Yesterday, Good Friday, I received the regular daily email from Heidi Schmidt, a missionary from Queens who is serving among people in a remote area of Argentina alongside fellow missionary Monica Vega.  This is what Heidi shared:

Yesterday was so full of so much…Alicia, a Guarani mother who lost her 14-year-old son (his name is Jesus, really), so much grief, so much pain, so much of what it really is to live on the margins. We arrived and there was Alicia, in the midst of a whirlwind of life still going on, wood burning fire with a huge, blackened pot cooking away, children running about, baby crying, grungy stray dogs barking, searching for scraps … and while holding her to share our condolences she let out a deep wail, a cry, from the deepest depths I have never heard before, ever, and there I knew Christ, and such a heavy cross she carried.

Walking the journey with Jesus today, with Alicia, with all those I don’t know by name who carry their burdens, their cross, as I am able, with all my heart.

How far to follow?

‘We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words’ (Romans 8.26)

What did Jesus the Christ do for us on the cross?  The whole Jesus story is the drama of God reconciling humanity and the cosmos to God.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘In Christ, God was reconciling the world to God.’  The focal point of that reconciliation is the cross on Good Friday, the event of what has historically been called the atonement.  But how did Jesus work such reconciliation?  By being punished in our place?  That’s one traditional view that is supported in scripture, and it is certainly part of the picture: God in Christ suffering for us.

An equally important mode is God in Christ suffering with us.  At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus wept.  When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  As the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who was tempted in every way as we are.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 14, 2017

Freestanding darkness: Good Friday

A re-posting from Good Friday 2015:

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.

What I add in 2017 is reference to the link between forgiveness, which is among God’s gifts to us from the cross, and powerlessness, on which Rowan Williams  meditates in his recent book Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life:

To forgive is to share in the helplessness of God, who cannot turn from God’s own nature: not to forgive would be for God a wound in the divine nature itself.  Not power, but the powerlessness of the God whose nature is love is what is shown in the act of forgiving.  The disciple rooted n Christ shares that powerlessness, and the deeper the roots go the less possible it is not to forgive.

Palm Sunday’s attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt should prompt Christians in all places to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ and to advocate on their behalf.

The attacks on St. George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta and on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the ancient seat of Egyptian Christianity, left 44 dead and 126 wounded.  In December an attack on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo claimed 30 lives.  All the attacks were claimed by ISIS and its affiliates.

The website of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, which also oversees Anglican work in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, does not yet include news of the Palm Sunday attacks.  But a blogpost by the Grant Lemarquand, area bishop for the Horn of Africa, includes this reflection on Christians’ response to the December attack:

The Coptic Church, joined by other Christians in Egypt, responded, yes with grief, but (as usual) without calls for retaliation. Outside of the Coptic Cathedral protesters and mourners shouted. For those who don’t know the language, the sight and sound of thousands of young men chanting loudly and strongly in Arabic might strike fear into the heart of many westerners. But listen more closely … they are chanting the Nicene Creed.

Yes, it was defiance. “We are Christians. We are here. We, too, are willing to give our lives; willing to be martyrs if need be.” But it was non-violent defiance. Here were Christians in the streets of an Islamic country openly and loudly proclaiming their belief and trust in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For me the response of most Christians in Egypt was remarkable, but not really a surprise. Yes, there is anger. Yes, there is terror. But there is also an amazing trust. And, even more amazing, almost a sense of thanksgiving. I heard Christians saying that they were thankful that God had, once again, counted the Egyptian church worthy of gaining more martyrs, more ‘witnesses’ to the suffering love of God expressed in the suffering of his faithful people. I heard some say how wonderful it was that those who died went to church to have Communion with God, and found themselves continuing that Communion in God’s immediate presence.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 8, 2017

Evil in Holy Week and the vocation of mission: A meditation

Evil in the world.  Suffering among the poor, the drought-stricken and famine-stricken.  Agony among people on whom is inflicted excruciating death.  Betrayals on personal, social and global scales.  Gratuitous cruelty in families and neighborhoods.  Outrageous grabs by the powerful who disenfranchise, oppress and impoverish the less powerful.

We see all this around us – locally, regionally, globally.  The headlines need no recitation.  There you have it – evil.

In this world-scape, human-scape, suffering-scape people often ask – in puzzlement, despair or rage – ‘Where is God in all this?!  Where are you, God – that is, if you even exist?!’  And when they’re calmer and more analytical, many conclude, ‘Look at all this!  Obviously  God doesn’t exist, or if God exists God doesn’t care!’

On the eve of the Sunday of the Passion of Jesus, and so also on the eve of Holy Week, a very different conclusion emerges.  Where is God in the suffering?  Well, right here!

The story of Holy Week is a disgraceful story of jealousy, rage, conspiracy, manipulation, violence, slander – and then condemnation, cruelty, mockery, torture, abandonment and, finally, excruciating death.  The story is dark and shameful.

At the center of that story is Jesus – Jesus to whom all that happens, Jesus on whom all that is heaped, Jesus who feels it all so keenly that he cries out in desperation from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’  That cry resonates with the cry of so many who ask, ‘Where is God in the suffering?’  The Jesus who asks that question with us was a human being like all of us, yet at the same time the very being of God become flesh and living among us as one of us.  He lived among us, yet without any of the prerogatives of God and thus without omnipresence, omniscience or omnipotence.  So Jesus was genuinely alone, authentically vulnerable as he gaped into the darkness.

We often see ourselves on pilgrimage into God.  The Incarnation was God’s pilgrimage into humanity.  The primary mode of that pilgrimage was sharing – God sharing our life, God sharing our weakness, God sharing our anxiety, God sharing our unknowingness, God sharing our vulnerability to contingency and catastrophe.  Solidarity is a fancier name for it, properly popular in mission discussions, but ‘sharing’ says it more simply.  As Eucharistic Prayer A has it, Jesus was sent ‘to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.’

Jesus was sent first to share our life – that was his mission, his sent-ness.  Yes, there were the mighty words and the mighty acts, the preaching and the healing, yet Jesus could not preach to everyone, nor could he heal everyone.  The words and deeds were harbingers of a cosmic healing yet to come.  Underlying his ministry was sheer presence – Immanuel, God simply with us, the sharing.

And that turned out to be costly, as sharing always is.  Where is God in the suffering? – Well, right here in the midst of it.  A task in Holy Week is simply to contemplate God’s sharing the human journey.

Another meditation on evil on this Saturday before Passion Sunday comes from Scott Simon, the host of National Public Radio’s ‘Weekend Edition.’  After describing how the Syrian government’s chemical attack in Idlib Province prompted him to think again about evil he had this to say:

I’ve interviewed Romeo Dallaire, the former Canadian general who commanded U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. General Dallaire discovered Hutu soldiers were getting ready to massacre Tutsi civilians. But he was prevented by U.N. leadership from using his troops to try to stop the murders before they could take place. More than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans were then slaughtered over three months.

Romeo Dallaire said that what happened made him believe in evil, and even a force he called the devil. “I’ve negotiated with him,” he told us, “shaken his hand. Yes. There is no doubt in my mind …. and the expression of evil to me is through the devil and the devil at work and possessing human beings and turning them into machines of destruction. … And one of the evenings in my office, I was looking out the window and my senses felt that something was there with me that shifted me. I think that evil and good are playing themselves out and God is monitoring and looking at how we respond to it.”

God monitoring and looking at how we respond.  Yes.  And after the Christ event, God looks and monitors from the perspective of having been inside it and suffered its extremity of degradation.

God shared our condition, walked alongside us, suffered within our tormented situation.  Living out the Christ event in our own lives means that we share the suffering of others, walk alongside them, suffer within their torment.  That’s mission, our sent-ness.

A 2017 Lenten reflection program based on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is being offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the Episcopal men’s monastic community based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the free program, whether individually or in groups.  Sign-up is readily accessible at the series website – just name and email (no user name, password or address needed).  When you sign up, you receive an email making the 14-page workbook downloadable for printing.  You also begin receiving daily via email a 3-minute video reflection by one of the SSJE brothers that you can incorporate into your daily devotion.

Groups can meet weekly to share responses to the videos and the workbook, which, after the first week’s introductory chapter, is organized according to the Five Marks of Mission.  In northern Vermont, for instance, participants from a number of Episcopal congregations are participating online, with those able to meet in person gathering at one parish on Wednesday evenings and others logging in live to that meeting online.

By yesterday morning, 2,222 people around the country – maybe around the world as well – had viewed the morning’s video on YouTube, which indicates that the series is garnering a good deal of interest.  The introductory week began this past Sunday, Feb. 26, but one can join the series at any point, and all the videos are listed on the series website in case you get a late start or need to catch up on any you miss along the way

Outstanding from a missional point of view is that the Five Marks of Mission are being highlighted this way for an extended Lenten program of reflection.  For those not so familiar with the Five Marks, here they are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  • To teach, baptize 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.

Read More…

Lost in the din emanating from the daily absurdities and outrages of Donald Trump’s presidential administration is his Feb. 2 proposal at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to ‘destroy’ the so-called Johnson Amendment that prohibits USAmerican non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates or making financial contributions to political campaigns.

The Johnson Amendment is named after then Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, who later became vice president and president, and it was inserted into the Internal Revenue Code in 1954.  It applies to all organizations registered under the non-profit 501(c)(3) section of the code, so it includes not only churches but thousands of foundations, educational institutions, and charities.

Repeal of the amendment should be vigorously opposed, for it could result in a radical distortion of the mission of Christian churches in the USA.

Churches with a partisan itch would doubtless jump into the political fray, opening a floodgate to partisan political activity.  Most of that would probably be right-wing, the sector that Trump was recklessly pandering to at the prayer breakfast.  Churches that would wisely hang back in ordinary times might be tempted to join the fray lest ‘Christian political positions’ be stereotyped as right-wing.

The Christian gospel does have political implications – indeed, strong ones – for God’s revelation in the Jewish and Christian scriptures sets forth clearly lots of principles of personal morality that should be lived out in public as well as in private life, and lots of principles of social ethics that guide how we should live as communities.  Both the personal and the social dimensions should guide us in our political life.

Instances are too numerous to catalogue, but a few should suffice.  Topics of some of the Ten Commandments – for instance, the Sabbath, murder, theft, adultery – have affected civil and criminal codes – yes, with many details debated, but the effects are plain to see.  Jesus’ Beatitudes highlight personal qualities, yes, but peace-making, for example, has political valence.  Jesus’ central preaching of the Kingdom of God had political implications, as we see in his many condemnations of callous wealth and neglect of the poor.

The overwhelming biblical witness, in both the Old and New Testaments, in favor of justice for the poor, mercy for the condemned, hospitality for refugees, care of the sick, and compassion for the debt-ridden have clear implications for the body politic.  Underlying this witness is the generosity of God showered equally on all of us, a generosity that we are to reflect in our stance toward our fellow human beings, all of us equally created in God’s very image. Read More…

‘Have been hoping you might weigh in on the Muslim ban,’ a friend wrote to me last week.  The issue has naturally been of intense interest to me, given my background in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, and I’m grateful to my friend for prodding me to share reflections in this space.

Much of the public response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has been influenced by his disgraceful campaign rhetoric about banning all Muslims from entering the USA and his over-heated presidential assertions about the threat of terrorist attacks from the seven countries from which immigration, even for refugees, is banned under the executive order: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Widespread protests against the executive order have rightly decried the appearance of anti-Muslim bias, the precipitous and slipshod rollout of a sharply disruptive policy, the blatant fear-mongering that Trump regularly trumpets in support of it, his callous disregard for the plight of refugees worldwide, and his vicious attacks on judges who have challenged the order on the grounds of constitution and law.

As many know, I have my own story of arbitrary and prejudicial visa treatment – as a foreigner serving in higher education in Pakistan.  In one instance, a valid work visa was withdrawn without explanation for a period of months and then reinstated, also without explanation, after many representations by leaders of the Church of Pakistan.  In another instance, renewal of a work visa was delayed for months, without explanation, and then granted only after similar representations.  Finally, agents of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency physically beat me, threatened me with death if I didn’t leave the country, and ripped the work visa out of my US passport.

The reasons for this treatment were religious – a Muslim desire to limit Christian influence in the important sphere of higher education.  The provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa wanted to control Edwardes College, an institution founded, owned and operated by the church, and diminish the church’s role in the college’s planned charter as a university.  Realizing it had no basis for its position in constitution, law or history – after all, Pakistan’s constitution provides that all religious groups shall be free to practice and propagate their religion and manage their own institutions – the government resorted to threats and violence to enforce its will.

So I naturally empathize with people whose legitimate visa status is suddenly questioned and changed.  In the current USAmerican situation, there is no justification for barring people who already hold visas for study or work from returning to the country.  After all, they have already been vetted for security and financial viability, and it is specious to bar them on the pretext of unsubstantiated additional suspicion. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | January 3, 2017

A New Year’s Day prayer

You, O God, are beyond time, yet you have placed us in time, a dimension of the cosmos you created.  At this transition from one year to another, we thank you for the gift of time: for the infinite moments in which you invite us to be fully present, for the gifts of memory, and for the perspective that experience brings.  We pray for the grace to be thankful for time and to steward wisely the time you give us.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

We thank you, generous God, for the year that is past: for the blessing of your presence throughout that year, for the joys of family and friends, for the satisfaction of vocational accomplishments and artistic, musical and literary engagement.  We pray for the grace to cherish the time we’ve been given and to avoid the pretense of insufficient time.

Lord, in your mercy,

        Hear our prayer.

We lift up before you, merciful God, the sorrows and frustrations of the past year: our grief for those who have passed from this life into the life to come, our anger at those who may have hurt us, our shame for how we have hurt others, our frustration at opportunities lost or never offered.  We pray for the grace to be joyful in who we are, where we are, and what we have; to find your presence in all that has happened; and to be reconciled with those from whom we are estranged.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

From beyond time, eternal God, you have shown your love for the human family through engaging us in time through words of wisdom and acts of compassion.  Thank you, God, for entering space and time in Jesus, a human being who, like us, grew through time and experienced the fears and hopes that are creatures of time.  We pray for the grace to join you in your mission in the world of time through bearing witness in word and deed to your compassionate and saving love.

Lord, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Walk with us, Friend Jesus, as we journey through time.  Help us to rejoice in discovery, heal from hurts, and open ourselves always to your presence in our present moments and our unfolding future.  May your Holy Spirit quicken our spirits to be fully alive in you, the source and destination of life.  Amen.

Conversion was the theme for about 180 scholars of Christian mission from around the world as they gathered in Seoul, South Korea, for the 14th Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), August 11-17.

It was the first time that the association had focused on the theme, the full title of the conference being ‘Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change.’  This was striking, given that it was through conversion that Christianity grew to be the world’s most populous religion, a development catalyzed by mission initiatives from the Jesus movement’s earliest days to the present.

In introducing the conference theme, IAMS President Mika Vahakangas of Lund University in Sweden declared that the call to conversion is inherent in Christian mission, that conversion is both individual and social, and that spiritual, social and political conversion and transformation go hand in hand.

Plenary presentations addressed conversion from diverse standpoints.  Christine Lienemann-Perrin, retired from the University of Basel in Switzerland, offered a historical review in her address, ‘Configurations and Prefigurations of Conversion in the History of World Christianity.’  She noted the permutations of conversion in the Christian movement’s parting from Judaism, the medieval church’s encounter with Islam, the rise of denominationalism in Western Christianity, and the interplay of change and continuity in the reception of Christianity in China and Africa.

On the basis of his fieldwork among a remote group in Papua New Guinea that converted to Christianity without any external stimulus of colonialism or modernity, anthropologist Joel Robbins of Cambridge University suggested that the answer his title question, ‘Can there be conversion without cultural change?’ is both that conversion inevitably prompts cultural change and that changes often reflect significant continuities as well.  ‘People experience their Christian life as requiring a dialogue with culture,’ Robbins said.

Hyung Keun Paul Choi of Seoul Theological University discussed the decline of Christianity after explosive growth in South Korea and the strengths and weaknesses of Korea’s megachurches, which include the largest churches in the world, such as Yoida Full Gospel Church, which claims a membership of 800,000.  He suggested that Lesslie Newbigen’s classic question, ‘Can the West be converted?’ should be applied to Korea as well.  He called for an end to a mentality of Christendom in Korea and for the replacement of an ethos of ‘leaderdom’ with an ethos of servanthood.

Read More…

The phenomenon of religiously motivated violence is much on the minds of religious people around the world, whether in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, or the USA, where it has become a major theme in an unusually vitriolic presidential campaign.  Non-religious people have also been considering it, often concluding that religion itself is the problem.

One fruit of my reflection is the essay, ‘Terrorism and religion: A link we must acknowledge, not deny,’ that Episcopal News Service published on its blog today.  I take on two denial reflexes that many people have, especially if they are religious and want to detach religion from the violence committed in its name.

Bottom line: The link between religion and violence is real, and we in the religions need to wrestle with it.

‘The Key’ exhibition is the latest offering from Caravan Arts, a remarkable ministry initiative in interfaith understanding and reconciliation led by Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest and missionary.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest newsletter from Caravan Arts:

During this time of increasing discord, misunderstanding and apprehension between peoples and cultures in our world, especially between the Middle East and the West, and also during the recent unease caused by the UK’s Brexit vote, Caravan has the privilege of focusing on the critical need of harmony through The Key exhibition in the heart of London at the historic St. James’s Piccadilly, a beautiful Sir Christopher Wren building near the Royal Academy of Arts.

The Key exhibition, following its March premiere in Cairo, Egypt, opened on June 15 in London. Running through August 15, the exhibition showcases the work of 40 premier and emerging Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Western artists and uses the world’s most ancient symbol of harmony and pluralism, the Egyptian Ankh, the hieroglyph that reads “life” (often known as the “Key of Life”), as a message of hope toward seeing a world that embraces religious and cultural diversity.

The Key will open at Riverside Church in New York City on Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace, so stateside people will have opportunity to view it soon.

The work of Caravan Arts is unusual in addressing current religious and cultural discords through art, and it’s probably unique in offering its art exhibitions on a traveling basis intercontinentally.  Caravan Arts is vitally important, and I salute Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler for their vision and dedication to this avenue of reconciliation in our riven world.

While The Key exhibition may seem a bit esoteric in focusing on an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, Caravan’s other offerings are more accessible in highlighting contemporary artists from multiple religious traditions who seek understanding and reconciliation between cultures and religions.

‘The Bridge’ exhibition is a good example as it now concludes, in the USAmerican Northwest, an 18-month international tour.

Paul-Gordon Chandler and his wife Lynne have been missionaries of the Episcopal Church.  I participated in their orientation to Episcopal Church missionary work in the early 2000s, and in 2007 was able to visit them during their ministry at St. John the Baptist Church in Maadi, Cairo.  Earlier in their ministry Paul was rector of St. George’s Church in Tunis, so the work of Caravan Arts arises out of long and intense life and work in the Muslim world.

You can subscribe to the Caravan Arts newsletter here.  Read and be encouraged in a time of discord and discouragement in inter-religious relations around the world.  Better yet, go to an exhibition if one is near or your travels take you near one.




A Muslim immigrant from Pakistan on the national stage! – I was delighted to see that last night at the Democratic National Convention.

As has been widely noted, one of the convention’s high points was Khizr Khan’s talk about his son, Humayun Khan, a captain in the United States Army who was killed in 2004 after heroically stepping forward to question a suspicious-looking vehicle in Iraq, upon which those inside blew him up with their suicide vests.

Khizr Khan delivered his remarks with intensity and dignity.  Their major import was to highlight the contribution and loyalty of Muslim Americans in the face of skepticism and hostility, especially as voiced by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Tonight we are honored to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims – with undivided loyalty to our country,” he said, with his wife standing sorrowfully beside him.  His scolding of Donald Trump was well deserved, but I was especially glad about his self-presentation as a USAmerican Muslim.

As soon as Khan began speaking I was certain the family was originally from Pakistan, despite commentators’ comments, true, that they had immigrated from the United Arab Emirates.  And, sure enough, it turns out that they are originally from Pakistan, and it seems they must have arrived in the USA in about 1979.  Many Pakistanis do move to the UAE, sometimes for long periods of time, sometimes briefly as they prepare for a permanent move elsewhere.  The Khans, obviously, followed the latter pattern.

Khizr Khan presented himself very well as a Muslim USAmerican citizen, and he spoke movingly about the patriotism of his son Humayun.  His witness was a powerful antidote to the anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked by many.

Pakistan frequently comes in for similar suspicion and hostility, partly for the extremist violence with which some in Pakistan express their Islam.  Khizr Khan’s words were a good antidote to that hostility as well.

I was glad for the Muslim testimony.  I was proud that it came from a Pakistani.

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 26, 2016

Us changes its name again – back to USPG. A good move.

Welcome news: Us, the second-oldest British Anglican mission society, dating from 1701, announced on July 21 that it is returning to the acronym of its earlier name – USPG.

This sounds like a small thing, scarcely worth noting, but it is a significant event.  It heralds the return of the word ‘gospel’ in the name of the society, and restores a sense of historical continuity between the organization as it is today and as it has been for over 300 years.

As the earlier acronym is restored, it comes with one change.  Earlier, USPG stood for United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and now it will stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.

In announcing the name change, Chief Executive Janette O’Neill acknowledged that many continued to express sadness that mention of the gospel was no longer in the mission society’s name and explained the substitution of ‘partners’ for ‘propagation’ by way of a focus on working in partnership with the world church.

It was clear that ‘Us’ as a name was not working.  Over the past four years the society’s website and all its emails continued to bear the moniker-introduction, ‘Us.  The new name for USPG.’  Introduced in 2012, how could ‘Us’ still be the new name?  So it just didn’t take.  ‘Us’ as a name posed many missiological problems, as I explained at the time, and the 2012  ‘rebranding’ was theologically shallow as well as stylistically faddish.

I commend the society for returning to the more theologically robust and historically grounded name.  I also commend them for being willing to acknowledge a mistake – not explicitly, of course, but certainly between the lines.  As we would say in Shona, Makorokoto! or in Arabic and Urdu, Mashallah! – Congratulations!

Here is the announcement:

Announcing the return of USPG.
It is nearly four years since we changed our name from USPG to Us – and launched ourselves into a new era with a reinvigorated desire to participate in God’s global mission.

During 2015, we undertook some research to discover how our new brand had been received. We learned that, while our partners in Britain and Ireland and around the world greatly appreciated the energy, values and practical work embodied in the Us brand, many remained saddened that we were no longer referring to the gospel in our name.

In response, we have decided to move forward with our original name USPG, albeit it in a modernised form; the acronym USPG will now stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.

As well as reintroducing ‘gospel’ into our name, the new meaning of USPG emphasises our focus on working in partnership with the world church, while also encouraging the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland to participate more deeply in that partnership.

The official change to USPG will happen at the end of August to coincide with the Greenbelt festival, where we have a significant presence (please come along and visit our marquee if you are planning to attend). This event, and all future communications, will feature a new USPG logo and a style that will look a little different.

Be assured, in all our communications, we will be maintaining our focus on the important and inspiring work of our global partners. This remains an integral part of who we are and how we communicate as an organisation.

We have been so grateful for your support and encouragement throughout this process. Thank you for sharing your views and concerns with us, and helping us to continue developing our engagement with mission.

We hope you are as excited as we are about this change to USPG, and about this next step in our journey of moving towards an approach to overseas mission that is truly inclusive and empowering.

Janette O’Neill
Chief Executive, Us

Our evolving name

1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) is created by Royal Charter

1965: SPG and the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) merge to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG).

2012: We change our name to The United Society, to be known as Us

2016: We become USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel)

Here’s the explanation the organization offered at the time of the 2012 rebranding:

Why we changed our name to Us.

November 2012 was a milestone in our history because we changed our name from USPG to United Society, to be known as Us.

The name USPG – United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – was derived from a name coined in 1701.

But it became clear that this eighteenth-century name was not connecting with people in the twenty-first century. So it was time for a change.

Our new name is rooted in the gospel. It is a reminder that God’s love is for all of us – Jesus’ promise of a full life is for every person in every community (see John 10:10).

And we remember that Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).

We are all part of ‘us’, regardless of faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. We are all made in God’s creative image. There is room for us all.

In February 2013 I put up a 4,500-word blog post, ‘USPG’s name change to Us – smart or faddish, wise or facile, inclusive or misleading?’ in which I set forth the historical, theological, missiological, anthropological, economic and political problems  with the change to Us.  A friend commented at the time, ‘Now, Titus, tell us how you really feel about it!’  I won’t recap the problems here, but the post makes interesting reading in light of last week’s announcement of the return to USPG.

A couple of additional comments on the new name:

  • ‘Partners in the Gospel’ rather than ‘Propagation of the Gospel’: Certainly partnership is a good and important theme in contemporary mission and one worth highlighting. Some may nevertheless cavil at the substitution, given that it appears to deliberately background and deemphasize the mandate to tell people about the good news of the reign of God inaugurated in the reconciling life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That point is valid, and it would have been fine, in my view, to retain propagation as the referent of the P in USPG.
  • Biblical Resonance of ‘Partners in the Gospel’: In explaining the move to have P stand for Partners, the mission society stresses the now very common theme of mission partnership or, as O’Neill puts it, ‘working in partnership with the world church.’  Missed is the deep resonance of the phrase in the thought of the apostle Paul. A prime example is Paul’s effusive celebration of his relationship with the Philippians: ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Philippians 1:3-5).  That’s how the Revised Standard Version and the English Standard Version translate the Greek word koinonia, and the New Revised Standard Version renders it as ‘your sharing in the gospel.’  Partnership and sharing in the gospel has a mystical dimension that is deeper than the pragmatic and instrumental connotations of Partnership in Mission today, which tends to focus on working together to get particular goals accomplished.  Working toward goals is important, but from a Pauline perspective such effort is and must be undergirded by koinonia – community, fellowship, mystical sharing – in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  The phrase chosen by Us/USPG for the current rebranding can and should be grounded in that biblical vision, and we may hope that USPG will in time be able offer a robust theology for its recovered name.

Again, the return to USPG is a good move – late, but better late than never!  Best wishes to USPG in its continuing vital work around the world.


‘I’m here with you as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.’  That’s how Presiding Bishop said he introduced himself at a recent meeting of Christians and Muslims in Washington, D.C., convened to address gender-based violence in Liberia.

He went on to recount Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats at the Last Judgment and said in the meeting, which included both Islamic Relief and Episcopal Relief and Development, that when Jesus said, ‘As you did it one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,’ ‘brethren’ means the family of God, which is all of humanity.

Curry told this story in response to the first question posed to him after his April 18 keynote address at the 21st Global Episcopal Mission Conference, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) in Puerto Rico: ‘How do we talk about Jesus without scaring people in our local and global mission work.  Do we have to talk about Jesus, or is it enough to talk about the Christian way of life?’


‘We need a reengagement with Jesus of Nazareth,’ Curry said, noting that even Kahil Gibran, in his 1923 book The Prophet, distinguished between Jesus of Nazareth and the Jesus of Christians, which Curry called a cultural non-specific Jesus.  ‘Jesus in the gospels is not a floating Jesus,’ he said.

For Jesus in the gospels, love is the core and the center of life, Curry said, highlighting the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of Sheep and Goats, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan as key criteria of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  ‘Jesus calls us consistently to a higher way of being,’ he said.  Read More…

Episcopal News Service has just published a good article by Matthew Davies on how Pakistani Christians have responded to persecution, most notably the Easter Sunday suicide attack that targeted Christians celebrating in a park after church in Lahore.  Access the article here.

Especially heartening is the fact that more Episcopalians are not only expressing concern about the situation of Christians in Pakistan, but some are actually engaging with the Church of Pakistan, always a challenge in light of the climate of danger and violence in the country.

Davies highlights the visit to the Diocese of Raiwind by Caroline Carson, a parish music director from the Diocese of Louisiana, and the visit to the Diocese of Peshawar by Canon Patrick Augustine, a Pakistani-American rector in Wisconsin who has long advocated on behalf of Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians.  Also noted is the delegation from the Diocese of Los Angeles that participated in the reconciliation conference in Lahore that was sponsored by the Church of Pakistan in March of this year.

Related items include:

  • A reflection on the Lahore bombing in light of the reconciliation conference in Lahore.
  • A report on the reconciliation conference in Lahore.
  • A reflection on the centrality of reconciliation in mission today.


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