Posted by: Titus Presler | January 13, 2010

“Episcopal New Yorker” strikingly missional and international

Illustrating how missional many Episcopal dioceses have become, both in what they do and in what they want to highlight, the December issue of The Episcopal New Yorker, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of New York, has three major articles focused on global mission engagement and several other smaller stories.  In addition, there are several pieces focused on mission within the diocese and several on the life of the wider Anglican Communion.

The criterion of mission I’m applying in this analysis is the one I have been developing and writing about for some time: Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference, so the diocese and its parishes are on mission when they are ministering across boundaries of, for instance, social, ethnic, economic, racial, linguistic, national and/or geographical difference.  The mission focus is especially notable given that the lead story highlights diocesan convention approving a reduced budget for 2010.  The Episcopal New Yorker is edited by Nicholas Richardson, and a PDF of the December issue is available at the newspaper’s webpage.

Major mission articles

• “Hand in Hand in Malawi”: The subhead to this piece by Suzanne Oliver, a parishioner of St. James, Madison Avenue, encapsulates it well: “Mission trips may look like a costly extravagance, but they aren’t, says the writer after her transformative visit to the south-east African country of Malawi.”  Oliver testifies eloquently to the warmth of the relationships she formed while the parish mission team completed construction on a maternity clinic and a house.  She’s hopeful about Malawi’s new political climate and enthusiastic about the church’s role in addressing poverty, education and AIDS.  While she notes that “churches are full on Sundays,” what’s missing from the account is engagement with the spirituality of Malawian Anglicans.  This gap illustrates yet again the desirability of “mission trips” being reconceived as “mission pilgrimages,” to highlight the importance of discovering something new about God and the gospel in the encounter.  By the way, in an outstanding instance of parish-based international mission, St. James has a longstanding relationship with the Diocese of Southern Malawi, and for a number of years it has undertaken each fall to bring a priest from that diocese to minister in at St. James and study at General Seminary for the a semester.  The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Bishop of Southern Malawi, is the current Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council.

• “Green Christmas at Zion”: Again, the subhead encapsulates the story well: “The parishioners of Zion Church in Dobbs Ferry brought in Christmas decorations from their own gardens, and gave the money that they would once have spent to buy them toward a well in Tanzania.”  Senior Warden Michael Sabatino tells the story vividly and invites other congregations to follow suit.  The initiative is all the more striking for the fact that Rector Richard McKeon, who conceived the project, is an avid and prize-winning garden club enthusiast who presumably would be interested in top-notch decorations, and doubtless his own arrangements of parish greens top anything a local florist could offer.  In a nice touch, “In front of the crèche, Fr. Richard had placed a small glass bowl of water to remind us of what were supporting.”  This initiative is a creative variation on the Carpenter’s Kids initiative that Bp. Cathy Roskam has nurtured with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika in Tanzania.

• “Baghdad Calling”: This story, by Barbara Lindsley, President of the New York Altar Guild, details how that group’s contribution of altar panels and stoles to St. George’s Anglican Church began from her feeling moved to contact Canon Andrew White on the basis of a television documentary about him, “Vicar of Baghdad.”  St. George’s is the only Anglican congregation left in Iraq, and while it has a considerable congregation of 1,600, White elsewhere testifies eloquently to how the current persecution of Christians in Iraq probably exceeds that of any previous period, including the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.  Signficantly, Lindsley expresses confidence that the diocesan altar guild’s initial outreach to St. George’s will grow into a deeper and wider partnership.

Smaller International Stories

• Bishop’s Cross for Kyoko Mary Kageyama: Among four bestowals of the Bishop’s Cross, the tribute to Kyoko Mary Kageyama highlights her work in the Metropolitan Japanese Ministry in both New York and Japan

• South African Reconciliation Advocate addresses Reparations Committee: This short piece features the Rev. Michael Lapsley, SSM, a personal friend of mine from Zimbabwe days and since, who lost both hands in a pro-apartheid package bombing in Harare and who now heads the Institute for the Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa.

• Bishop of Jerusalem Speaks in White Plains: This short piece highlights the Oct. 30 address of Bp. Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem and refers people to this blog’s story on the event.  (Another article of mine reflecting on implications for designing such events is coming out in the January issue of The Meeting Point, a new magazine initiated by George Ninan, a Indian bishop who now pastors a parish in the Diocese of New York.)

Anglican Communion News

• Interview with Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales: After a discussion of pastoral ministry, interviewer Marybeth Diss asks Morgan about the state of the communion.  He responds with bewilderment about how Anglican mutual tolerance degenerated to the acrimony of Lambeth 1998, approbation of the Episcopal Church’s stance during the controversy, and an appropriate highlighting of how gospel expression amid cultural diversity is the heart of the current tensions.  Unfortunately, at one point he boils the situation down to the common trope, “It’s a justice issue,” which is relevant only when one has dealt, as the archbishop neglects to do in the interview, with the theological and ethical issues at stake.

• Review of The Episcopal Church in Crisis: Dean Jim Kowalski writes a good review of what sounds like a good book by Frank Kirkpatrick that deals with the crisis both within ECUSA and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

• Bishop’s Statement on Vatican Apostolic Constitution on Anglicans: Bishop Sisk’s Oct. 26 statement is reproduced without comment.  (For my comment on the controversy see earlier postings on this blog.)

Overview

In a 32-page tabloid-size publication, the foregoing constitutes considerable international focus.  Stories on local mission highlight: a Bishop’s Cross tribute to Jan and Wayne Downing for a food-pantry ministry at St. John’s, Monticello; the Angel Food East HIV outreach at St. John’s, Kingston; the Episcopal Charities awards; the Evensong and Ecology series at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; a personal reflection on slavery and reparations; and the bishops’ public opposition to education cuts in the New York State budget.

What’s left, besides the convention story and Bp. Mark Sisk’s convention address?  Various good items in the general area of ministry: an Advent message from Bp. Roskam, two more Bishop’s Cross tributes, a spiritual meditation, a piece on Camp Incarnation, a reflection on the experience of breast cancer, a reflection on St. Stephen’s diakonia, a picture collage from St. Francis Day at the cathedral, a review of an exhibition on William Blake, several more book reviews, an opinion piece on the politics of poverty alleviation, stories on a parish’s bells and another’s another’s bicentennial, and some small squibs – all of it important.

Obviously, the proportion of mission engagement in the total mix is considerable, and it speaks well of the Diocese of New York.  While the sheer volume of international engagement noted is tied to the life of a large and relatively affluent diocese that has a number of large parishes, the proportion of mission engagement, whether global or local, is becoming fairly typical in the Episcopal Church, and that is very good news.

Missional reflection on diocesan budget reduction

Diocesan Convention having occurred on Nov. 21, the lead story in the paper, “Facing Financial Facts,” naturally concerns the lead event there, the major decision taken to reduce parishes’ assessment formula and reduce the budget total to $10 million, down from the 2009 figure of $12.8 million.  Obviously, all this was undertaken in view of the current economic downturn, which naturally has affected parishes adversely.

In his convention address, reproduced in full in The New York Episcopalian, Bp. Sisk says “it would be a mistake to see this reduced budget in terms of retrenchment,” even as he acknowledges “hard cuts and reassessments that have been forced upon us.”  Instead he wants to focus on mission.  “I am convinced that the budget that you have before you is a mission oriented budget.  It asks us to focus sharply, very sharply, on the work that we have been given to do,” he says, going on to note that gradual restoration is planned for the positions of college chaplain, archdeacon, and assistant bishop.

Several points call for attention.

• Like everyone in the Episcopal Church today, including most bishops, Sisk wishes to highlight mission.  The implication is something like, “As long as we’re on mission, we’re on the right track.”  The degree to which this is the refrain in dioceses and parishes throughout the church is remarkable – and a very good thing.

• As I’ve noted in other contexts, however, it is not helpful to conflate mission with overall purpose.  Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference and is thus a subset of the broader ministry to which God calls us.  There are many ministries that are absolutely vital to the church being faithful to God, but not all of them are mission.  The convention address is not clear in distinguishing ministry and mission, both of them vitally important.

• College chaplaincy is certainly missional in the context of the contemporary world.  While the archdeacon’s position has historically been termed Archdeacon for Mission, the bishop does not term it as such in the convention address.  The characterizations he does make about it concern ecumenical and interfaith work, the latter certainly being missional, and the Public Voice initiative, which is missional.  He makes no mention of the international engagement that the position has historically included.

• The word “retrenchment” means simply “the cutting back of expenses,” so clearly the current budget situation constitutes retrenchment.  It would have been more effective to acknowledge the situation for what it is and then to challenge the people of the diocese to faithful discipleship in the midst of it.  Perhaps the bishop meant to stress that while retrenchment is underway, the diocese must not retreat from engaging God’s mission in the world – indeed a very important point.

Final note: New Ghanaian congregation in the Bronx

Immediately above the sobering front-page budget news, however, is a large, splashy photograph of exuberant Ghanaians celebrating their being welcomed at convention as a new parish, the Bronx-based St. Mary’s Ghanaian Episcopal (Anglican) Church.  This is not global missional engagement abroad, but it is an important sign of the diocese embracing a newly immigrant Anglican presence and folding it into the life of the diocese, thereby celebrating the  diversity of God’s human family, always evident in New York but becoming increasingly evident in the diocese.  (Click here for the news story about the congregation being admitted to the diocese on Sept. 23.)

Quibbling with the new congregation’s name, one hopes that in time the term “Ghanaian” will drop out of the parish’s name.  Including a cultural and national identification in the name of a congregation erodes the inherently universal appeal we all are called to make on behalf of Christ, and it implies that only those of a certain cultural, linguistic or national background are invited and welcome.  Obviously, the inclusion of “Ghanaian” in the parish’s name is made in order to attract and cherish Ghanaian immigrants, and not for the invidious segregationist reason that the term Negro was included in the names of some congregations in earlier eras.  Nevertheless, while St. Mary’s may currently wish to focus on Ghanaians, what should be the widening of its own ministry, and also the inevitable future demographic shifts in its area of the city, should prompt the congregation to rethink its name.

Including “Anglican” as well as “Episcopal,” on the other hand, is a good inclusive signal.  Often Anglicans from other parts of the world do not realize that the Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion and search in vain for an “Anglican” congregation.  The double nomenclature also makes it clear that this congregation is not one of the breakaway congregations that lay exclusive claim to being the only true Anglicans.

Overall, a bucket-load of good mission engagement!

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