God in Christ Jesus took place in a remote corner in circumstances shaped by those desperations. At the other end of Jesus’ life he shared the humiliation of the oppressed and shared their death. In the eyes of the world that trajectory did not auger well for making a difference.

Yet from that life light continues to shine and transform. God’s reign was proclaimed and enacted in healing and liberation. God’s compassion shone forth. Human community formed over seemingly unbridgeable differences. Resurrection vindicated what came before and validated hope for the consummation of all things.

Christians in Pakistan live in that reality as well as in catastrophic horror. Alongside other Christian communities, the Diocese of Peshawar of the Church of Pakistan, continues its mustardseed ministries in Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It preaches and lives the work of Christ in congregations, clinics, hospitals, schools and, of course, Edwardes College. It is a privilege to join in that work.

Please do pray. That means much.

In recent weeks many in the Episcopal Church have been shocked and grieved by the turmoil that has erupted at the General Theological Seminary, the church’s oldest, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  I am among them.  It is hard to see conflict dividing and eroding an institution that has offered much to the church in the past and that has the capacity to offer much in the future, now on the verge of seminary’s bicentennial in 2017.

What constitutes the faithful exercise of authority in Christian ministry is prominent among the many aspects of the current controversy that have been debated in various forums.  A week or so ago I came across a sermon that I’d forgotten I preached on this very subject.  What prompts me to circulate it at this juncture is not only the topic but the fact that it was preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General shortly after I joined the seminary’s ministry as academic dean in 2005.

Preached from the heart of the seminary, to the heart of the seminary, may it, I pray, be a helpful reflection in the current hard time.

Self-Emptying Authority in Ministry

Sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, Sub-Dean and Professor of Mission and World Christianity, at the Community Eucharist in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd of the General Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, 27 September 2005.  Year A, Proper 21: Philippians 2.1-13; Matthew 21.28-32

Thank you for the warm welcome that you have extended to Jane and me as we have entered this community this fall.  We have a long association with the General Seminary, but this is a new chapter in our lives and a new relationship with the seminary, one in which we take great joy.  We are feeling very at home here, and your welcome has made that happen.  I look forward to working with you as Sub-Dean, as Vice President for Academic Affairs, and as Professor in the area of Mission and World Christianity.

Self-emptying authority is the theme I am drawn to with you this evening.  Self-emptying authority: the self-emptying of God in Jesus the word made flesh, and what self-emptying authority might mean for us in our lives and ministries.

“By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus was asked by the religious leaders, and he ends up declaring, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Authority was the issue.  Alongside that, we hear Paul sketching through the words of a popular hymn the drama, the deep magic behind the incarnation, how Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped or exploited, but emptied himself and took the form of a servant —

Emptied himself of what?  Emptied himself of all the prerogatives of God: the prerogatives of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, the prerogative of exalted position, and the prerogative, I would suggest, of ready-made authority.  He was in every way as we are, facing the same choices, with no more resources, whether internal or external, than you and I have.  Yet clearly he conveyed authority such that those whose authority was based in hierarchical position felt they had to ask him “By what authority are you doing these things?”  “By what authority?”

What is authority, and why is it important?

Let’s reflect for a moment on authority in our own life stories.  I invite you to reflect right now on people in your life whom you have experienced as having authority for you.  Whatever authority is, we recognize it when it is there.  True authority has little need to exert itself; instead, we place ourselves in such a relation to it that we allow ourselves to receive guidance from it.  Who are the people in your life whom you have experienced as authorities, people from whom you sought and received guidance in some way, people who shaped who you are?  Reflect for a moment on who they were or are.  What was the quality of their lives that made them authoritative for you?  From what did their authority proceed?

The dictionary defines authority in a number of ways: a citation that is used in defense or support; a decision taken as a precedent; the power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior; a person in command.  The definition that highlights our concern with authority, though, is authority as grounds, or warrant, or convincing force.  There may be no etymological link between the words authority and authenticity, but I believe the two are conceptually related: authority proceeds from authenticity, and authenticity conveys authority.  By authority I do not mean the successful exercise of power, whether legitimately through law, appointment or election, or illegitimately through whatever kind of seizure.  Authority is related to power, but it is not the same power.

Authority, I suggest, is instead a quality of being on account of which we repose confidence in another, anticipate insight from another, and receive guidance from another.  The word exousia in the original Greek of the New Testament actually gives some grounds for this intuition about authority: Exousia is rooted in the verb exeinai, which means to be allowed or permitted.  Ousia in itself is a form of the verb einai, which means to be: as a noun on its own it means that which is one’s own, one’s substance or property, or, more to the point, the being, essence or true nature of a thing.  Exousia, authority, then, is a quality that proceeds forth and comes out from one’s being or essence or true nature.

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