Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, an Episcopal congregation of about 6,000 members just south of Jacksonville, Florida, has for the first time invited someone to be Theologian-in-Residence, and it’s striking that they’ve called a missiologist, that is, a scholar of the theology, history and practice of Christian mission. It is an honor for me to be the person invited to undertake this ministry, and I started this past week on the assignment, which lasts a couple of weeks.
It is a good sign that a parish of the stature of Christ Church chose to make mission and Christian-Muslim relations the centerpiece themes for intensive theological reflection in the congregation
This evening features a keynote address, “Headwinds: Challenges and Opportunities in Christian-Muslim Relations in the 21st Century,” an opportunity to address the inter-religious crisis that is one of the major concerns in this century. The 7pm event is free and open to the public.
Christian-Muslim relations and the phenomenon of religious persecution were themes of this morning’s interview on First Coast Connect, hosted by Melissa Ross, on WJCT, the Jacksonville PBS station. A podcast of the interview will be available presently.
These concerns were also the theme for the talk invited last evening at the home of former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Marilyn McAfee and her husband Gerry in Ponte Vedra. It was a privilege to discuss the issues with a group of about 40, many from Christ Church and from the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville.
The first engagement was a Sunday morning class yesterday, “Mission: Ministry in the Dimension of Difference,” an interactive session with about 75 people that highlighted the understanding of Christian mission that I’ve developed over the years and which is discussed fully in my book, Going Global with God: Transforming Mission in a World of Difference. Here’s the blurb for that class:
Over the past 40 years mission as a concept in the Episcopal Church has leaped from being scorned as “converting the heathen and clothing the Hottentots” to being highlighted in the 1979 Prayer book’s Catechism and now emphasized widely for practically everything the church does. But, as Anglican historian Stephen Neil said, “If mission is everything, then mission is nothing.” So what do people mean by mission these days? And how can our thinking and acting retain mission’s cutting edge? Theologian-in-Residence the Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler will explore these questions and suggest a way forward that energizes the church’s mission both locally and globally.
Other engagements will include classes; mission committee meetings focused on the congregation’s work in Bolivia, Cuba and many local outreach ministries; Book Club discussions of Going Global with God; preaching on the commemorations of the Conversion of St. Paul and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; availability for one-on-one consultation; and meeting with the staff. The blurb for a Sunday Bible class reads:
Mission Trajectories in the New Testament – The wonder of the Bible is that it grounds everything in our faith: prayer, worship, theology, ethics, community life, social action. It can also be read as our charter for mission as we’re inspired to share the full spectrum of God’s good news in Christ with the whole human family. In this session, Theologian-in-Residence Titus Presler will focus on the breadth of God’s mission as presented especially by Luke in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles.
And one for a midweek forum:
Education and Religion at Risk: A Mission Venture in Peshawar – Religious extremism is one of the world’s chief challenges in the 21st century. Titus Presler went to Peshawar, Pakistan, at the heart of Taliban country along the border with Afghanistan, in 2011 to lead Edwardes College, a church-sponsored undergraduate institution where 90% of the students and faculty are Muslim. In his Midweek Forum talk, Dr. Presler will discuss the efforts he and his colleagues undertook to enhance education and nurture a community of tolerance among young adults in one of the most polarized regions of the world. He will focus on the innovative Integrity Project, which drew students into weekly discussions of the purposes of education, discernment of talents, ethical understanding, gender respect, diversity tolerance, community responsibility and servant leadership.
The residency is a well-rounded program designed to give parishioners opportunity to delve deeply into God’s missional call in the 21st century.
According to Associate Rector Remington Slone, the idea of inviting a Theologian-in-Residence arose from parishioners who, used to one-shot presentations by visiting speakers, suggested a more extensive and intensive engagement that would be multi-faceted in various venues, with more opportunity for extended conversation and deep engagement.
Here’s what I wrote to the parish in response to the invitation
“Let’s explore mission!” says Theologian-in-Residence Titus Presler
The invitation from Christ Church in Ponte Vedra to be Theologian-in-Residence over the next weeks is an honor and a privilege, and I am grateful. I look forward to engaging with you as a community in a variety of venues, which include a keynote, Sunday and weekday classes, mission group meetings, a Bible study, preaching, and informal gatherings. My wife Jane is with me and looks forward to exploring the Ponte Vedra community.
One theme of my visit with you is Christian-Muslim relations, surely one of the major challenges facing Christians and the world community in the 21st century. My reflection arises out of recent experience in mission and higher education in Peshawar, Pakistan, as well as long residence in India and some exposure in the Arab world. How might we best understand the disturbing phenomena of religious conflict and violence in our time? How can Christians and Muslims build bridges of understanding and mutual exploration?
Mission is an overall theme for my time with you. What is Christian mission? What do we see in scripture and history about the movement of God’s mission in the world? Amid the myriad claims on our care and concern, what is the distinctive note of mission? Today’s world is being torn apart by differences that are used as pretexts for exclusion, oppression and violence. Mission as ministry in the dimension of difference is an understanding that pushes us to address the world’s anguish and keeps us focused on reconciliation, which is the ultimate aim of God’s mission in Christ Jesus.
Christ Church is a gifted community of vision, with much to offer to the world. I look forward to engaging with you around how God may be moving you to greater participation in God’s mission.
Altogether this venture is a fine undertaking on the part of Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, a privilege and honor for me, and a good sign of mission concern in the church.