Going online for the first time this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic drew a record enrollment to the Mission Formation Program offered by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).

“Last year we were delighted to have 14 in the program held at the annual Global Mission Conference in the Dominican Republic,” said program coordinator the Rev. Holly Hartman of the Diocese of Massachusetts, “but this year we had 38 people enroll online, close to three times our highest in-person enrollment!”

Participants came from 19 domestic Episcopal dioceses, plus the dioceses of Dominican Republic, Haiti, Toronto and Dar es Salaam.  There were about equal numbers of men and women, and ages ranged from young adults to the 70s.  Eleven participants were clergy.  Seven participants were returning for the second year of the two-year program.

“We weren’t sure how the program would work online, but it came off well with very few technical glitches,” Hartman said.  Held April 27-May 1, the formation modules were offered in four two-hour segments on the Zoom platform over a week.  “The success of this format means that an online version will be important in the future of the Mission Formation Program,” Hartman said.

Modules offered this year included Biblical Foundations for Mission, Group Process for Mission Leadership, Missional Case Study, History of Anglican and Episcopal Mission, Cultural Sensitivity, Theology of Mission, Best Practices for Short-Term Mission Trips, Developing and Nourishing Mission Teams, Long-Term Mission Service, and Forming and Sustaining Diocesan Mission.

The program asks participants to carry out a fieldwork project between the first and second years.  At the close of the program on May 1, the second-year participants spoke about the projects they completed or had underway, which included: an assessment of mission work in Haiti, a mission conference held in Ohio, a photo essay on mission work in diverse parts of the world, a mission education venture for a parish, and revision of a diocesan mission grants program.

In addition to Hartman, who is global mission coordinator for the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Mission Formation leadership team included Martha Alexander, Ed.D., long active in the global outreach of the Diocese of North Carolina; the Rev. Jean Beniste, former missionary from Haiti to Dominican Republic and now rector of Christ Church, Waukegan, Illinois; the Rev. Jeffrey Bower, chair of the global mission commission in the Diocese of Indianapolis and associate rector of St. Paul’s Church, Indianapolis; and the Rev. Titus Presler, Th.D., missiologist, president of GEMN and former missionary in Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

“As in many sectors of church life, moving this program online has implications for the future work of GEMN, especially as so much education has gone online in the 21st century,” Presler said.  “It’s helpful to meet in person, but the online reach of this year’s program prompts us to move more decisively toward making online encounter a major part of our work.”

The pandemic prompted cancellation of this year’s Global Mission Conference in Indianapolis, where it was to focus on the role of creation care in global mission.  GEMN plans the same theme and location in the spring of 2021, though definite arrangements await the outcome of the pandemic.

Founded in 1994, GEMN is the church’s freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, organizations, congregations, seminaries and individuals dedicated to “proclaim, inspire and ignite the joy of God’s mission.”

 

 

This is one in a series of posts about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global mission. 

‘All of our people are safe and well,’ said Mission Personnel Officer Elizabeth Boe in an April 23 interview about the situation of international missionaries of the Episcopal Church amid the coronavirus pandemic.  ‘Some are home, and many are still in place.’

‘We’d been following this for quite awhile before the State Department released its Level 4 Global Health Alert,’ Boe said.  The March 31 alert read: ‘The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.’

‘After the alert we gave people the option of coming home to the United States, or to their country of origin,’ Boe said, explaining that some Episcopal missionaries are from other countries.  ‘Most people did not want to come home, and the majority of our people are still out there.  We told them it was better to shelter in place rather than to travel.

‘We still have 18 people out,’ Boe continued.  ‘Some couldn’t come home because borders were closed quickly, especially in Central America.  I myself was supposed to visit some missionaries in Central America but then decided it wasn’t viable.  I could have gotten into El Salvador, but six hours after I would have arrived travel was banned.  I was supposed to go on to Guatemala and Honduras, but they quickly closed their borders.  We still have people in those three countries.  At this point the borders and airports are still closed.’

‘People who came home decided there was little they could do where they were.  For instance, schools had closed down,’ Boe said.  ‘Everything depends on the context.’

There are currently 33 people on the missionary roster, Boe said; nine are with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), and 24 are Episcopal Volunteers in Mission (EVIM).  The 18 still abroad include five in YASC, and they are serving in Bahrain, El Salvador, England, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Jerusalem, Oman, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Republic, Dominican Republic and Tanzania.

Missionary blogs offer direct access to the reflections of those serving abroad.  Recent examples include Emma Wright’s blog from Oman and the blog of Joe Pagano and Amy Richter in South Africa.

‘International mission service helps prepare people for this type of situation,’ Boe said, explaining that going abroad in mission is inherently isolating.  ‘Resilience-wise, they are well prepared and doing well.’  In their places of service missionaries are adopting new ways of carrying out their ministry, much as Episcopalians in the USA are.  For instance, the three clergy serving in the Persian Gulf region are holding worship via the Zoom online platform.

Boe is keeping in touch with the missionaries through Zoom meetings.  At one recent meeting, the Order of the Holy Cross member who had been chaplain to missionaries during their orientation held at the order’s monastery in West Park, N.Y., joined in the conversation, and the missionaries were delighted to be reconnected with him.

‘This pandemic is showing us that we are truly interconnected globally, whether our daily lives show that or not,’ Boe reflected.  ‘The global Anglican Communion matters.  There are beautiful stories of communion happening in many different ways.  We need each other. This situation is showing that to all of us in a new and dramatic way.’

However, the pandemic has also curtailed plans to send new missionaries.  ‘We had to make the sad but responsible decision not to hold a mission orientation in June, so there will be no new appointments this year,’ Boe said.  ‘We’re sad about this, but from a safety standpoint we wouldn’t be able to do the orientation.  We couldn’t be sure that the pandemic would be controlled enough to send people around the world.  We have a duty of care for our missionaries and also for our Anglican Communion partners who welcome people into their communities.’

Boe wrote several weeks ago to the missionaries who were in the pipeline for the orientation.  ‘That was one of the sadder emails that I’ve had to write.  We were looking forward to seeing them again in June.  It was hard to write an email that I knew would take what is already a challenging and confusing time and add more chaos to it.  I told them we would happily hold a spot for them next year if that’s what they want, and a few of them have taken us up on that.  In the fall we’ll reach out to them again.’

Eight of the missionaries who came home would like to go back, Boe said.  ‘That could happen when it’s safe and our partners and we agree that it’s possible for them to return.’  Three of the YASC missionaries would like to do a second year beyond the standard one-year term of service.

‘How do we incorporate what we’re learning now into how we recruit, train and support people?’ Boe asked as she considered the future.  ‘People see that their stories matter, even in the midst of what seems ordinary.  Sometimes asking people how they’re doing is the best gift we can give, whether in a pandemic or not.  People who are already away from home and experiencing isolation appreciate that people are thinking of them and praying for them.

Elizabeth Boe served in Tanzania with the Young Adult Service Corps from 2008 to 2010.  She joined the staff of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Global Partnerships in 2011 and has been Mission Personnel Officer since 2017.

The Office of Global Partnerships is a member agency of the Global Episcopal Mission Network, which convenes mission-activist dioceses, congregations, organizations, seminaries and individuals to catalyze global mission throughout the church.

 

 

This post is one in a series exploring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global mission. 

‘Every team scheduled from March through June has canceled,’ said Bill Kunkle, executive director of the Dominican Development Group (DGG), last week about US-based mission teams that changed their plans to visit the Dominican Republic in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven teams canceled their travel plans, Kunkle said, five postponed, and about half a dozen teams have not yet made decisions because their trips were planned for later in the summer.  What he calls ‘virtual mission teams’ are one avenue for continuing the outreach despite stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions.

Bill Kunkle at work in Dominican Republic.

The shift in DGG’s work, which coordinates the ecclesial, educational and medical mission outreach of eleven Episcopal dioceses in companionship with the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic, is a vivid example of how the global pandemic is affecting the global mission work of churches.

‘It’s a lot, it’s a real challenge,’ Kunkle said.  ‘From an organizational standpoint we’re safe financially because we’re supported by the dioceses.  But for God’s work in communities in the Dominican Republic it’s a challenge for how we can maintain the programs underway in the communities.’

DGG is working on a ‘mission from afar’ program, Kunkle said, where participants still minister as a team but don’t travel to the DR.  In addition to raising funds for ministry in the DR, virtual mission teams conduct the planned morning and evening devotions during the week they would have been in the DR.  They will be trying to have conversations with their Dominican companions via online platforms, though that is difficult due to lack of equipment in churches and schools, spotty cellular service and weak wifi connections in the DR.

‘The situation seems bad and negative in a lot of ways,’ Kunkle said, ‘but one of the positives is that it will connect this country and their country through electronic community.’

Not only has community development work been held back by the pandemic, but many individuals have been affected through decreased funds available for scholarships.  The finances of Dominican congregations have been affected negatively by restrictions on gathering for worship because many parishioners there make offerings only in cash and do not have checking accounts.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that change in mission work,’ Kunkle said as he pondered the future of mission after the pandemic.  ‘Things are going to be different in our country and in the DR.  A lot of good may come out of this.  Maybe we don’t need to meet in person as much.  But it does take out some of the relational side of mission.  It does harm that because it’s important to meet face to face.’

With his reduced travel schedule, Kunkle is now getting back to work on a handbook for mission teams that he began drafting five years ago.  The handbook will include resources for planning, scheduling, logistics and cultural sensitivity for both sides of the mission encounter.

The Dominican Development Group is based in Tampa, Florida.  An Episcopal Volunteer in Mission, Bill Kunkle has served as executive director since 2013.  DGG’s work is overseen by a 21-member Board of Directors chaired by the Rev. Jason Roberson of the Diocese of Virginia.

The Diocese of the Dominican Republic has companion relationships with the dioceses of Central Gulf Coast, Eastern Michigan, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwest Texas, South Carolina, Southeast Florida, Southwest Florida, Western Louisiana, and Western Michigan. DDG serves as a clearinghouse for maintaining these relationships.

DGG is a member organization of the Global Episcopal Mission Network, which convenes mission-activist dioceses, congregations, organizations, seminaries and individuals to catalyze global mission throughout the church.

The annual Mission Formation Program for global mission activists and advocates will be held in four online sessions from April 27 to May 1 this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) has announced.

“Offering this vital program online both responds to the constraints of the Covid-19 situation and enables people from all over the Episcopal Church and the world to participate,” said the Rev. Holly Hartman, who coordinates the program on behalf of GEMN.  “We’re looking forward to a stimulating time with people passionate to be more involved in God’s global mission.”

Registration for the program is accessible here.   The program dates and times via the Zoom platform are: Monday, April 27, 7-9 p.m.; Tuesday, April 28, 10 a.m.-12 noon; Wednesday, April 29; 12 noon-2pm; and Friday, May 1, 7-9 p.m.  These have been arranged at a variety of times in order to accommodate diverse schedules and individual learning styles – some people learn best in the morning, others in the evening, and so on.

Held by GEMN for over 20 years, the Mission Formation Program gives people involved in parish and diocesan global mission initiatives the opportunity to explore biblical foundations, mission theology and history, cultural and inter-religious sensitivity, discernment, short-term and longterm mission standards, companionship in mission, mission team and project development, leadership styles and group process.

Ordinarily offered in conjunction with the annual Global Mission Conference, which was canceled this year due to the pandemic, the Mission Formation Program is a two-year process in which participants carry out a project between the first and second years.  A number of participants are returning from 2019, and registration is open for new first-year participants.

Led by Holly Hartman, global mission coordinator in the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Mission Formation Team that will conduct the 2020 program includes Dr. Martha Alexander, long active in the global outreach of the Diocese of North Carolina; the Rev. Jean Beniste, former missionary from Haiti to Dominican Republic and now rector of Christ Church, Waukegan, Illinois; the Rev. Jeffrey Bower, chair of the global mission commission in the Diocese of Indianapolis and associate rector of St. Paul’s Church, Indianapolis; the Rev. Maurice Dyer, associate rector at St. David’s Church, Radner, Penn.; and the Rev. Titus Presler, Th.D., missiologist, president of GEMN and former missionary in Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

Founded in 1994, GEMN is the church’s freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, mission organizations, congregations, seminaries and individuals dedicated to “proclaim, inspire and ignite the joy of God’s mission.”

 

 

The annual Global Mission Conference organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) has had to be canceled on account of the coronavirus pandemic, to the great regret of all of us on the Board of Directors, of which I am the president.  This news is over a month old now, but it’s nevertheless appropriate to post it here.

Our plan is to convene in 2021 around the same time of year, preferably in April, if the pandemic has faded enough to permit that, and again the Indianapolis area.  We will have the same timely theme: Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission, with, we hope, the same plenary speakers, who include Katharine Jefferts Schori, Orlando Gomes, Rachel Mash and Leon Sampson.  You can go to the GEMN website to read more about the projected keynoters and workshop presentations.

Unlike the scholarly conferences whose cancellations I’ve posted, the Global Mission Conference is a gathering for mission activists from dioceses, congregations, mission organizations and seminaries, in addition to a number individuals from around the Episcopal Church.  Please stay tuned for our plans for 2021.

We canceled early on as it was becoming clear that holding the conference would not be viable.  Here is the announcement that I sent out and that was posted on the GEMN website:

Cancellation of 2020 Conference

Dear Global Mission Community,

In view of the national and international coronavirus situation, the Board of Directors of the Global Episcopal Mission Network has decided to cancel the 2020 Global Mission Conference that was to be held at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, April 29-May 1.

We have made this decision with great regret, but we feel that canceling is appropriate in view of the widespread concern about the virus and the difficulty of predicting the course of transmission over the coming months.

People have legitimate concerns about participating in gatherings that bring together people from all parts of the country, some of which have recorded infections. We believe it is both caring and prudent to cancel the conference at this time.

GEMN is contacting those who registered for the conference about registration refunds. The Board is exploring remote electronic possibilities for the Mission Formation Program and the Diocesan Networks Gathering that were to be held in conjunction with the conference.

This is the first time that GEMN has canceled the annual Global Mission Conference in the 25-year history of the network. The urgency of this year’s theme, Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission, intensifies our regret in this cancellation. We encourage all in the global mission community to consider how to integrate creation care in their global mission work amid the planetary environmental crisis. Resources will be provided on the GEMN website.

We will inform you as soon as possible about plans for the 2021 Global Mission Conference.

As you know, the conference often generates new memberships for GEMN. These memberships enable GEMN to proclaim and ignite the good news of God’s mission throughout the year. We count on your support. If you have not already joined GEMN for 2020, please do so now.

In the missional Christ,

The Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler
President

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the American Society of Missiology (ASM) to postpone its annual conference until 2021.  ASM brings together Anglican, Evangelical, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic mission scholars from the USA and Canada, and often there are a number of scholars from other countries as well.  It is probably the strongest regional body of mission scholars in the world, last year convening about 250 participants.

I look forward to the conference annually and have had the privilege of presenting papers there for a number of years.  The conference was long held at the monastery of the Society of the Divine Word in Chicago, then at Wheaton College, and now at St. Mary’s College adjacent to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Here is the announcement made quite recently, later than many other such announcements:

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MISSIOLOGY

2020 ANNUAL MEETING

The annual meeting of the ASM, along with the associated meetings of the APM and AETE, will not be held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Instead, these meetings have been postponed until June of 2021 (June 17 – 20).  This regretful decision was reached by the leadership of the ASM, APM and AETE after careful deliberation and close consultation with our hosts, Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.  The themes and programs for the 2021 meetings will be, as much as possible, the same as those which had been scheduled for 2020.  Because elections of officers take place during the annual meeting, the officers of the ASM will continue in their current position for an extra year.  Those of you who have made travel arrangements to South Bend for this year’s annual meeting are asked to rebook or cancel those arrangements.  Those who registered for the annual meeting(s) will be sent specific instructions regarding your registration.  All who wish to cancel their registration will receive 100% of their payment.  There will also be an option to apply this year’s registration to next year’s meeting at no extra cost.  If you have any questions, please direct them to Alison Fitchett Climenhaga at asmissiologyconference@gmail.com.

Sincerely, Arun W. Jones, President, American Society of Missiology.

Connect with ASM on Facebook.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an immediate effect on international cross-cultural mission work and also on gatherings of mission scholars, as the missive below, received on March 25, from the International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) makes clear.

As President Paul Kollman notes in his closing paragraph, the pandemic demonstrates the timeliness of the conference theme: ‘Powers, Inequalities, and Vulnerabilities: Mission in a Wounded World.’

IAMS is the most broad-based association of mission scholars, for it is truly international in scope with scholars from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Oceania.  It meets only once every four years, so the postponement of this year’s conference is especially disappointing. It is also very ecumenical, including Anglicans, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants.

I first attended an IAMS conference in Harare in the mid-1980s.  I most recently attended the 2016 conference, which was held in Seoul, South Korea, and presented a couple of papers there.

Dear TITUS PRESLER

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the postponement of our 15th Assembly, which was to have taken place this July in Sydney. I do so on behalf of the entire IAMS Executive Committee and our local partners at the Australian Association for Mission Studies (AAMS).

This has been predictable, of course, given the global news of the expansion of COVID-19 and the threat to welfare that it represents. Recent restrictions on international travel make any consideration of moving ahead with the Assembly as planned impossible. Australia’s current restrictions, which may or may not be extended to July, are as follows:

    • the government has banned all non-citizens and non-residents from arriving in Australia;
    • the government restricts all gatherings to no more than fifty persons; and
    • Australia (and most other governments) have in place and likely will continue to require a fourteen-day self-quarantine, which would doubly impact travelers upon arrival and return.

Unavoidable as this postponement is, I regret that our meeting – which ordinarily takes place only every four years – will be delayed. We could have all benefited from the quadrennial days of fellowship, intellectual stimulation, and professional encouragement that previous meetings have represented!

We do not yet have dates or details for the eventual Assembly, and are working on that now. We are looking tentatively at July 2021, in the same venue. In addition, we are considering what to do about registration payments already made. We are also looking at the IAMS Constitution closely to determine our next steps. As soon as we have come to these and related determinations, we will be in touch with you. We will also seek to keep you up-to-date about our ongoing conversations with our local partners in Australia at AAMS, especially local chair Darrell Jackson; our local travel coordination company Christian Fellowship Tours; and Morling College in Sydney. I want to thank them, and many others, for all the work done so far to prepare for what will be-regardless of when it happens-an inspiring IAMS Assembly. In particular, a heartfelt thanks goes also to all of you who have already contributed to our future Assembly by setting aside time and energy in myriad ways. It suffices only to know that more than 200 paper proposals were made in study groups, and 80 proposals offered in thematic panels.

I am struck these days by the timeliness of our Assembly theme, “Powers, Inequalities, and Vulnerabilities: Mission in a Wounded World.” Little in my experience has shown the clarity of the wounded context in which Christian mission takes place, with its attendant shared vulnerability and inequalities of resources and opportunity, than the current crisis.

Know of our prayers for you, your loved ones, and all of our partner organizations in this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Paul Kollman
IAMS President

The ‘Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission’ conference at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, April 29-May 1, has a terrific set of plenary speakers in Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Leon Sampson, Rachel Mash and Orlando Gomez.

But equally compelling are the workshops, which bring outstanding creation care leaders to share theological insights about creation care and their practical experience in addressing the planetary crisis of our time during this annual conference organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).  Register for the conference here.

I’m so enthusiastic about the slate of workshops that we’ve been able to assemble that I’m including the current list from the GEMN website (I say current list because more workshops are in process).

EARTH CARE, SOUL CARE: GROWING IN SPIRITUAL RESILIENCE
The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care, Diocese of Western Massachusetts

As we face the cascading losses of species extinction and a rapidly changing climate, what do we do with our grief, fear, and outrage?  Where do we find hope as we struggle to protect God’s Creation?  What spiritual perspectives and practices can help us to move past burnout and despair and into the joy of resurrected living?  How can protecting Earth become a mission that nourishes rather than depletes our souls?   This workshop will explore a theological framework for “holding” our concern for Earth, its creatures and people.  Our time together will include presentations, guided meditation, and small- and large-group conversation.

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas is Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.  An Episcopal priest, author, and climate activist, she has been a lead organizer of  Christian and interfaith events about care for Earth, and she leads retreats in the U.S.A. and Canada on spiritual resilience and resistance in the midst of a climate emergency. Her new book, Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (2019), is an anthology of essays co-edited with the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade. She has been arrested in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to protest expanded use of fossil fuels.  In 2016 she received the Steward of God’s Creation award from the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. She served as Chaplain to the House of Bishops, and at Episcopal Divinity School (then in Cambridge, Mass.) she taught courses on prayer and spirituality, addiction, and the environment.  She is a graduate of Stanford (BA, Russian Literature), Harvard (PhD., Comparative Literature), and Episcopal Divinity School (M.Div.). Her website, www.RevivingCreation.org, includes blog posts, sermons, and articles.

GROWING COMMON GROUND
The Rev. Christopher Beasley and Mr. Chuck Dailey, Diocese of Indianapolis
In this workshop participants will learn how this congregation of 30 people and a bi-vocational rector stepped out into their community and built a network of relationships that now spans three counties in central Indiana. St. Peter’s Garden’s and Apiary was started in 2015 to connect our existing share gardens to our new apiary that teaches youth and adults in Boone County about our food systems’ dependence on bees. Utilizing eight acres of land where we have raised-bed gardens and long-row gardens, we give our produce freely on-site and to local food pantries and meal-serving locations in Boone County. In 2018, we produced nearly 1,500 pounds of food on ½ acre for distribution at the St. Joseph Catholic Church Food Pantry. Our teaching apiary brings over 200 kids each summer through our bee corrals. The Harvest House Community Center features an instructional kitchen that teaches others how to prepare and preserve food and how to freeze dry fruits and vegetables for later use.

The Rev. Christopher Beasley serves as Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lebanon, Indiana (twenty miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis). He is a 2014 graduate of Bexley Seabury Seminary. 

Mr. Chuck Dailey serves as Senior Beekeeper and Gardener at St. Peter’s with his wife Sandy. He is on the Board of the Beekeepers of Indiana and serves as the Education Chair for Indiana. He gives nearly 30 talks a year to schools, bee clubs, and other gardening groups around the state.

 

REPAIRING THE EARTH THROUGH A CARBON-OFFSET PARTNERSHIP

The Rev. Jeffrey Gill, Rector, Trinity Parish, Seattle, Washington

In 2012 the bishops of the Dioceses of Olympia and the Southern Philippines discovered they had a common interest in the stewardship of creation and decided to enter into a Covenant establishing the Carbon Offset Cooperative Mission. Carbon offsets from the Diocese of Olympia have funded a tree nursery and reforestation projects throughout the Diocese of the Southern Philippines.  The nursery not only is helping with carbon sequestration but is also creating jobs and income. Rubber trees, mahogany, coffee and other tropical varieties are being grown. In the Diocese of Olympia funds are raised through offsets for diocesan travel, and parishes participate through paying offsets on their carbon footprint. Since 2012 over 75,000 trees have been planted by churches in the Southern Philippines. In this workshop Jeff Gill will describe the Carbon Offset Cooperative Mission in detail through pictures and stories from his recent trip to the Philippines.

The Rev. Jeffrey Gill is the Rector of Trinity Parish in downtown Seattle, Washington.  He was ordained in the Diocese of Massachusetts and served parishes there for over 25 years.  He also chaired the Diocesan Commission on Wider Mission for many years.  Jeff is a native of Indiana, a graduate of Indiana University (East Asian Languages and Cultures and Religious Studies) and Harvard Divinity School.  He has been engaged in global mission throughout his life in a variety of ways in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe.  He is currently the Chair of the Global Mission Network of the Diocese of Olympia and a member of the Bishop’s Committee on the Environment, which has enabled him to be engaged in the Carbon Offset Cooperative Mission with the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines.  Jeff and his wife Carolyn love traveling the world and experiencing the beauty and diversity of peoples and cultures, which they intend to do more of after his retirement next August.

Read More…

How can mission-minded Christians engage with the crisis of climate change and environmental degradation with mission companions in other parts of the world?

That is the question at the heart of the 2020 Global Mission Conference sponsored for the Episcopal Church by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN)“Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission” will be held Wednesday-Friday, April 29-May 1, at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Register for the conference here.

Truly planetary, the climate crisis is so massive in its scope and impacts on humanity and all life that it is easy to feel helpless.  Every day brings news of crippling droughts, destructive fires, engulfing floods, impending starvation, and scientific predictions that global catastrophe is ever nearer.  Pollution of air, soil, rivers and oceans intensifies the crisis.

Yet as Christians we know that the cosmos is precious to the God who both created it and entered it in incarnate in Christ Jesus.  Participating in God’s mission therefore means that we must engage spiritually, theologically and practically in creation stewardship in the current emergency.  Personally, yes, but also in mission companionship with others around the world, many of whom live in places that are more severely affected by droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

So we in GEMN, of which I’m the current president, invite Episcopalians and Christians generally to explore at the Earthkeeping conference how to integrate creation care into our global mission work.  In addition to multiple workshops on specific examples and approaches, we will be spurred by keynote speakers:

  • Katharine Jefferts Schori, the former Presiding Bishop who was previously an oceanographer, will provide theological grounding, scientific background and insights from her experience around the world.

 

  • Leon Sampson, an eco-activist priest in Navajoland, will share how Native American perspectives correlate with Christian theology and offer ecological approaches from the First Nations.

 

  • Rachel Mash, a priest who coordinates the Green Anglicans network in Southern Africa, will discuss innovative approaches taken by the church in Africa and suggest specific ways Christians in the West can engage ecologically with companions in the Majority World.

 

  • Orlando Gomez, the bishop of Costa Rica, and a team from that diocese will share how the climate crisis is affecting Latin America and how his eco-activist diocese and others in that part of the world are engaging in creation care.

Read More…

All friends of the Christian community in Pakistan and friends of Edwardes College and the Diocese of Peshawar are gladdened by the news that the Peshawar High Court has, in response to a suit filed by the diocese, directed the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and several provincial government departments to cease interfering in the affairs of Edwardes College.

Here is a link to the Anglican Communion News Service’s article about the decision.  Here is a link to an article in Dawn, one of the national newspapers.

The court’s decision is an important step toward resolving the church’s 45-year struggle to regain control of its college after an illegal usurpation of the church’s role by the provincial governor in 1974.  We hope and pray that the High Court’s decision of May 15 will put an end to the difficult legal wrangling that has characterized the conflict.  However, the court has given the governor and the government departments two weeks in which to file responses to the order, so it is possible that full resolution of the case is still in the future.

This development fairly shouts out to me in light of the fact that it was my advocacy and promotion of the church’s position in the matter that prompted ISI agents in February 2014 to physically beat me, tear the visa out of my passport and threaten me with death if I did not leave the country.

It is so good to have the court affirm and vindicate the church’s insistence that Edwardes is an institution founded, sponsored and owned by the church and that therefore the bishop, the diocese and a church-appointed board of governors are the legal authorities in the life of the college.

At the same time, the decision reawakens my feelings around the matter – love for the college, longing for its community, and grief for how a stimulating and fulfilling inter-religious ministry there ended for me.

My good friend Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, who is bishop of Peshawar and president bishop of the Church of Pakistan, has been in touch about the situation.  Here’s an excerpt from his note:

Again we went through havoc, we are particularly sad about the attitude of our Governor and the Education Department, their whole focus is to suppress the presence of the Church in our Province. I cannot predict what will be their next move but at least the High Court new decision is with us. Every day a new challenge targeting our existence and identity. Keep us in your prayers.

‘Targeting our existence and identity’ – that phrase encapsulates the situation of the Christian community in Pakistan over the past decade or so as religious extremism has made the situation of all religious minorities precarious – Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Shia Muslims and Muslim groups regarded by the majority as heretical.  The bishop has our prayers.

This week’s court decision is a kind of epilogue to the court’s critically important judgment of 22 March 2016, referenced in the document, which declared that Edwardes is a private institution under the auspices of the church and not a public-sector institution accountable to the provincial government.  This is the understanding for which we were arguing in the college charter negotiations and subsequent court case in 2013-14.  Yet since 2016 the government has nevertheless been at the helm, a situation that commenced illegally in 1974.  It appears that in recent months the diocese and bishop were driven by the government’s aggressiveness to appoint, wisely, the church-overseen Board of Governors that is authorized by the college’s 1943 constitution.  It is this move that appears to have prompted the government to redouble its aggressiveness, which in turn prompted the church’s additional lawsuit.

It is so good that the court is tilting toward the church on the basis of the 2016 decision.  We hope and pray that the court will hold firm in any further legal maneuvering.

Here is further background for understanding the dynamics of this long-running situation:

  • The conflict is not between the diocese and the federal government, but between the diocese and the provincial government.  As noted by a Christian representative in one of the news stories, Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that the college should be under church auspices.

 

  • The provincial-federal distinction is muddied, however, by the fact that provinces in Pakistan have two separate governance structures, one elected and one appointed.  Each province has an elected provincial assembly, and the majority party, or the plurality party in coalition with others, forms the provincial government and elects the chief minister.  The governor, on the other hand, is appointed at the federal level by the prime minister of the nation.  The governor has oversight of federal matters within the province, which in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border and, obviously, the ongoing military conflict in that area.  Higher education around the country is regulated by the federal Higher Education Commission (HEC), hence the governor is typically the chancellor of higher education institutions in the province, with the on-the-ground administrator being the vice chancellor.  It is on this pattern that in 1974 it was the governor (not the chief minister) who usurped the role of chair of Edwardes’ board of governors.  Edwardes being a college rather than a university meant that the governor installed himself as board chair rather than as chancellor.

 

  • It is true that the college was never nationalized, as a Christian representative is quoted as saying in one of the news stories.  What happened in 1974 was that the then-governor simply installed by fiat a new board of governors with the governor in the chair, the bishop as vice chair, and a majority of government functionaries and a minority of church representatives.  The matter of fiat is important because the many other Islamist-motivated nationalizations of the 1970s around the country were carried out according to procedures laid out in a nationalization law that had been passed.  The governor-led board installed in 1974 was, by contrast, simply announced through a memo by the then-governor.  There was no  reference to the nationalization law, nor was an ordinance proposed, for which the nation’s constitution provides a route for legislative endorsement.  Therefore we have long argued that the 1974 action has no legal standing.  The church never accepted the new situation, but it went along with it only because it was dangerous to resist it.

 

  • Readers may wonder how the church’s opponents in the province could feel they had legal grounds to challenge the church’s authority over the college.  Here are just a few examples:

– Yes, there is the college constitution of around 1943, but its provenance and authority were questioned.  To the contrary, by any historical measure it is a legal and authoritative document.

– Yes, the church has title to the land on which the college is located, but opponents claimed, falsely and without evidence, that various parcels had been paid for with government money.

– You’re familiar with the aphorism, ‘Possession is nine-tenths of the law.’  Opponents of the church seemed to believe that the nearly 40 years of operation with the governor in the chair and a government majority on the board justified the situation.  We argued, to the contrary, that the persistence of an illegal situation does not legitimize it.  No squatter’s rights, as it were, should be recognized.

  • The identical conflict of 2013-14 between church and government was prompted by our initiative to become a degree-awarding institution, or a university, rather than have our degrees awarded through the public-sector University of Peshawar.  That required a charter, which obviously would set forth the governance of the college.  In drafting a charter the church and we in college leadership sought to rectify the 1974 usurpation by providing for a church-majority board of governors chaired by the bishop of Peshawar as the chancellor.  HEC guidelines specified, after all, that the head of the sponsoring entity of any degree-awarding institution must be the chancellor of the institution, so this accorded with the federal standard.  It was the church-majority proposal that the provincial government resisted, ultimately with violence.  Hence the effort to become a university stalled indefinitely.  Previously the provincial government had been so impressed with how things were going at Edwardes that they granted us Rupees 300 million (equivalent at the time to US$3 million) to help fund the faculty, library and facilities upgrading necessary for HEC approval.  But a chartered church majority on the board was a bridge too far for them.  If the Peshawar High Court order stands and the provincial government stands down, maybe the degree-awarding initiative can be restarted.  I hope and pray so, for Edwardes’ unique quality and heritage equips it to make a much enhanced contribution to higher education in the province.

Missional takeaways from all this somewhat arcane legalese and academic-ese?

– Support for persecuted Christians is an important responsibility of Christian mission.

– Christian sponsorship of education at all levels is a vital mission contribution.

– Supporting Christian institutions is a vital aspect of supporting Christian presence, especially where Christians are a minority under pressure.

– Deep engagement with institutional dynamics is often a vital missionary contribution.

One correction to the ACNS story: Edwardes is far from being ‘the one remaining Christian institution in Pakistan’!  There are scores of institutions in the form of church-sponsored and church-run schools and medical facilities throughout the country.  In the Diocese of Peshawar alone there are St. Elizabeth’s School in Peshawar, Mission Hospital in Peshawar, Pennell School and Pennell Hospital in Bannu, and various other institutions, and the same goes for other churches.  Higher education was indeed especially hard hit by the nationalizations of the 1970s, with a number of colleges taken over by the government, including Forman Christian College in Lahore, founded and run by the Presbyterian Church USA.  However, Forman was de-nationalized in the first decade of the 2000s and has been flourishing ever since, again under Presbyterian auspices.  What is true is that Edwardes is one remaining institution of higher education owned by the Church of Pakistan.

 

“We try to combine evangelism with social action,” said Bishop Moisés Quesada Mota in explaining the approach of Episcopalians in the Dominican Republic, one of the fastest growing dioceses in the Episcopal Church.  “We are a new humanity that Christ has shown in the church.  We are the living gospel of Jesus Christ that has come to life in the church so we can take the message to others and show the light to people.”

Quesada was speaking in a panel discussion at the 2019 Global Mission Conference that his diocese co-hosted with the Dominican Development Group, April 3-5, in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.  Organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), 120 people from all over the Episcopal Church were wrestling with the role of evangelism in the church’s global mission under the theme, “Sharing Jesus: Mutual Witness in Global Mission.”  The bilingual conference included simultaneous translation between Spanish and English.

“The gospel is a different news, a radical news,” said keynoter Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio of Cuba.  “It is the news of knowing that each human being has a dimension inside of themselves that they cannot fulfill without God – the presence of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit.  It is news that is different from the dominant culture, where people have so much anxiety and confusion without a horizon. The gospel is the horizon, the space where we are transformed fully.  It is radical and coherent.  It allows us to find happiness in our lives.”

It took courage for Cuban Christians to witness to their faith in the ideological environment of communism after the Cuban revolution of 1959, Delgado said as she described the steady and multi-dimensional growth of the Episcopal Church in Cuba in recent decades.  “We used to say ‘Cuba for Christ.’ Now we say, ‘Christ for the Cuban people,’” she noted in emphasizing the church’s effort to integrate gospel proclamation with the social and economic needs of Cubans today.

“While you are doing medical mission, economic development, gender empowerment, constantly seek, name and notice Jesus’s loving presence,” said keynoter the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the Presiding Bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care.  “Put your Jesus lenses on wherever you go.  Whenever you see God, name and celebrate that, invite other people to celebrate with you, and let God do the rest.”

“When we go into different cultures or spaces where Christianity is not the norm, if all we have is Christian superiority, that is not going to fly,” said Spellers, who recently traveled to South Africa.  As she shared her own story of seeking “a love that does not disappoint,” she declared, “This is a story I can share with Muslims, with atheists.  If you haven’t figured this out, take time to identify the difference Jesus has made in your life.”

“People in South Carolina often say they are ‘highly favored,’” said Bishop Bill Skilton, former suffragan of the Diocese of South Carolina.  “Part of our problem as a church is that we have stopped at being favored, and we haven’t tried being the flavor – the salt.  You’ve forgotten your calling to become fishers of people and you’ve become aquarium keepers.”  The mission conference was held at the Dominican diocese’s Bishop Skilton Conference Center, named in honor of his service as a missionary and, later, assistant bishop on the Caribbean island.

The Rev. Anthony Guillén, director of ethnic ministries for the Episcopal Church, noted how simple greetings can be evangelistic: “When we ask, ‘How are you?’ in the U.S. the response is usually, fine, tired, busy, okay.  In Latin culture, the response is always with ‘Gracias a Dios’ added, meaning, ‘Because of God, I am fine.’  There is already a consciousness of God in our lives, proclaimed unashamedly.”

In addition to plenaries by keynoters Delgado and Spellers, an array of 18 workshops addressed outreach to under-evangelized people groups, gospel enculturation, the history of Anglican evangelism, digital evangelism, ‘The Way of Love’ in global mission, missional encounter with Islam, mission and community at the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2020, locally empowered economic mission, asset-based community development, interfaith reconciliation, Hispanic evangelism, missionary vocational discernment, and site-specific discussions of mission in the Sudans, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.  The Rev. David Copley, director of the Global Partnerships unit at the Episcopal Church Center, updated conferees on the work of that group.

“In GEMN’s 24 years of annual conferences, this is the first conference to focus specifically on evangelism,” I said as president of GEMN in opening the conference.  “With the growth of the world church and the intensifying focus on poverty alleviation, the world mission community sent evangelism to the back of the line.  As the church as a whole is reviving its commitment to evangelism, we in GEMN feel it’s important to re-integrate evangelism with global mission.”

Conference participants responded enthusiastically to what they heard.  “So many of the mission teams that come down here to the Dominican Republic are afraid to talk about their faith,” said the Rev. Emilio Martin of the diocese, “but mission is based on faith.”

“If you’re only doing actions and not words, you’re leaving out half the story,” said the Rev. Veronika Travis of St. Luke’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia.  “We’re hamstringing ourselves if it’s only actions and not words.”

“Evangelism isn’t a dirty word for me,” said Anna Sutterish of the Diocese of Ohio and a senior at Bexley Seabury Seminary as she highlighted generational differences in Episcopal attitudes toward evangelism.  “I’m 29 years old and I have no problem with evangelism.”

Responding to the common question, “Isn’t evangelism disrespectful to non-Christians?” Spellers said, “It’s disrespectful to shove religion at people, to proselytize and denounce other pathways to God.  But if you speak with generosity, curiosity and gratitude, then people respond more positively.”

The conference concluded with visits to congregational and medical mission sites on the island.  Generous patrons of conference receptions were Bexley Seabury Seminary, the Diocese of Connecticut and the Dominican Development Group.

IMG_3388 (1)GEMN’s Mission Formation Program preceded the conference, this year enrolling a record 14 participants to spend a day exploring biblical foundations, mission theology, cultural dynamics and the practicalities of catalyzing mission vision and mutuality with companions around the world.  The four participants graduating from the two-year program shared their projects.  The Rev. Isaias Ginson of the Diocese of Long Island, who served as a missionary in the Pacific, recounted his field research on religious rites among indigenous peoples in the Philippines.  The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards of the Diocese of Georgia shared her work on GEMN’s curriculum based on “The Way of Love.”  Mrs. Christine Mercer of the Diocese of Alabama told of her work in enabling Honduran women to economically manage their monthly cycles without missing school or work.  The Rev. Dr. Jim Boston of the Diocese of Oregon shared his work on a memoir about working in GEMN since its inception in 1994.

The Global Episcopal Mission Network links dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, seminaries and individuals throughout the Episcopal Church to “proclaim, inspire and ignite the joy of God’s mission.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting an intensifying theme in mission circles worldwide, the annual Partnership for World Mission Conference (PWM) of the Church of England held in Nottinghamshire in November focused on the missional imperative of reconciliation amid the proliferating alienations of the contemporary world.

‘Prisoners of Hope: Proclaiming God Reconciling Love amid Separation’ was the stated theme.  ‘The conference is about the space between separation & reconciliation,’ explained conference organizer Janice Price, mission adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  ‘Not about separation alone or reconciliation alone but about the space between, where we are prisoners of hope.  in the liminal space between separation and reconciliation.  Reconciliation does not get the headlines that separation does – reconciliation is about the millions of small interactions that bring reconciliation about.  Let us inhabit the phrase Prisoners of Hope.’

Attending were about 85 people from all over the Church of England.  Some represented mission agencies, including USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), CMS (Church Mission Society), Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA-UK), Christian Aid, Melanesian Mission, Mission to Seafarers, Common Everybody, Send a Cow and Anglican Alliance, the international network of Anglican relief and development agencies.  Most attendees represented dioceses that have mission companionships around the world, typically with dioceses in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Daud Gill of Pakistan & Manchester with Titus

With my wife Jane I attended as a representative of PWM’s counterpart in the Episcopal Church USA, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), of which I’m currently president, and I was also asked to be one of the plenary speakers.  GEMN is a freestanding network of dioceses, congregations, agencies, seminaries and individuals committed to catalyzing global mission engagement throughout the Episcopal Church.  GEMN Executive Director Karen Hotte, Board member Martha Alexander and GEMN member Tassie Little attending the 2016 PWM conference, and it was good to renew the relationship at the 2018 gathering.

Here’s a summary of plenary talks:

The relationship between church and mission was the topic of a biblical talk by Philip Mountstephen, about to leave as head of CMS to become bishop of Bristol. Naturally he emphasized how mission is intrinsic to church, how it’s not that the God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church. Working on the frequent tension between mission on the periphery and church structures at the center, he noted that resting at the center is always easier and said the discomfort of the frontier argues for the autonomy of mission organizations as equal expressions of church, lest they be enervated by central structures.  He noted that Max Warren in the early 1940s vigorously resisted an effort to fold the British mission societies into central structures.  Suggesting that diverse communities nurture missional vision, Mountstephen made this important point: ‘People of the Jesus Movement were first called Christians at Antioch because of their diversity: Following Christ was the only thing they had in common!’  And it was the community at Antioch that commissioned and sent out Paul and Barnabas on mission.

The situation of Ireland and Northern Ireland was discussed by Adam Pullen, chair of the global mission group in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which covers both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He mostly introduced the Church of Ireland to the group, though he also discussed the impending difficulties related to Brexit. He commended a booklet about Irish Anglicans’ world mission work: ‘Radiant Faith: Living Out the Five Marks of Mission.’

• Reconciliation work by the church in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017 was the subject of a remarkable narrarive talk by Graham Tomlin, area bishop of Kensington, the area of Grenfell Tower. Seventy-two people  died in the fire, 70 were injured, and 223 escaped. He cited seven ‘C’ stages in the reconciliation work: Crisis, Communication, Convening, Costliness, Crying, Compassion, Catalyst.  Tomlin was active in catalyzing church and public conversations that brought diverse constituencies together around the issues of poverty and minority religious and ethnic communities that were dramatized by the fire.

• ‘Recentering Christian Mission in God’s Mission of Reconciliation’ was the title of my talk, in which I sought once again to emphasize that reconciliation is the ultimate direction of God’s mission and that therefore all mission efforts should be designed and tested by the criterion of reconciliation. It’s not that our mission efforts in education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and climate change are misplaced – not at all. My point is rather that they need to be grounded theologically, devotionally and practically in God’s overall aim of reconciling all people with God, one another and with all creation.

• Conflict and the challenge of reconciliation in Zimbabwe was the subject of a talk by Catherine Fungai Ngangira (at the podium above), an outstanding young Zimbabwean seminarian at the University of Durham who until recently had worked in the Diocese of Harare. Much of what she recounted was familiar to me from my own long mission experience in Zimbabwe, including the yearslong conflict between government and the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe earlier in this century, but it was good to be updated on the situation, which continues to be difficult. (See elsewhere on this blog for many postings related to the earlier conflict.)

• Alienation and reconciliation in the migrant situation of Europe was the subject of a talk by Robert Innes, bishop of the CofE Diocese of Europe (which exists alongside the Convocation of American Churches in Europe), which has over 200 congregations stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to Moscow. Here’s a significant excerpt:

Official EU statistics record that almost half the migrants entering Europe are active church members; only 30% are from Muslim background countries, of whom only a third are active mosque-goers. There are therefore five active church members for every active mosque-goer amongst arriving migrants. The boost to church life in London and Brussels from vibrant Christian communities from the southern hemisphere is well known. One neighbourhood of 50,000 people in Amsterdam which was built 50 years ago without a single church building now has 11,000 Christian worshippers attending 150 Christian fellowships meeting in all sorts of spaces, thanks to migration. For Christians, the migration challenge offers unparalleled spiritual opportunity.

Innes made a number of observations for ‘Thinking Christianly about the European Migration Crisis’: Responses have been insufficient and/or unethical.  A limit to the generosity of host countries must be recognized.  Portraying migrants as dangerous is reprehensible.  Religious freedom must prevail.  Hosts have a responsibility to welcome, and migrants have a responsibility to integrate.  Chaplaincies and private sponsorships have been helpful in reconciliation.

A preview of the Lambeth 2020 Conference, the approximately once-a-decade conference of all Anglican bishops worldwide, was provided by Phil George, executive director for the conference, and Janice Price. ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ is the theme, which, obviously, is so vague as to encompass everything! The list of topics to be covered is commensurately long, indicating not much focus yet, but I think they may ultimately focus on creation care – we’ll see.  The theme scripture will be First Peter as the focus of all the Bible studies.  This will be the first Lambeth Conference where bishops’ spouses are fully included as integral to the conference instead of having their own side-conference, so Carolyn Welby, wife of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has a strong role in planning the conference as well.  As with Lambeth 2008, there is to be a Hospitality Initiative in which British dioceses host bishops during the days prior to the conference.  Of the £6 million fundraising goal, £4 million had already been raised by November!

The conference was held Nov. 12-14 at the Hayes Conference Center in Swanwick in rural Nottinghamshire, a very pleasant and welcoming setting.  As always at such gatherings, much of the value lay in the many conversations held at meals, in hallways and at meeting tables.

In addition to Jane and me, attendees from the Episcopal Church included Jerry Drino, one of the speakers, who is from California and who has long coordinated an initiative in what is now South Sudan; David Copley, Elizabeth Boe and Jenny Grant from the Global Partnerships unit at the Episcopal Church Center; and Madeline Roberts, a Young Adult Service Corps missioner working in Liverpool on the Liverpool-Ghana-Virginia three-way companion relationship focused on healing from the slave trade.  Pictured are Madeline, Jane, Jenny and Elizabeth.

The worship was extensive and excellent, this year coordinated by an outstanding priest-pianist-director, Philip Swan from Liverpool, and another priest, Malcolm Rogers, who had a good meditative approach.  Music selections were globally eclectic, and international visitors were recruited to share music from their areas.  Mutual prayer was encouraged through prayer cards that were shared in table groups.

One affecting worship feature invited people to light votive candles and place them over locations of particular concern to them on a large map of the world.

Altogether a terrific gathering!

 

 

 

A remarkably balanced view of evangelism, Christian mission and the relationship between the two was offered by the regular ‘Ethicist’ columnist Kwame Appiah in the Dec. 23 edition of the New York Times Magazine in response to an inquirer concerned about her grandniece’s upcoming evangelistic mission trip to Nepal.  It is unusual to see such a nuanced view of Christian mission in a secular venue.

For those unfamiliar with this NYT feature, ‘The Ethicist’ appears weekly in the Magazine, with the columnist responding to readers’ questions about various ethical dilemmas in their lives.  The columnist changes from time to time, and the current columnist, Kwame Appiah, formerly of Princeton, is now professor of philosophy at New York University.  Here’s the text of the question about evangelism, along with Appiah’s response:

My grandniece posted on Facebook that she is trying to raise money so that she can go on a trip to Nepal with other high-school students from her Christian school to “evangelize the unreached people” of South Asia. My husband and I can easily afford to contribute to her fund-raising effort, but I am opposed to evangelizing. I fully support mission trips when the participants travel to needy communities to provide assistance, but not when the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity. I believe that we should honor – and work to understand – the religions and spiritual traditions in South Asia, not try to change them. Is there a way to support her without supporting the underlying reason for the trip? Name Withheld

Missionaries will consider almost everyone in Nepal “unreached,” even though most Nepalis have a mobile phone. So your grandniece isn’t arriving to some premodern redoubt. Nor is she going to coerce or bribe or threaten people into changing, or pretending to change, their religion. She’s aiming to explain to them why she thinks Christianity is the true faith. It’ll be up to them to decide whether they agree with her. To assume that they can’t be relied on to do so in the light of their own best judgments is to risk condescension.

Evangelizing Christians played a role in the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, contravening settled traditions in both Britain and Africa; in late-19th-century China, missionaries played a role in ending foot-binding. All that was indeed good news. More recently, in Uganda, a handful of American evangelical ministers evidently helped spur the passage of legislation that sought to drastically increase the penalties for homosexual acts. That was bad news. It’s useless to try to draw up a ledger sheet here of good and evil. The point is that God and the Devil are in the details.

Still, you might want to suggest to your grandniece that if she wants these South Asians to be open to hearing her good news, she should probably be open to hearing theirs, too. That way, she can make an effort to understand the traditions of the place she’s going, which you rightly suggest is a good idea. Whether she should honor those traditions as well depends on what they are – and she won’t be able to decide about that if she doesn’t know anything about them. There are, after all, a great many ways of not being a Christian.

First, some notes about the inquiry:

  • The letter writer expresses a negativity about evangelism that is not only characteristic of religious skeptics but also common today among Christians in ‘mainline’ denominations – Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Lutherans. She rightly declares that one should honor and seek to understand other religious traditions, in this case those of south Asia. Yet it is clear that she believes evangelism should be out of bounds, even after seeking to understand other religious convictions and probably even if the evangelism is milder than when ‘when the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity.’

 

  • The letter writer expresses the equally common – and naïve – view that mission trips   designed to render ‘assistance’ – by which she probably means education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, clean water and so on – are immune from criticism. In fact, missioners often undertake such efforts with neo-colonial assumptions that they know what people in the Two-Thirds World need and that they are uniquely qualified to organize efforts on their behalf.

 

  • The term ‘unreached people’ is common among groups that note, accurately, that there are people groups in the world that have never heard – and therefore have never been reached by – God’s news in Jesus Christ, and so they seek to ensure that all people have a chance to hear the gospel. Sometimes they use the terms ‘unevangelized’ or ‘under-evangelized.’ They support missionaries to evangelize such groups, and often these missionaries are indigenous people from the region of such ‘unreached people.’  One Anglican group in North America that has been at work on this for about 25 years is Anglican Frontier Missions.

Now, about Kwame Appiah’s response:

  • Appiah addresses the letter writer’s probable assumption that evangelism is inherently coercive when he assures her that her grandniece is not traveling in order ‘to coerce or bribe or threaten people into changing, or pretending to change, their religion’ – which is the erroneous and distorted view of evangelism that many people have. Instead, he assures her that her grandniece is ‘aiming to explain to them why she thinks Christianity is the true faith.’ That’s a good corrective.

Here’s a nuance I would add: Evangelism consists in simply bearing witness to what God has done in one’s life through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In simpler terms, evangelism is telling one’s own story in light of God’s story.  ‘Explaining why she thinks Christianity is the true faith,’ on the other hand, is more the province of apologetics in the context of inter-religious dialogue, and that is beyond the ken of most high school students!

  • The letter writer states that ‘the object of the trip is to convert people to Christianity.’ Maybe, maybe not.  Appiah gently suggests a likely alternative, that the grandniece will be ‘explaining why she thinks Christianity is the true faith.’  I would add that an evangelist or an evangelistic team should never set themselves the task of ‘converting people to Christianity.’  Conversion, if it happens, is not to Christianity as a religion but to a reconciling relationship with the triune God – Creator, Christ and Spirit.  Equally important, conversion, if it happens, is not the work of the evangelist but the work of God.  Evangelism, again, is simply bearing witness, telling the story, and leaving the rest up to God.

 

  • Appiah’s point about condescension is crucially important. Western critics of evangelism and Christian mission in general often base their critique on a view that people in the Majority World – Africa, Asia and Latin America – are naïve, credulous and unable to think for themselves, and that therefore they are the unwitting victims of evangelizers from Europe and North America. Appiah is gentle in calling such attitudes condescending, for they are often racist as well.

 

  • We might add that people in many parts of the world and certainly in south Asia live in lively religious marketplaces where they are used to religious appeals from many different groups, among whom Christians are just one. Moreover, Christian evangelism in south Asia, in particular, is carried out chiefly not by Euro-Americans but by indigenous Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Imagining that evangelism is a program peculiar to western Christians is amnesiac about how the Christian movement has spread over 2,000 years and anachronistic about the dynamics of world Christianity today.

 

  • In noting that ‘evangelizing Christians’ were prominent in important social justice movements, Appiah implicitly corrects the common mistake of trying to separate the evangelistic emphasis of, say, William Wilberforce from his lifelong campaign to end the slavery trade and slavery in the British Empire. No, his justice initiative arose organically out of his Christian faith. Evenhandedly, Appiah also notes the damaging effects of other evangelicals’ recent support for harsh penalties for homosexuality in Uganda.  His comment – ‘It’s useless to try to draw up a ledger sheet here of good and evil’ – is an important corrective to the generally negative assessment of Christian mission’s effects, sometimes even among otherwise competent Christian missiologists.

 

  • Appiah’s final paragraph is an excellent exhortation for evangelists to listen before speaking, to be alert for the good news in other religious paths before sharing one’s own good news of God in Christ. As I wrote in Horizons of Mission:

Incarnational expectancy is a life orientation that can midwife us through the birth canal of interreligious encounter and understanding. . . . God calls us to engage the world expecting to glimpse something of what God is doing and how we can participate.  That is as true of our encounter with other religions as it is of our encounter with anything else.

At the same time, in his closing comment Appiah dismisses the uncritical relativism that assumes all religious paths are equally beneficial: ‘There are, after all, a great many ways of not being a Christian.’

 

Although I assigned his 2006 book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers in a missiology class, I do not know Appiah.  He is British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher.  That cosmopolitan background may account for his ability to bring a more balanced assessment to the pluses and minuses of evangelism and Christian mission than some commentators whose background is more exclusively Euro-American.

 

 

 

Dear All,

Christmas celebrates God’s own boundary crossing, God moving to a frontier to do something entirely new – taking flesh in the human story. God created humanity in God’s very image. In the Incarnation God inhabits God’s own image – takes it on, commits to living it out in all precarious vulnerability of what it is to be human.

And so Christmas celebrates a decisive turning point in God’s mission. As the Word of God took flesh in a particular human being in a particular place, time and culture, that event became the model for the gospel being lived out in every place, time and culture across two millennia and in practically every locale on God’s dear earth.

Everyone in the Global Episcopal Mission Network has experienced this in one way or another as we’ve crossed various boundaries and frontiers in our own lives of mission – and found God with communities of both suffering and joy. As a result we rejoice in the fellowship of mission-minded folk in this network.

Thanks especially to the Board of Directors of GEMN for their dedicated work in GEMN over the past year. The network has a gifted and committed group of leaders. The Board is firing on all cylinders, and the work underway shows it.

I share with you this short Christmas poem by Mary Coleridge (1861-1907), entitled Salus Mundi (health or welfare of the world), It embraces both the promise and the peril of the Incarnation:

I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger,
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.

Christmas blessings to you and yours,
Titus

In case you’re wondering who the directors of GEMN are, here they are:

Ms. Martha Alexander, Diocese of North Carolina

The Rev. Dr. Jim Boston, Diocese of Oregon

The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards, Diocese of Atlanta, Vice President

Mr. Jaime Briceño, Bexley Seabury Seminary

The Rev. Brian Gregory, Diocese of Olympia

The Rev. Holly Hartman, Diocese of Massachusetts

Mrs. Karen Hotte, Diocese of Massachusetts, Executive Director

The Rev. David Kendall-Sperry, Dioceses of Ohio and Southern Ohio, Treasurer and past Board member

Mr. William Kunkle, Dominican Development Group, Diocese of Southwest Florida

Ms. Christine Mercer, Diocese of Alabama, Secretary

Ms. Molly O’Brien, Virginia Seminary

The Rev. Canon Suzanne Peterson, Diocese of Iowa

The Rev. Angel Rivera Rodriguez, Diocese of Puerto Rico

The Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler, Diocese of Vermont, Bridges to Pakistan, President

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 30, 2018

GC2018: GEMN highlights global mission at General Convention

This is the third in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

The global dimension of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission had higher visibility at the 2018 General Convention in Austin due to the efforts of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, individuals and seminaries.

About 150 people attended the Global Mission Reception that GEMN organized at Uncle Julio’s Restaurant on the evening of July 4.  The theme, ‘Celebrating the Global Jesus Movement,’ connected global mission with the ‘Jesus Movement’ theme that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has championed and that was echoed in multiple ways in convention legislation and rhetoric.

Those of us who are longtime mission activists enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, but especially encouraging were the many mission-engaged people who were new to us and who have not been part of GEMN in the past: Sister Sarah Margaret and several other members of the Society of St. Margaret, the oldest continuing Anglican women’s monastic order, who have long had important work in Haiti; Sister Ellen Francis Poisson of the Order of St. Helena, who has long been active in matters related to Iran; Deborah Parker of Stand with Iraqi Christians.  And there were many others.

Equally important, David Copley and Elizabeth Boe of Global Partnerships at the Episcopal Church Center ensured that a good number of the officially sponsored International Visitors – primates, bishops and provincial secretaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America – came to the reception before they were taken to a July 4 celebration sponsored by Global Partnerships and Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies.  All the international visitors were introduced to convention as a whole through an outstanding video of brief self-introductions that was shown to the House of Deputies and House of Bishops during the legislative sessions.

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