‘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?’

MichaelCurry@GEMN-1

‘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.

 

Here’s a significant turning point in the perspective of a missionary at the recent Global Episcopal Mission Conference in Puerto Rico, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network:

Justice was the focus of one of the small-group discussions, this one scheduled after a presentation by Episcopal Migration Ministry staff about Christian and church responses to the current migration crises around the world.  The theme scripture was the familiar verse from the prophet Micah: ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6.8).

A question we addressed in the small group was, ‘Well, how do we do justice in the various mission activities we’re involved in?’  Among us was a missionary at work in Majority World country.  Let’s call him Tad, and I’m not identifying the country where he works.

‘What is it you’re doing in your country?’ Tad was asked.

‘I teach English to adults who have never learned it,’ he replied.

‘How does your mission work relate to justice?’ someone asked Tad.

‘Well, I’m not sure how it relates to justice,’ he replied.  ‘I’ve not usually thought of it in terms of justice.  But now that I think about it more, I realize it may be related.  The country where I work has a strong system of economic classes, with a few wealthy and powerful people and families controlling everything from the top, then a small middle class, and the bulk of people quite poor at the bottom.  One of the ways the powerful have kept the poor down is by depriving them of education, including access to the English language.  So I realize that teaching English actually does have a justice dimension.  I’m providing the poor with access to a tool that provides access to a wider world, where they can leverage English to provide more for themselves and their families.  It also changes power dynamics in the society – not hugely at first, but over time it might make a real difference.’ Read More…

Today’s Episcopalians need to see themselves not primarily as an institution but as a vital  part of the Jesus Movement that began with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the 1st century and that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can participate in transforming the world today.

That was the central theme of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s keynote address at the Global Episcopal Mission Conference in Puerto Rico on May 18, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).  World mission wasn’t central in his talk, nor was mission amid migration, which was the theme of the conference.

Curry’s a revivalist.  He wants the church to be revived.  He wants Christians’ personal relationship with Christ Jesus to be revived.  He wants Episcopalians to be open about their faith and invite others to explore the possibility of such faith for themselves.  He wants the church to on fire with the gospel and God’s work of transforming the world through reconciliation.

With that kind of urgency, he tends to focus on those themes in whatever context he’s asked to address.  And that’s all right.  This is the kind of urgency Episcopalians and their church need.  Especially refreshing is the fact that he did not launch a ‘listening process’ to find out what Episcopalians think they need, nursed by consultants and focus groups, all toward an inevitably ephemeral strategic plan.  Hey, he’s a revivalist!

Curry’s audience in Puerto Rico was a group of world mission activists, people involved in doing, supporting and coordinating Episcopal global mission work – missionaries and parish, diocesan and organizational leaders.  People were thrilled, even though world mission wasn’t his centerpiece.

Yet there were some good world mission takeaways from the talk:

  • Kudos for the missionaries and activists: Curry opened his talk with a commendation: ‘I give thanks for those who serve on behalf of the Episcopal Church in the world community,’ he said. ‘Jesus has something to say to this world to help people live life fully – and that matters! What you do matters!  It matters eternally.’

These were bracing words in an environment where people on the front lines sometimes wonder whether they’re making a difference, whether they have a supportive community behind them, and thus whether their vision and work matter at all.      Read More…

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s address yesterday to the Global Mission Conference organized by Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) in Puerto Rico was vintage Curry in his joyful and passionate call to the church to revision itself as what he calls “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”  He insisted that church institutions must serve the movement and that, if they fail to do so, the movement will leave the institutions behind.

The Episcopal News Service story on the address, also featured by the Anglican Communion News Service, covers a good deal of the talk.  Perhaps a video of the talk will also be forthcoming from ENS.

“Evangelism and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin,” Curry said.  “We wouldn’t be here without evangelism,” he continued, referring to the fact that Christian profession depends on knowledge of the gospel story, which in turn depends on someone telling the story.  “Reconciliation is with God and with each other.”

Fulfilling Curry’s linkage of evangelism and reconciliation, one of his recent major appointments was of Stephanie Spellers as Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism and Reconciliation.  During the afternoon Q&A period, Spellers noted that in a church where many Episcopalians feel at a loss about how to share their faith, the church’s global missionaries can help from their extensive experience of sharing their faith in word and deed around the world.

One of Curry’s main missional reflections centered on the vision of Clarence Jordan and the founding of the Koinonia community in rural Georgia in 1942.  He described Jordan as realizing that his initial emphasis on agricultural techniques to eradicate rural poverty needed a companion effort to address spiritual poverty.  This led to the gathering of a community of Christians to live out the life of Jesus in rural Georgia through three major commitments: equality of all people, rejection of all violence, and ecological stewardship – all of which were especially radical in 1942 in that setting.

 

The urgency and shape of Christian mission amid the world’s mounting crisis of people fleeing difficult or intolerable conditions in their home countries is the theme of this year’s global mission conference organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of Episcopal dioceses, congregations, organizations and individuals committed to advocating for God’s mission on a worldwide scale.

This year’s conference, May 18-20, is hosted by the Diocese of Puerto Rico and is being held in Poncé on the south coast of the Caribbean island on the premises of Universidad Interamericana de Poncé.  The theme is “God’s Mission with a World in Continuous Motion” or “La Mision de Dios con un Mundo en Continuo Movimiento.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is tomorrow morning’s keynote speaker to the record registration of about 120, plus many local Episcopalians, other Christians and civic leaders.  Following the keynote, participants will gather in small groups to generate questions that will be posed to Bp. Curry in the afternoon.

On Thursday a plenary address will be offered by the staff of Episcopal Migration Ministries, the longstanding churchwide agency that has been instrumental in resettling thousands of individuals and families in the USA over many years.

The final plenary on Friday will feature a panel discussion moderated by Puerto Rico’s Interim Bishop Wilfrido Ramos and including Bp. Julio Holguin of Dominican Republic, Bp. Francisco Duque of Colombia, Mr. Noah Bullock of Christosol, and a representative of the Diocese of Cuba.

A number of the 14 workshops will focus on mission amid migration:

  • Gifts for Welcome: Discerning how your Congregation can Participate in Refugee Resettlement, by Episcopal Migration Ministries staff.
  • The Jesus Movement in a Time of Migration, by Michael Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry within the Episcopal Church.
  • The Role of the Church in a Refugee’s Life and Reconciliation in the Rwandan Crisis, by Jean-Baptiste and Christine Ntagengwa, who fled Rwanda and now minister in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
  • Refugees of Central America: New Models for Response, by Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Foundation Christosol.
  • Seafarers: Hidden Migrants, Hidden Souls, by Ken Hawkins of the Seattle Seafarers Center and Regional Director of the Mission to Seafarers for the USA.
  • Displaced Persons/Displaced Assets, by Sean McConnell, Director of Engagement for Episcopal Relief and Development.

Refugee and migration issues are complex, whether in the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, or South Asia, where, for instance, refugee issues have roiled relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the 1980s.

It is salutary that GEMN as a network of global mission activists has highlighted the urgencies of the situation and that Bp. Curry, who has electrified the church with his passion for evangelism and mission, has come to Poncé to address migration as a missional issue.

Over the past days there has been considerable attention to the fact that May 1 (in the USA) and May 2 (in Pakistan) mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.

The event was especially startling for me because it was on May 1 that year that I landed in Peshawar to take up my duties as principal of Edwardes College.  When I awoke from my first night’s sleep I checked the New York Times website, as is my habit wherever I am in the world, and there was the gigantic headline announcing bin Laden’s death.

We had a meeting of the Management Team of the college scheduled for about 9am that morning.  Some of my colleagues had not earlier heard the news.  Both those who had heard the news earlier and those who were just then hearing it were astounded that bin Laden had been living, “hidden in plain sight,” in Abbottabad, a well known city several hours from Peshawar.  I myself had visited Abbottabad with Bishop Peters of the Diocese of Peshawar a few months earlier during a visit to Pakistan in which I was discerning whether I was called to be at Edwardes.

It was a vivid way to begin the first day of my new ministry at Edwardes College.  It highlighted the inter-cultural issues and the inter-religious issues that had drawn me to that work in that setting.  It emphasized that I was on a front line.

~ ~ ~

On 2 May 2016, the day of the event in Pakistan, I wrote a blogpost, “A death in the diocese,” in which I discussed not the political dimension of the the event but its religious and ecclesial dimensions:

It was startling to see the news midmorning today – Monday, 2 May – that Osama bin Laden was killed yesterday “deep inside Pakistan,” as President Obama put it.  Abbottabad is indeed deep inside Pakistan, several hours almost due east from Peshawar and the Afghan border and, as news reports have noted, just about 30 miles northeast of the capital of Islamabad.

It was sobering to realize the raid occurred the same day I arrived to begin ministry in Peshawar in this province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Abbottabad likewise is located.  Said daughter Charlotte in a conversation this evening, “The grace of God will keep you where the will of God has called you.”  And that is sufficient.

I went to Abbottabad during my visit to the Diocese of Peshawar in January as I accompanied Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters to a wedding in St. Luke’s Church at which he officiated and I preached.  Abbottabad is an attractive hill town at over 4,000 feet just off the Karakoram Highway – a tourist destination and a military center that one would scarcely imagine to be the hideaway of “the world’s most wanted man.”

Untold millions of people are watching news reports right now of this event, much of it accompanied by penetrating analysis of its geopolitical implications, and I have little to add to the important things being said along those lines.

I offer a few observations about religious dimensions:

• When grave events occur in various parts of the world, the global nature of the Anglican Communion is such that most such events occur in some diocese or other that is Anglican or, as in much of south Asia, a diocese in which Anglicans joined with others to form a united ecumenical church.  In this case, the killing of Osama bin Laden occurred in the Diocese of Peshawar of the united Church of Pakistan, in a city that has a vital congregation of Christian Pakistanis.  As far back as our visit to Peshawar in 2004, it was commonly assumed by Christian leaders that bin Laden was living in the diocese, and I recall one in North Waziristan pointing to the mountains along the Afghan border as his probable location at that time.  This is to say that the Diocese of Peshawar has been living with these realities a long time, as has the general population.

• In addition to the local expression of the Church of Pakistan, it was intriguing to meet other committed Christians in Abbottabad.  They included, for instance, a north European who shares Christianity in many parts of Pakistan through what he calls friendship evangelism, and a British Anglican who pastors an ecumenical intentional community in the area.  I note this by way of emphasizing, again, that while our tendency is to imagine the site of an event like bin Laden’s death on some outer edge of experience, such things usually occur amid living and complex communities where voices of the gospel of Jesus Christ are rarely absent.

• It sounds like a cliché in the west, but President Obama was quite right for the context of Pakistan to stress that the United States is not and has never been at war with Islam, and to note that Muslims as well as others were victims of bin Laden’s violence.  The specter of irreconcilable conflict between the world of Islam and the Christian and/or secular west will continue to be raised by extremists on both sides.  Our call is to move from the typology of a clash of civilizations to a typology for the dialogue and reconciliation of civilizations.

• So far there has not been public negative reaction in Peshawar about the raid in Abbottabad, though there is talk that some religious parties may stage processions and demonstrations on Tuesday.  As should be well known by now, the majority of Pakistan’s Muslim people aspire to peace and, in fact, live in peace.

• Pakistan’s Christians feel vulnerable in the wake of these events.  Please pray for them.  And I am grateful for the many expressions of concern and prayer that I have received in the last days and today.  They sustain Jane and me in a peace that passes all understanding.

Missiology: An International Review has published the article, “Education, Religion, and Risk in Peshawar: A Missional Self-Examination,” in its April 2016 issue.  This article is my considered attempt to examine my work as principal of Edwardes College in Peshawar, Pakistan, from 2011 to 2014.

A link to the PDF of the article appears below.  It expands on a talk I gave in 2014 at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

The article is unusual in undertaking a self-examination of such a venture and subjecting it to missiological critique.  As I note in the abstract and in the article itself, a self-examination cannot claim to be entirely objective, but I have sought to be as fair and as objective as possible.

Missiology: An International Review is one of the two major missiological journals published in the USA, the other being The International Bulletin of Mission Research, in which my article, “A Toll on the Soul: Costs of Persecution among Pakistan’s Christians,” appeared in April 2015.  Both publications  are among the numerous scholarly journals published by Sage Publications.

Here is a link to the article:

Education, religion, and risk in Peshawar: A missional self-examination – 207.full

And here is the abstract:

Religious freedom is at stake as the Church of Pakistan and its Diocese of Peshawar struggle to regain oversight of Edwardes College in Peshawar, an institution the church founded and managed for almost 75 years, and to resist the attempt of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to complete the seizure it began in 1974. As the missionary principal of the college since 2011, I was inevitably affected by the conflict and became a player in it. This study is an effort in missionary self-examination as I interrogate my motives and actions as a mission companion with the church and as a partner in education with the community at large. The inquiry is conducted under six headings: missionary motivation, national identity, change dynamics, religious relations, missionary predecessors, and the church-state conflict. While a self-interrogation cannot claim to be completely objective, the attempt is to be both honest and fair. The issues are important for missionary work and identity generally, but most acutely for mission work in Muslim-majority settings in the increasingly conflicted relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century.

‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation – in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists’ – this was the title of the March 12-15 international conference convened by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore.  It was a long title, so long that the hyphen is one I’ve inserted myself in order to make it more understandable.

Lahore is the city where over 70 people were killed and several hundred wounded in a park on Easter Sunday afternoon, March 27.  A breakoff group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said they were targeting Christians, though in light of the demography of Pakistan more Muslims than Christians were killed.

Especially outrageous is the fact that children were especially targeted, the bomb having been set off adjacent to children’s favorite amusement rides.  Such callous disregard for human life, and especially for the next generation of Pakistanis, is hideous.  It is all of a piece with the horror inflicted by terrorists everywhere today, whether in Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe or the USA.

‘In the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  In Christian mission today it is commonplace to talk about fulfilling God’s mission in the company of – or accompanied by or in companionship with – the poor and marginalized.  But ‘in the company of terrorists’ was an arresting and unusual inclusion, as I noted in my address to the conference.

The church was audacious in its vision that reconciliation would be sought in the company of terrorists, the premise being that terrorists, or at least some terrorists, would join Christians in seeking reconciliation in Pakistani society.

The church was equally audacious in its vision that reconciliation could be sought with terrorists – with terrorists who for years now have been victimizing Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.  The Easter bombing in Lahore was only the latest in a long series of outrages, the most horrific being the September 2013 bombs at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, when 128 people were killed and hundreds injured.

The fact that two weeks after the conference at which the church’s vision of reconciliation was highlighted Taliban terrorists attacked Christians – and others – yet again on the major Christian holy day of Easter illustrates just how audacious the church’s vision and hope is.

Church of Pakistan leaders are living out reconciliation during this week after the bombing.  ‘Church of Pakistan consoles nation where “every heart broken,”’ reads the headline on the latest news article from the Anglican Communion News Service.  It details how the church’s bishops are visiting Muslims as well as Christians in hospitals and lamenting how Pakistan as a whole, and not simply the Christian community, is under siege.

Christians are targeted, then Christians console the nation!

It is a remarkable vocation that the Church of Pakistan is living out.  It witnesses to the pivotal role of Christ Jesus in God’s mission in the cosmos.  In its tribulations it lives in solidarity with the suffering of Christ for humanity.  In its faithfulness it lifts up the mission of reconciliation for which Christ lived, died and rose again.  In its outreach to the nation it offers a mustardseed of the reconciliation that is the heart of the gospel, the heart of the Reign of God, the heart of the mission of God in the cosmos.

Lots of questions get asked about Christian witness in Pakistan, and they have certainly been asked of me: What’s the point?  How can there be any hope in a place like that?  Is ministry in Pakistan a worthwhile investment of time, resources, safety?

The short answer is, Yes.

A longer answer is this: There is a major Christian community in Pakistan.  In a nation of 200 million, a conservative estimate of the Christian proportion is 1.6%, which amounts to 3.2 million people, and the true figure is probably higher.  These disciples of Jesus are faithful and courageous.  Worn bright by constant adversity, their leaders are clearer than most Christian leaders about the demands of the gospel and the opportunities of transformation that it offers.  They are living faithfully.  They are witnessing.  They are persevering.

In solidarity with them, how can we do less?

Reconciliation in the context of poverty and terrorism was the theme of an international conference held recently by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab.  The gathering, titled ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists,’ drew about 55 people from Pakistan, Britain, Finland, Norway and the USA.

Convened by Church of Pakistan Moderator Samuel Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind, one of the church’s eight dioceses, the March 12-15 conference was designed to highlight reconciliation as Christians’ urgent mandate from God in a world where peoples and religions are alienated from each other by the massive injustice of destitution and by intensified violence motivated by religion.  The theme was appropriate as well for Lent shortly before Holy Week, which focuses on the culmination of God’s reconciling work in Christ Jesus.

The conference was designed in large part by Church of Pakistan Coordinator Munawar Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, who said that reconciliation has become the overriding passion of his life.  Formed in 1970 to unite Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, the Church of Pakistan is the largest Christian church in Pakistan.

My address to the conference, ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission,’ appears below, but circumstances prevented my delivering the talk in person.  Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, was the other speaker invited to address international issues, but he was likewise unable to attend.

Speakers included the Rev. Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali, founder of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Justice and Christian Community at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Janice Price, World Mission Policy Adviser in the Church of England and co-author, with a body called the World Mission and Anglican Communion Panel, of World-Shaped Mission: Exploring New Frameworks for the Church of England in World Mission (London: Church House Publishing, 2012).

About 25 of the conference participants were from the Church of Pakistan, with three representatives from each diocese.  Mission societies represented included: USPG (currently called Us), represented by Janette O’Neil and Naomi Herbert, CEO and Director of International Programs, respectively; the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM); the Norwegian Mission Society; and Norwegian Church Aid.  A number of clergy and lay members of the Diocese of Los Angeles attended the conference.  The companion mission agencies met with the Pakistani dioceses for several days in Lahore following the conference.

_________________________________

International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission:  Address by the Rev. Canon Titus Presler, Th.D., D.D. at the Church of Pakistan Conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  Lahore, Pakistan, 12-15 March 2016

Videos of the talk: Part 1 (26 minutes)  Part 2 (21 minutes)

See also World Council of Churches article on the conference, written from the perspective of the mission companionship between Norwegian churches and the Church of Pakistan, and posted on the Anglican Communion News Service website.  Dr. Sarah Safdar, who is cited in the article, is a colleague of mine in Peshawar and a member of the Edwardes College Board of Governors.

It is an honor and privilege to address you in Lahore on the theme of reconciliation from a Christian perspective, my particular topic being ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission.’  I am grateful to Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah for the invitation.  I thank Bishop Mano Rumalshah, who is coordinating the conference, and Bishop Humphrey Peters, with whom I have worked so closely in Peshawar, as they have warmly welcomed the prospect of my presence.  I regret very much that circumstances prevent my being with you in person for the conference, the more so that I like being in Pakistan, enjoy its people of all religions, and love the Christian community that is so faithful in that land.

Part 1: A Reflection on the Conference Theme

You have chosen a striking title for this conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  The phrase ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation’ emphasizes that reconciliation is a process, not a single event.  We all know from our personal lives that particular reconciling events – say, between parent and child, or between siblings, or between spouses, or between colleagues at work – do not generally heal relations fully or immediately.  Rather, they inaugurate a process that may take months or even years, with steps backward as well as forward.  Seeing this process as a pilgrimage takes it beyond psychology and locates it in its proper spiritual and theological home.  A pilgrim is a person who travels in search of a deeper experience of God.  Thus a life pilgrimage toward reconciliation is a pilgrimage into a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper experience of God, a pilgrimage in which reconciliation becomes a lens through which we see the light of God.  Read More…

In the Lenten reflection below, the daughter of Episcopal clergy who were missionaries in Zimbabwe during the 1980s recalls many years later a particularly powerful religious experience she had among members of an African-Initiated Church.  She then relates it to an experience she had later in New York and then to the present in this season of Lent 2016.  Emma Presler is a parishioner, with her husband Steven Yong Lee and their young son Anders, at Grace Church, Broadway, in New York City.  Emma and Steven have been asked to contribute Lenten devotionals to the parish’s ongoing series in this season.  Emma is our daughter.  It is moving to us to see this reflection, a vignette from her mission experience in Africa.

 

2016-03-04GraceNYCLent3Fri-EmmaReflection

2016-03-04GraceNYCLent3Fri-EmmaReflection-p2

The African-Initiated Church (AIC) Emma is recalling is the Vapostori veJohane Marange, otherwise known as the African Apostolic Church of Johane Marange, which is the largest AIC in Zimbabwe, with probably about 2 million members today.  Marange was a nominally Methodist laborer from Marange District who in 1934 received a vision, while walking in the countryside, in which he believed God was telling him that he was a prophet after the manner of John the Baptizer and commissioning him to evangelize, preach, heal and cast out demons.  As mandated by Johane Marange, walking on fire is a requirement for every Mupostori at least once in his or her lifetime, but the order of prophets within the church makes a regular practice of it during their many all-night vigils.  Drawing on the many biblical references to testing through fire, the Vapostori believe they are called to walk on fire as a testing for the fiery end at the consummation brought at the further coming of Christ.  If they have the Holy Spirit with them, they believe, they will be saved at the end time, and walking on fire without being burned confirms the presence of the Holy Spirit with them.  And by the way, Emma really saw the fire-walking, as have I many times in the course of research on this powerful Christian community.  (For a full discussion of the Vapostori and this practice, with its biblical and theological background, see my Transfigured Night: Mission and Culture in Zimbabwe’s Vigil Movement (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 1999).)

 

Posted by: Titus Presler | March 4, 2016

Reconciliation: Why so central in mission?

“Why do you think that reconciliation is such a central concept in missiology today?” That was one of the questions posed to me in preparation for a consulting day last November with the staff of Presbyterian World Mission, the global mission office of the Presbyterian Church USA, in Louisville, Kentucky.

It’s an intriguing and important question.

As posed by Director Hunter Farrell, who previously served with his family as a missionary in Congo and Peru, the question focused on missiology rather than on mission itself.  Missiology is the scholarly field devoted to the theology, history and practice of Christian mission.  As such, it should guide mission.  Scholarly reflection on mission – reflection that is informed by by biblical studies, theology, history, cultural anthropology and the like – should guide the practice of mission.

So the question was, in effect: Why is it that people who think and theorize about mission today are promoting reconciliation as central in mission?

An equally interesting question is: Why is reconciliation more central, or more explicitly central, today in missiological thought than it was in the past?

When the average person hears the word “mission” in a Christian context, he or she is likely to think first about specific activities such as evangelism that aims at conversion, pastoral work that builds up churches, or the basket of initiatives that come under the umbrella of poverty alleviation and sustainable development: education, healthcare, drinkable water, agriculture, sanitation, microenterprises and the like.

Imagine then asking the average Christian, “What is the point of all those activities?  When they are all pursued under the theme of ‘mission,’ what is the overall aim that they share?” The response may be something like: “Well, all those activities promote Christ, some explicitly, as in evangelism or taking care of churches, and others by example, as in education and healthcare.  They all show forth the love of God in Christ in some way.  They all reach out to help people, which is what God wants us to do.”  And then if we ask, “And what is the goal of that?” the responses, becoming vaguer, may be something like, “A better world,” or “Salvation,” or “Unity with God.”  Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | February 2, 2016

Prayer resources for World Mission Sunday 2016

For World Mission Sunday 2016 on Feb. 9 and other missional occasions in the Episcopal Church it may be helpful to liturgists to point out some of the prayers available in the Book of Common Prayer that can be used to lift up the church’s mission both at home and around the world.

The mission prayer I use most often is the second one of the three designated “prayers for mission” found at Morning Prayer, pp. 100-101:

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The first of the three prayers highlights the “vocation and ministry” of all church members.  The third movingly sees Jesus’ arms outstretched on the cross as expressing his longing “that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace” and then asks that we, Spirit-filled, may reach forth our hands in love to “bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you.”  So any of the three is wonderfully edifying. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | February 1, 2016

World Mission Sunday 2016 is coming up on Feb. 7: Resources

The Episcopal Church’s World Mission Sunday, an annual observance since 1998, is designated for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, this year on February 7.

The rationale is that Epiphany celebrates the showing forth of the light of Christ in the world, imaged centrally in the appearance of the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem.  Other gospel lections in Epiphanytide highlight the manifestation of Christ to the world, as in the Baptism of Jesus on Epiphany 1, the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine on Epiphany 2, and, this year, Jesus’ announcement of the content of his mission at Luke 4 on Epiphany 3.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ response to the Nazareth folks rejecting him – this year’s reading on Epiphany 4 – likewise had missional significance as Jesus noted how Elijah’s being sent to the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian being sent to Elisha for healing declared that God was at work among the peoples of the world beyond God’s chosen people Israel.

Whatever the lessons turn out to be for much of Epiphanytide, which depends the lectionary year, the theme of Christ’s glory being shown forth in the world climaxes every year with the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, which this year occurs on this coming Sunday, Feb. 7.  Jesus was transfigured by the glory of God in order that he might be strengthened to undertake his missional work’s last stage, which was to face the opposition that was building against him in Jerusalem.  Preachers this year might note that in Luke’s account it was in order to pray that Jesus went up onto a mountain and that it was ‘while he was praying’ that he was transfigured (Luke 9.28-29).  What we term ‘our mission’ or ‘the church’s mission’ is a participation in the ongoing mission of God in the world, and it is only in prayer that we are able to discern what the nature of our participation might be.

Congregations casting about for a quick way to access resources in world mission might find this list helpful:

• Blogs of Current Missionaries – These are especially illuminating and can quickly get you close to the ground of missionaries’ actual experiences.  The Global Episcopal Mission Network website has a number of current blog postings, and blogs from current Episcopal missionaries are found on the Mission Personnel page of the Episcopal Church website.  You’ll find lots of testimony to how the church’s missionaries have found their mission experiences transformational.

Articles about Current Missionaries – Articles published by Episcopal News Service about current missionaries put their work in a helpful context. Read More…

“Headwinds: Challenges and Opportunities of Christian-Muslim Engagement in the 21st Century” was the theme of the keynote address I offered at Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, on Monday, Jan. 25, as the annual lecture sponsored by the Bridge Institute, a ministry of Christ Church.

The Bridge Institute has posted the presentation to YouTube, and it is available here.  The recording equipment malfunctioned just at the start of the talk, so the first minute is missing.  Here is the text of what is missing:

‘Headwinds: Challenges and Opportunities of Christian-Muslim Engagement in the 21st Century.’  That is the title of evening’s talk.  The image of ‘headwinds’ actually understates the theme, for the weather in inter-religious relations feels more like gale-force winds today.  On one side we see such events as churches burning in Egypt, ISIS killing and driving out Chaldean Christians from entire stretches of Iraq and Syria, and their lining up Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach and beheading them. On another side, we see a US presidential candidate proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, German right-wingers in Cologne and Dresden marching against Islam, and scattered attacks on Muslims and mosques in Europe and the USA.  And then there are the countries where major conflict between Muslims and Christians has been underway for years: Nigeria, where Boko Haram is a relative latecomer to the inter-religious violence that has gripped the north of that country for a couple of decades; the center of north Africa, where Muslim-Christian conflict resulted in the creation of South Sudan in 2011; and Malaysia, where Christians have been forbidden to use the name Allah for God.

The global community must address three major crises in the 21st century, three overarching crises that are unlikely to be resolved entirely even 100 years hence: the poverty crisis, in which over 2 billion of the world’s people live on less than $3 a day; the environmental crisis, which is driven by human-generated climate change; and the inter-religious crisis of whether people of different religions can live together in peaceful co-existence.

It was a privilege to offer this talk as Theologian-in-Residence at Christ Church.  About 400 people attended the event, which was emceed by the Rev. Remington Slone, Associate Rector for Worship and Formation.

Time for questions followed the talk.  The first speaker was a Pakistani-American who said pressure on the Christian minority had prompted him to leave the country for the sake of the future of his children and move to the USA.  He expressed appreciation for many Muslims but commented that extremism had shifted the mood of the country.

Current controversy about immigration and refugees was the context of another questioner.  She said her concerns about the adequacy of background checks for people seeking to come to the USA from Syria and Iraq had prompted others to ask whether she was approaching the issue with a “Christ-like attitude,” and she asked me to comment.  I responded that it is important that Christians agree that we can have legitimate disagreements with one another about matters of public policy, especially when the differences involve particular policy details.  At the same time, I said, we must prayerfully examine our motives in order to ensure that we are not driven by fear, chauvinism or revenge.  I then reiterated that people of genuine faith must recognize that we can, from the standpoint of faith, have legitimate policy differences.

A third questioner testified to the longstanding friendship that his family had with a Muslim colleague in the Middle East and how they had been able to share perspectives at a deep level, including religion.  I responded with the story a Christ Church couple had shared with me the previous day, about how a chance meeting years ago with a young Pakistani Muslim looking for a job had developed into a decades-long friendship.  I then shared vignettes from shared times of prayer that I had had with Muslims in Peshawar.

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