Posted by: Titus Presler | December 7, 2009

Liturgy for Commissioning Missionaries for International Service

As congregations and middle levels of church organization – such as dioceses, synods, presbyteries, conferences – send missionaries out into the world directly, people often look for short liturgies of commissioning to mark the occasion.  The form below has been found to be helpful in a number of settings and denominations.

Liturgy for Commissioning Missionaries for International Service

Concerning the Service

In congregations, missionaries should be commissioned during the principal Sunday liturgy, so that as many people as possible are present.  In the case of a diocese, synod, conference or presbytery, leaders should consider well in advance of any major gathering whether there are outgoing missionaries who need to be commissioned.

An ideal time for the commissioning in many liturgical settings is at the conclusion of the sequence of Prayers of the People, Confession and Absolution, and immediately before the Peace.

Before the commissioning the Presider or Mission Committee Chair introduces the missionaries and their prospective work.  At the conclusion of the commissioning, the Presider invites the People to applaud and then follows with the Peace.

The Presenters are members of the mission committee or commission of the congregation or other church body, or other appropriate persons.

If it has not occurred earlier, it is desirable that the missionary(ies) be invited to make a presentation about their work to interested persons before or after the service, whether in a congregation or other setting.

It is desirable that music from the people(s) the missionary(ies) will be serving be included in the liturgy of the day.  This can take the form of instrumental music, a choir anthem or, ideally, a hymn to be sung by the congregation in the language of the people the missionary will be serving, with translation provided.

It is desirable that one or more of the scripture lessons – either the lessons of the day or the Short Lesson below – be read in the language(s) of the people(s) the missionary(ies) will be serving, as well as in English or the customary language of the congregation.

If a service leaflet or bulletin is customary, it should include a full description of the prospective work the missionary(ies), information about the country and culture of service, including a map, and notes on how to stay in touch with the missionary(ies) and how to contribute financially to the work.

If a communal gathering time follows the service, it is desirable that food and drink from the prospective country and culture of service be prepared and offered for refreshment.

Liturgy for Commissioning Missionaries for International Service

Presenters:

We present to you N. N. [name all who are presented] to be commissioned as  a Global Missionary [or Missionaries] of the [Episcopal or Lutheran or Methodist or Presbyterian, etc.] Church [or this diocese, synod, presbytery, conference, etc., or this congregation].

Officiant: N., we honor your faith and courage in offering yourself for international cross-cultural mission service.  Do you reaffirm your commitment to this work?

Missionary(ies): I do, with God’s help.

Officiant, to the Congregation or diocesan, synodical, conference, or presbyteral gathering:

Will all of you as the People of God do all in your power to support this person [or these persons] in their mission?

People: We will.

Short Lesson

Jesus came and said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

or

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. . . . Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said the, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  John 20:19-22

Versicle:     I will give you as a light to the nations,

Response:  That my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Officiant: Let us pray.  (Silence)

Loving God, as your risen Son ascended to glory he declared that your people would receive power from the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him to the ends of the earth: Be present with all who go forth in his Name, especially these your servants who prepare to serve in as missionaries of the N. Church.  As they minister as mission companions with your people on other continents, may your love and your truth be known, and may their lives be strengthened by your presence among the people they serve; through Jesus Christ, the one in whom your mission in the world took flesh and dwelt among us.  Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of discernment that your church has used in confirming the call to mission service: Keep us faithful in supporting these missionaries in their work, help us to quicken mission vision among your people, and strengthen each of us to participate in your mission in the world; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

Officiant:

N. N., we commission you as Global Missionaries of the Church, in the name of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May God bless you richly in your ministry.  Amen.

 

[The provenance of this form: At Everyone Everywhere, the triennial world mission conference of the Episcopal Church held in June 2008 in Baltimore, I was asked to design a liturgy for the 15 or 20 Episcopal missionaries present who were about to travel to their assignments.  I drew on the commissioning liturgy we used at St. Peter’s Church, Cambridge, Mass., from where we sent a number of missioners to serve in other parts of the world.  The model is expanded here and adapted for use across denominations.]

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Responses

  1. Titus,

    Thanks for your further feedback and follow-up. Indeed the notion of missionaries being sent, not just internationally or domestically, but to other nations within our own geographic borders, represents, I think, another dimension of mission beyond boundaries of difference. Something to think about as you adapt this liturgy.

    Thank you as well for your encouragement and affirmation of St. John’s mission engagement. Though I wish I could take credit for motivating our youth through my own missional vision, trust that there was a pre-existing missional vision long before I ever arrived. St. John’s is a place already deeply attuned to the call of God’s Spirit and actively engaged in pursuing that Spirit out into the wider mission of God.

    When we gathered in the center of the nave, and as the congregants leaned in and laid hands on our missionaries, the sense of God’s presence was both palpable and inspiring. There was general consensus with everyone who commented after, that this was a good thing to have done and indeed should be done again. So, one final time, thank you for your work in creating such a liturgy.

    Peace,
    JWJ

    • Thanks for the further reflections, Jered, and for the account of the commissioning liturgy. Yes, the DFMS of the Episcopal Church recognizes the First Nations of North America as international (or foreign, rather than domestic) for the purposes of missionary deployment because they are other nations in United States law, at least in some respects, hence the unfortunate casino gaming industry that has sprung up on various Native American reservations. Thus DFMS has recently had missionaries at, for instance, the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas. Warm regards, Titus

  2. Hello Titus – Thanks for posting this resource. We adapted and used this liturgy during Sunday services [at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota] on Pentecost II to commission our youth for a mission trip to the White Earth Reservation in Northern MN. It was well-received!

    • You’re welcome, Jered! That posting turns out to be a perennial favorite on the blogsite as people troll the web for commissioning resources. I’m very glad. I’ve revised it from time to time as additional possibilities occur to me, and your note may prompt me to take another look at it. Meanwhile I’m delighted and not at all surprised that your missional vision at St. John’s has motivated your young people for a mission trip. God bless!

      • I’ve looked it over again and made one change. As a result of living amid the discourse between Muslims and Christians, in my case in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, I’ve altered the trinitarian invocation at the close of the service to: “in the name of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This in preference to the previous version: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The revised formulation not only deflects the frequent misunderstanding that Christians are tri-theists, but it more fully represents the mystery of the Christian doctrine of God: unity of being in trinity of persons.

        On inclusivist grounds others may object to the maleness of the Father-Son formulation, but in solemn invocations it not advisable to jettison the ancient – and obviously scriptural – formulation. I often use other more allusive formulations in less solemn contexts, as in introducing a sermon, for instance. Yet I’ve not yet heard anyone suggest anything but the ancient catholic invocation for use in such truly solemn rites as baptism and ordination. The difficulty of importing other formulations into solemn invocations is that they tend to reduce the Trinity to mere functionalism. A common favorite is: “Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.” Here, as in other such formulations, functions are cited but they are not identified with entities of the Trinity, and the reformulation ends up being another way in which the mystery of the Trinity is collapsed. Moreover, the functional formulations unduly exclusivise particular functions to particular persons of the Trinity. While all may agree that Redeemer does appropriately highlight Christ, both the divine Word, later identified with Christ, and the Spirit are depicted in Genesis 1 as participating in creation, and John 1 echoes Genesis 1 by focusing initially on the creating role of the Word. Further, Sustainer is a pallid characterization indeed for the Holy Spirit. Both in Jesus’ references to the Spirit and in the depictions in Acts the Spirit is the source and conveyer of power – the power that transforms huddling disciples into bold proclaimers, the power that forms the earliest Jerusalem community’s common life, the power that works deeds of wonder.

        An example of an allusive formulation for less solemn occasions is one that I often use to introduce a sermon: “In the name of God who gave birth to the Word, God the Word made flesh, and God the Spirit who empowers the Word for life.” It came to me while preparing to preach one Sunday morning about 25 years ago at Christ Church Cambridge, and it has stood the test of time.


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