Posted by: Titus Presler | December 21, 2009

“Dear Companions in Mission,” writes DioNY representative

“Words are important – they form the attitudes we take toward each other,” says Paul Feuerstein in explaining the salutation, “Dear Companions in Mission,” for the letter he addressed to all 201 parishes and their leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

Feuerstein wrote the letter as chair of the Hispanic Grants Committee of the diocese, which distributes about $250,000 annually to support ministry to and with communities of Hispanic origin in the diocese, which includes Staten Island, Manhattan, Bronx and Westchester, Putnam, Duchess and Rockland counties.

The letter, written earlier in the fall, was fairly routine, notifying people of the grant application deadline, listing the priorities and attaching the 2010 application form.  All the more reason that I was struck by the salutation, which highlights the companionship that is becoming the major modality or style of Anglican mission in the 21st century.  So I called Feuerstein to talk about it.

“It’s a collegial thing,” Feuerstein said.  “It’s an expression of the culture we have on the Congregational Life for Mission Commission of the diocese, where there are all these individuals who are involved in a variety of kinds of mission.  Among us there is very much this sense of companionship.

Feuerstein’s family took refugees from eastern Europe into their household when he was growing up.  “I realized that words express how we look at one another,” he said of that experience, “and every since I’ve been pro-active in personalizing words.”  “How about the words ‘partners’ and ‘partnership,'” I asked?  “Partnership is okay,” he said, but he prefers “companionship.”

Feuerstein oversees the running of a domestic violence shelter as President of Barrier Free Living and its Freedom House for People with Disability.  There he insists that staff use the word “residents” for the people they serve, rather than the word “clients” that is very common among social service agencies.  He related his preference for companionship also to his work with the Center for the Healing of Memories, which was established to work with the traumas of apartheid in South Africa but which has since launched work in many parts of the world.  “The healing process is companionship,” he said.

It’s good to see a mission leader taking the mode of companionship so much to heart that it comes out as the most natural way to address colleagues.  Lots of leaders could and should adopt it: clergy, mission committee chairs, bishops, missionaries, the Archbishop of Canterbury – the works!

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