Posted by: Titus Presler | January 27, 2011

Identity eclipses mission on Anglican primates’ Day 3

I look in vain for missional urgency in the briefing on Day 3 of the 2010 Anglican Primates Meeting convened in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 25-30.  As noted in a previous posting, Days 1 and 2 – or at least the briefing on them – seemed to place a priority on mission in the primates’ worship life and in their deliberations.  On Day 3 they seem to have lapsed into the bureaucratic Angli-speak of trying to understand the roles of prime bishops as institutional functionaries rather than as catalysts for mission.

It is now commonplace to view a bishop as the chief missionary of the diocese, but the primates’ discussion seems to have left that role almost entirely out of consideration.  “A primate is the first among equals,” one primate is recounted as having said to the meeting, “an apostle, a servant, who is often on the road visiting dioceses, carrying and embodying the vision of the province, the mission of the church and the values that hold that province together.” While mission is mentioned, this is thin gruel indeed, especially for a communion that professes to put mission front and center.

Here is how I would understand the sequence: On Days 1 and 2 the primates rightly highlighted the missional challenges they are facing.  On Day 3 the agenda was primacy.  That is, they were asking themselves the questions, What is our role as primates?  In what does primacy consist?  How are we to understand ourselves in this role?  Oddly, but perhaps in  typical Anglican fashion, they seem to have considered that Mission is a theme for the whole church, but when they moved to a specifically Anglican theme, primacy in this case, they began to think almost exclusively in terms of what their Identity is.  So when they’re thinking Churchwide, they realize they should be thinking Mission.  But when they want to think Anglican, they think Identity.  These two poles, Identity and Mission, were, by the way, the two major foci articulated in the conceptual and practical organization of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

By lapsing into a bifurcation between Identity and Mission, instead of allowing the two to fertilize each other, the primates are lapsing into precisely the habits that have helped to bring on the current Anglican crisis, in which issues of hierarchical prerogatives, identities and relationships constantly threaten to choke off the fresh air of mission and dim the horizons that it offers.

In fact, if the bishop of a diocese is its chief missionary, that must be true of a prime bishop as well.  He or she should be leading the province and its dioceses in mission vision and implementation.  This missional role is not simply one among many.  Rather, the mandate to catalyze mission must help the primate to conceptualize and organize his or her various other roles.  Moreover, understanding this will help the primate bring a specifically Anglican perspective to the missional work, so that the primate’s identity is missional and the primate’s missional work is Anglican.

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