Posted by: Titus Presler | December 9, 2009

Multiple and diverse world mission initiatives are supported by Diocese of New York

A remarkably strong and diverse array of world mission initiatives is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of New York, as I found at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Congregational Life for Mission Commission.

The diocese’s commitment illustrates a growing phenomenon in the Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations: International mission is being envisioned and pursued at the initiative of the middle levels of church organization – such as diocese, presbytery, synod and conference – and at the local level of the congregation.  This movement, which has gained strength since the 1970s, represents a shift from world mission being envisioned, implemented and directed principally by denominational headquarters, with the middle levels and local levels simply funding the effort through their church-wide assessments.  Today, the center of gravity has shifted to the regional and local levels.  Some mid-level and local initiatives consult and coordinate with church-wide staff, and some do not, depending on whether church-wide offices have involvement in and resources for the work that the middle and local levels are pursuing.

In the impressive array of topics reviewed at the New York meeting, held at Diocesan House in the Close of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, were the following: Missionaries, India Network, Hispanic Ministry, Africa Mission Committee, Haiti Network, Global Women’s Fund, Global Hospitality Fund, Metropolitan Japanese Ministery, Episcopal Asian Ministry, the Global Episcopal Mission Network, and the Millennium Development Goals.

As this list indicates, the Congregational Life for Mission Commission (CLMC) is occupied not so much with crafting specific initiatives as with coordinating the work of many subgroups, each with its own committee members and initiatives.  Thus the meeting agenda was devoted to hearing reports from the leaders of those subgroups.  The commission would probably describe itself as a convening point for communication and consultation about world mission initiatives rather than as an approval point.  Doubtless if some group developed an idea that others on the commission thought was seriously misguided, there would be conversation that might result in re-direction.  It was clear, however, that the group generally understood that the constituent groups have their specific work well in hand, so the commission basically heard and discussed what each group brought forward.

In this model, the mid-level judicatory – the Episcopal diocese, the Presbyterian presbytery, the Lutheran synod or Methodist conference – is taking on the role of being a mid-size mission society.  I say mid-size in the sense that it is certainly smaller in scope and funding than, say, the Church Mission Society or the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the Church of England, or the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, or the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) of the Episcopal Church.  Yet it is larger in scope, though perhaps not in funding, than small and very specifically focused mission societies such as African Palms or the Episcopal Medical Missionary Fellowship.

Let’s take a look at some salient points of what came up at the New York commission’s meeting, which I attended as a guest missiologist.  In what follows I am not presuming to cover the work of each group comprehensively but only to comment on prominent features of what came up on Nov. 10.

• Missionaries: It was heartening that this frequently discounted and dismissed aspect of world mission was listed first on the agenda.  And it was good to hear that Bp. Mark Sisk had specifically asked that missionaries be prayed for by name in the regular diocesan cycle of prayer.  Four missionaries, at least three of whom are supported by DFMS, were cited as being “officially” sponsored by the diocese:

– The Rev. Elyn MacInnis, who has served long as a pastor in China as the only Episcopal appointee in the world’s most populous country.

– Very Rev. Ogé Beauvoir, formerly of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and now dean of the Episcopal seminary in Port-au-Prince in his native Haiti, which shares with the Diocese of New York (DioNY) membership in Province II of the Episcopal Church.

– Ms. Elizabeth Boe, who has served in Tanzania with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) and who intends to continue there, with particular reference to assisting with Carpenter’s Kids, DioNY’s outreach to children in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.

– The Rev. Sandra Seaborn, recently ordained and serving in the Diocese of Madras (Chennai) in the Church of South India, with which DioNY has a formal relationship.

As the commission members updated one another on the latest news from the missionaries, a consensus emerged also to make a grant of $1,000 to each missionary, certainly a significant expression of sponsorship.  It was clear that most of those present knew the missionaries personally and were personally invested in them.  Assisting this was the fact that DioNY has real institutional involvement in two of the settings, Central Tanganyika and Madras.

India Network: The report from Johanna Shafer was impressive for the depth and range of involvement it indicated.  The network seems to have organized at least two pilgrimages to the Diocese of Madras in the past, so there is a sense of personal companionship its members have with their Indian counterparts.  Implementing an emphasis on education, DioNY helped build St. Ewart’s School in Chennai and in May will bring its principal to spend four months at St. Hilda and St. Hugh School, a major Episcopal institution in NYC.  The India Network is assisting the Diocese of Madras in its project to combat the temple prostitution cult dedicated to the Hindu goddess Martamma by helping victims escape the cult and supporting them in a productive setting, an effort that costs Rs. 30/day (about US 60¢) for each former prostitute.  The network plans to submit a resolution to the 2010 DioNY convention on the subject of supporting DioMadras’s extensive and unusual ministry with transgendered persons.  Altogether the network’s outreach is remarkable for its combination of companionship experienced through pilgrimage; traditional infrastructure work, in education; inter-religious confrontation, with the Martamma cult; and social advocacy, in the transgender initiative.

Hispanic Ministries: Concerning ministry within the diocese rather than outside the diocese, this has been grouped in the CLMC basket of ministries to oversee because it concerns people who immigrate to DioNY from Latin America.  Commissioners might or might not articulate it this way, but the operative criterion clearly is the dimension of difference, the criterion I argue marks mission off from ministry.  DioNY’s work with Spanish-speaking immigrants is an effort to reach out to people of national, cultural and linguistic difference.  Hence it is seen as mission.  At this meeting the group was updated on the annual grants process that typically distributes about $250,000 to parish-based Hispanic ministries in DioNY.

• Africa Mission Committee: Donald Bookal reported on the two African commitments of the group, each of them quite extensive and complex:

Carpenter’s Kids, Diocese of Central Tanganyika, Tanzania: 6,000 children orphaned by HIV/AIDS are currently reached by this mission, which has been championed by Suffragan Bp. Catherine Roskam, who works closely with CLMC.  It is hoped that by the end of 2010, the fifth year of the program, 10,000 children will be served through being provided with a school uniform, a pair of shoes, breakfast every morning, and adequate school supplies to enable them to attend primary school, all supported by 200 parishes.  Clearly the program is remarkable in both accomplishment and aspiration.  Illustrating the depth of engagement, Donald reported that an initiative to purchase cattle to assist villages with self-sufficiency has been put on hold because the current drought and famine makes it for villagers to hard to feed or shelter cattle.

– Diocese of Matlosane, South Africa: DioNY has a companion diocese relationship (CDR) with Matlosane, a type of link that typically generates a considerable array of formal and financial relationships.  A 20th-anniversary celebration of the founding of the diocese will be held in October 2010, and probably DioNY will have some official representation there.  As Donald reported on various complicated aspects of the relationship, it was clear that considerable discernment and accountability is being exercised.

• Haiti Network: This has been hard to form, it was reported, with further details to be forthcoming at a later meeting when a representative can be present.  The very fact that a Haiti Network is envisaged is appropriate and important, for there are many Haitians in DioNY, some of them Episcopalians, and there are a number of Episcopal Haitian congregations in DioNY.  Haiti is the perennial “poorest country in the western hemisphere,” and, as already noted, the Diocese of Haiti, the Episcopal Church’s largest in membership, is part of Province II, along with DioNY.  As is the case throughout the Episcopal Church, a number of DioNY congregations have work in Haiti, and networking those efforts would be helpful, just as formation of the Haiti Connection on a church-wide basis has helped coordinate the efforts of dioceses, parishes and mission agencies.

• Global Women’s Fund: It was reported that this was being restructured by Bp. Roskam to be integral to DioNY.  Evidently a new mission statement is being developed, to focus on providing educational opportunity to Anglican women in their own countries.  Evidently this initiative developed out of Roskam’s work on the Anglican Consultative Council, for which she was the Episcopal Church’s bishp member for nine years.

• Global Hospitality Fund: Another initiative particular to DioNY, this funds the hospitality provided to international visitors, the most recent instance cited by Kathi Grossman being the hospitality provided to Bp. Suheil Dawani, Bishop of Jerusalem, and Canon Samir Habiby.  She noted that the group has 20 families willing to host international visitors.  (See here for a report on Bp. Dawani’s Westchester visit at St. Bartholomew’s Church, White Plains.)

Metropolitan Japanese Ministry: Shoji Mizumoto explained that MJM ministers to the Japanese community in the metro New York area and that the community was larger 20 years ago before Japan’s economic downturn.  The group is planning a film festival and is currently looking for its next missioner.  Since the meeting I’ve received the summer/fall 2009 issue of MJM’s magazine, Sojourner or Kiryusha, a 24-page item with articles in English and Japanese.  Most remarkable is a piece on the group’s summer retreat, which featured Taizé music led by Isao-san and participation by orchestra conductor Kurt Masur and his family.  Longtime Japan missionary John Lloyd, now retired, led the closing eucharist. Also featured is the text of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Sept. 22 sermon on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Anglican Church in Japan (Nippon Sei Ko Kai).

Episcopal Asian Ministries: Christina Hing reported that the Metropolitan Filipino Ministry has a vibrant relationship with a poor parish in Manila that ministers with children living next to a huge municipal dump.  Considerable discussion was prompted by her report on her participation in the Anglican Communion’s consultation on trafficked children, held in Hong Kong, Nov. 2-6, organized by the Anglican Observer at the United Nations.  She reported that the group had raised funds for young people to attend General Convention and a meeting in Florida but that, since no candidates were forthcoming, the money would be used to update the group’s website.

• Prison Ministry: As with Hispanic Ministries, this intra-diocesan work appears to have been put in the CLMC’s basket on account of the dimension of difference that it involves.  No representative was present, so there was no report.

Global Episcopal Mission Network: DioNY is not only a member of this churchwide network of dioceses involved in world mission but was one of its two founding dioceses in 1994, with the Diocese of Southern Ohio.  A brief report was presented on the network’s annual meeting last May in California.  For more on GEMN and its relation to the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission, see here.

Anglican Observer Office at the United Nations: As a member of the Advisory Council to the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, CLMC Chair Yvonne O’Neal noted that the status of the office with the United Nations is under discussion and that a fundraiser for the work of Observer Hellen Grace Akwil-Wangusa is scheduled for Jan. 26, with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in attendance. Given the UN’s location in NYC, it is appropriate and healthy for DioNY and its CLMC to have a robust relationship with the observer office.

Altogether, it is clear that the commission oversees a remarkable range of mission and that its subgroups have their work well in hand.  Again, it’s an example of not only the increasing global engagement of the middle level of church organization but also of how a large volume of the churches’ world mission initiative is being exercised at that level and in congregations.  Connections with DFMS in the work discussed that evening were fairly few and had mostly to do with the sponsored missionaries.

Equally striking, the commission’s work is reasonably well funded.  It was announced that the 2010 DioNY budget maintains CLMC’s budget at a recession-proof $48,000!

In an interesting financial matter that arises in all dioceses that have committed some proportion of their budget to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, usually 0.7% of disposable diocesan income, CLMC discussed with the chair Mark Hummel of DioNY’s Social Concerns Commission the allocation of DioNY’s 0.7% funds for the MDGs for 2009, amounting to $19,000.  One question was whether MDG money could be spent domestically, say, on migrant children in New York State, and the consensus was that it should be spent abroad, a good call given the magnitude of MDG work needed in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Another question was whether MDG money must go directly to beneficiaries – begging the question of what precisely that might mean, given that “directly” is likely to mean a diocesan or agency functionary – or whether it could go to missionaries who, in turn, work to accomplish MDGs in their mission sites.  Consensus seemed to favor including the latter, another good call.  As for what the specific destinations would be – Anglican Women’s Empowerment, St. Elizabeth’s School in Peshawar, missionary Elizabeth Boe in Tanzania, and a to-be-determined organization in Jerusalem were mentioned as possibilities – a subcommittee was appointed to make a recommendation or decision jointly with the Social Concerns Commission.

As though all of this were not enough, CLMC Chair Yvonne O’Neal announced that she had been invited to attend the 10th-anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Lagos West in the Anglican Church of Nigeria and that she was leaving the next morning!  This was remarkable in view of the fact that the Church of Nigeria, led by Abp. Peter Akinola, is the Anglican province that has been most at odds with the Episcopal Church over the sexuality issues roiling the Anglican Communion.  Not only was O’Neal invited, but Lagos West was funding the trip, a reversal of the pattern by which USAmerican churches often fund the bulk of the interchange between themselves and their companions in other parts of the world.  O’Neal noted that DioNY Bp. Sisk was sending a letter and gifts with her for presentation to Lagos West Bp. Peter Adebiyi.  All were interested in what O’Neal might have to report on her return.

A final note: The cumbersome name of the commission appears designed to stress the importance of global work being linked to the congregations of the diocese.  The DioNY website says CLMC “coordinates and oversees efforts at diocesan and local levels to support missionary aspects of congregational life – evangelism, dimensions of stewardship and communication, hospitality and pilgrimage with international companions, support for persons with disabilities – that are distinguished from Christian formation; and to connect congregations with global mission opportunities and relationships.”  Significantly, some of CLMC’s subgroups are based in parishes, e.g., Metropolitan Japanese Ministry at the Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale, and Metropolitan Filipino Ministry at Good Shepherd, Manhattan.  As in most diocesan situations, it is an open question how aware the average parish is of diocesan mission initiatives, but it is a safe bet that Carpenter’s Kids is known to many and perhaps even to most people in the diocese.

Members of the commission are: Yvonne O’Neal, chair; Christina Hing, David De Porte, Donald Bookal, Fred Wibiralske, Gordon B. Coyle, Johanna Shafer, Kathryn Grossman, Keith Warren, Margaret Cash, Molly Shaw, Peter Ng, Robin Newman, Shoji Mizumoto, the Rev. Ajung Sojwal, the Rev. Canon Petero Sabune. the Rev. Deacon Gail S. Ganter-Toback, the Rev. Deacon Geraldine Swanson, the Rev. Deborah Dresser, the Rev. Diego Delgado-Miller, the Rev. Dr. Gideon Jebamani, the Rev. Duncan Burns, the Rev. Filomena Servellon, the Rev. Jane Butterfield, the Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, the Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre, the Rev. Paul Feuerstein, the Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate, Virginia Lief.  This membership of 30 is large.  It would be too large if the commission were primarily directed to accomplishing specific tasks, but, again, its function seems primarily to oversee the work of multiple subgroups.  In that sense it is more like a board than a committee.

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Responses

  1. As the parents of Elizabeth Boe, we want to thank you for your mention of her and her mission. This is an excellently presented statement for mission. May God continue to bless and uplift your work and your communication.

    • You are most welcome! And you should be very proud of Elizabeth. I’ve not met her, but hope to at some point.


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