Posted by: Titus Presler | February 3, 2010

World Mission Sunday materials range from helpful to thin

Materials made available for the Episcopal Church’s annual World Mission Sunday on Feb. 14 range from helpful in terms of overview to, ironically, thin on the ground when it comes to this year’s stated major theme of “World Mission and the Environment.”

Helpful is the opening statement of the bulletin insert that has been made available on the church’s website and publicized by Episcopal News Service: “The church’s work around the world is as important as our work around the corner.”

The statement challenges what is precisely the contrary conviction among members of many denominations, including the Episcopal Church, that their churches’ work around the world is distinctly secondary to their churches’ work around the corner.  Global work and its funding are sometimes on the defensive when it comes to program emphases, allocation of personnel, and, of course, budget decisions in parishes and dioceses.

“Think globally, act locally,” is a popular slogan, which rightly stresses that we should engage where we are located – with the people and issues closest to us.  Our local engagement, however, must be informed by global thinking, and global thinking is best informed by global action.  The local and the global are organically related, each symbiotically learning from the other, a dynamic that suggested a different slogan: “Local and global – Think and act on both!”

Theologically, God treasures the whole world, which is a world of difference.  Different people and different people groups experience God differently.  So our own apprehension of God is inevitably partial and incomplete.  We need global engagement not only or even primarily as an expression of charity or an outreach to human need but even to understand more fully who God is and what the gifts of the gospel are.  In this perspective, it is not that we have a settled and understanding of the gospel, from which global engagement is an optional and discretionary outreach.  Rather, global engagement is a lifeline to the fullness of God.

“We pray together with partner dioceses in the Philippines, we offer relief in Sudan, and our missionaries serve our brothers and sisters around the globe,” the bulletin insert goes on to say.  Innocuous as it sounds as a description of the church’s global work, it is actually another important statement in that it counters the common assumption that real mission today consists in the churches’ outreach to human need.  That is certainly included in the mention of relief in Sudan, which is just one instance of the churches’ historically massive contribution to relief, healthcare, education and other infrastructure development around the world, including the current outreach to the earthquake catastrophe in Haiti.

Mentioning prayer with dioceses in the Philippines is good shorthand for the spiritual companionship in Christ that is the substance of the mystical reality of the global Body of Christ.  Christians in other parts of the world are truly sisters and brothers in Christ, and we have much to learn from their experience of Christ through their cultures and through how they are responding to the economic, political and cultural particularities of their situations.  Mission with them is a crucial dimension of the churches’ life in living into the fullness of Christ.

The third part of the statement – “our missionaries serve our brothers and sisters around the globe” – is likewise salutary.  For it is demonstrable that many Episcopalians are unaware that the church has missionaries and that others have misgivings about the work of missionaries or even the term “missionary.”  Unawareness of missionary appointments is due partly to the fact that their numbers are again on the decrease and to the fact that the church’s historically minimal financial investment in missionaries has meant that there is little funding to support their telling their story around the church.  The way the church’s few missionaries in Haiti have proved important in the aftermath of the earthquake there – and the way they have figured in the church press – may help to allay the misgivings many have about the missionary vocation.  Missionaries incarnate the presence, care, learning and outreach of our church on the ground.

The bulletin insert’s next paragraph is a kitchen-sink catch-all that includes a great deal that most parishes will not know how to access:

Spend this day learning about our companion diocese relationships, parish-to-parish links, and mission networks and societies. Share stories of Episcopal missionaries, past and present, and brainstorm ways you can get involved in our worldwide mission efforts.

Here are some resources for starters:

• Partnerships Unit page on the Episcopal Church website, and also the Networking page, which has notes on and blogs from missionaries.

• Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission website.

• Global Episcopal Mission Network website.

Windows on Mission – an excellent video series on Episcopal missionaries produced by the Mission Personnel Office.  Order form.

Companions in Transformation: The Episcopal Church’s World Mission in a New Century – the world mission vision statement for the church, published in 2003 by the Standing Commission on World Mission.

 

Horizons of Mission by Titus Presler, vol. 11 in the The New Church’s Teaching Series – the closest to a world mission handbook for Episcopalians.

• The website of your own diocese, which in most cases has important material on what your diocese is doing in global mission in the Anglican Communion and beyond.

The bulletin insert has a good overview of Companion Diocese Relationships, which are the main way Anglicans have gotten to know each other around the world over the last several decades.  The local diocesan CDR can be the first port of call for a parish wondering how to get a handle on World Mission Sunday.

Where the materials are especially thin is on this year’s theme “World Mission and the Environment.”  The insert says this:

As we are all one body in Christ, global environmental issues such as sustainability, climate change, and access to water impact our relationships and mission efforts throughout the world, calling us to work with our mission partners to honor the earth as we find safe, sustainable ways to share in its gifts.

True enough, but relating world mission to the environment is new territory for most Episcopalians, and they need a good deal more help in making the connection.  One resource is Dr. Willis Jenkins, professor of environmental ethics at Yale Divinity School.  A former Episcopal missionary in Uganda, Jenkins has written a good deal on the relation between mission and the environment.  The Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson, a former missionary in Taiwan, is relating the church’s mission to the environment in his ministry at St. Alban’s Church in Washington, D.C.  Early in the 2000s Joe and Katie McKirby were Episcopal missionaries in South Africa with a particular focus on solar power.  The Rt. Rev. Alden Hathaway, sometime bishop of Pittsburgh, established a solar power mission working with the Anglican Church of Uganda.  It is unclear whether that is still active, but it may be worth researching.

Established by the 1997 General Convention to occur on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, World Mission Sunday has been observed for 12 years, and this will be the 13th.  Epiphanytide was chosen for its theme of the manifestation of Christ in all the world.

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Responses

  1. Check out http://www.solarlightforafrica.org – Bishop Alden Hathaway’s family runs a non-profit organization to bring solar power to rural Africa. Still active, but in need of ongoing support.

    • Thank you for this comment. I was aware of Bp. Hathaway’s initiative, though it has been some years since I spoke with him about it. It always seemed to me to be a terrific project, and I admired him for pulling it together. I’m glad that it is still underway. For those who may now know, Alden Hathaway is the retired Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh.


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