Posted by: Titus Presler | August 7, 2009

Real outreach backed up mission rhetoric at 76th General Convention

This posting expands Titus’s front-page “Perspective” article published 16 July 2009 in “The Center Aisle,” the Diocese of Virginia’s daily publication at General Convention.

Mission was remarkably center stage at the 76th General Convention.  The Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission were endorsed, three convention-wide Mission Conversations occurred, there was considerable concern to support international missionaries, the Strategic Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics gained traction, and lots of other initiatives were underway.  Was this mission commitment real or rhetorical, engaged or nominal?  I was encouraged by the real engagement that was clear all over the place:

Debates over consents to episcopal elections in relation to B033 from the 2006 General Convention highlighted mission.  Opponents of D025 naturally expressed concern that international mission with Anglican companions would be endangered if the moratoria were lifted.  Supporters celebrated how they’d been  able to engage in local and global mission, stay connected with Anglican companions around the communion, and yet at the same time include gay and lesbian Christians in their ministry.  So the two sides differed in assessing mission prospects, but both sides saw nurturing mission as a central concern.  That’s progress.  Interestingly, conservatives were actually quite muted in their articulation of mission concern, while progressives tended to be passionate, often citing particular mission initiatives that had caught on in their congregations and dioceses.  Michael Burke, rector of St. Mary’s in Anchorage, Alaska, was an especially articulate speaker along these lines both in the B033 hearing and in the House of Deputies debate on D025.

The Mission Conversations that were guided by Public Narrative focused on real mission rather than fuzzy concepts that absorb all ministries into mission.  Conversation facilitators didn’t define mission, but people very naturally shared stories that highlighted reaching beyond comfort zones to encounter and work with communities different from their own, which is the mark of mission.  In my group, sharings included work with people hit by the economic meltdown, issues around a homeless person sheltering on church property, and Solo Flight, a ministry with persons suffering after divorce.  Such clear identification of mission with initiative into difference is progress.

Past tension between local and global mission seemed to have subsided at this General Convention.  People committed to mission in the USA very much affirmed the concern of those committed to mission abroad.  The old refrain, “Yes, but what about our own backyard?” was less frequent, due in part to the Anglican crisis, which has made it clear to all that global engagement is crucial if the Anglican Communion is to continue as a vitally functioning body within world Christianity.  Equally, world mission enthusiasts were affirming the importance of mission at home.  Many people are involved in both and have learned that the local enhances the global and vice versa.  This is appropriate for a church which is at the same time the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society!

And then there was good mission inspiration from speakers.  The Presiding Bishop’s opening and mid-point sermons were models of mission vision, and her image of mission as the church’s heartbeat was memorable enough for Resolution D075 to highlight it for the church.  Bp. Michael Curry’s single-word charge – “Go!” – to the Episcopal Church Women was galvanizing and highlighted again the dimension of venturing beyond comfort zones to engage difference.  The sermons by Coutney Cowart on post-Katrina ministry and Abagail Nelson on ERD’s work with the MDGs were clearly mission-focused and arose out of real and costly engagement with the world.

In addition to all this, there was an excellent balance among in-house projects, like the revision of the disciplinary canons, genuine mission initatives, and the ramifications of inter-Anglican turmoil.  The 76th convention cannot be accused of obsessing about sex, or hiding conflict behind mission, or turning inward in a time of financial pressure.  The balance was undergirded by a consistently outward focus on mission.  That’s good news for the church.  More important, it’s good news for the world.

Postscript: A couple of self-referential bibliographical notes:

• On the theme of mission being anchored in the encounter of difference, I was reminded of my Center Aisle contribution at the 2006 General Convention, entitled “Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference.”  My detailed theological, historical and philosophical treatment of the theme is scheduled to appear in an early 2010 issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

• On the issue of how mission has been affected by the Anglican crisis over homosexuality, see my article, “The Impact of the Sexuality Controversy on Mission: The Case of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion” in International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33:1 (January 2009): 11-18.

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