Posted by: Titus Presler | February 17, 2012

60 Episcopal missionaries today: What does this figure say about a church?

“Episcopal missionaries around the world serve as the church’s eyes, ears, hands, and feet on the ground,” says the Episcopal Church’s 2012 World Mission Sunday blurb on the church website in preparation for the Feb. 19 observance.  That’s a good statement that highlights the vitally important incarnational dimension of the church’s mission that missionaries express through sustained presence, relationship and ministry.

The sad fact is that there are many fewer missionary eyes, ears, hands and feet on the ground than there should be.

The rosters of missionaries and Young Adult Service Corps members currently on the church’s website yield a total of 60 persons, down two from the already low total cited in 2011.  The diminishing international commitment of the Episcopal Church through missionary presence is startling in view of urgent problems recognized in the church and beyond:

• Episcopal Church alienation in the Anglican Communion – Regardless whether one is a traditionalist or a progressive, most Episcopalians recognize that the lack of mutual understanding between the Episcopal Church and a number of other dioceses and provinces in the communion has been aggravated by lack of the shared experience that comes from living and working together.

• USAmerican alienation in the global community – Regardless whether one is liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, many USAmericans recognize that many USAmericans have unhelpfully isolationist or, alternatively, aggressive stances toward the wider world because many have so little cultural and linguistic experience of that wider world.  As a result, many people in other places adopt hostile attitudes toward the USA, which only intensifies USAmerican isolationism and, ironically, aggression.

So, to the constant din of Anglican and international discord the Episcopal Church seems to be turning a tin ear.


There’s more to be said about all this below, but first here are some interesting – and neutral! – statistics from the mission rosters currently on the church’s website that may be useful to those thinking about missionaries in preparation for World Mission Sunday:

Personnel: “Missionaries,” appointed for 1-3 years and sometimes longer: 52.  Young Adult Service Corps members, ages 21-30, serving for 1 year: 8.  Total: 60.

Gender: 33 Women and 27 Men.

Orders of Ministry: 30 Lay & 22 Ordained Missionaries.  The 8 YASC members are all Lay, bringing the Lay total to 38.

Marital Status: There are about a dozen married couples among the missionaries.

30 Episcopal Dioceses are represented.  Those represented by multiple missionaries include: Massachusetts, 5 (a figure gratifying to me from my years of co-chairing the Volunteers for Mission Committee there, which sent out about 75 short-term and longterm missionaries over the course of 11 years); Chicago and Virginia, 4 each; Atlanta, California, Nebraska and San Diego, 3 each; Connecticut, Delaware, El Camino Real, New York, Oklahoma, Southwest Florida, Spokane, and Tennessee, 2 each.

Dioceses in 22 Countries are hosting Episcopal missionaries.  Those hosting multiple missionaries are: South Africa, 11; Tanzania, 6; Kenya, 5; Dominican Republic, Panama and Sudan, 4 each; Ecuador and Jerusalem, 3 each; Egypt, Haiti, Hong Kong (China), Mexico, Japan, 2 each.  That gives a fair sense of the range of geography as well.

Types of Work: This is harder to gauge without a detailed reading of virtually all of the missionaries’ blogs, but a here’s a rough outline: About 10 are in pastoral work, sometimes combined with diocesan administrative responsibilities.  Close to 20 appear to be in administrative positions, often in relation to ministries with children, refugees and people affected by AIDS.  About 6 are in seminary education, and about 6 others are teachers in schools.  About 6 seem to be coordinating partnership programs between their host dioceses and the Episcopal Church.  Relatively few, 3 it seems, are in medical work.

The Bad News

[What follows is only slightly updated from my observations a year ago just before the 2011 World Mission Sunday:] The Episcopal Church’s investment in international missionaries is small.  The current figure of 60 missionaries is down from over 100 just six years ago, and that represented an increase from low numbers in the 80s and 90s that were similar to today’s.  The current missionary number means that Episcopalians have just one missionary for about every 35,500 members.

The Episcopal situation stands out even among the historic mainline denominations, all of which have far fewer missionaries than they did in, say, the 1950s.  Yet today [2011] the Presbyterian Church (USA) has the same membership total as the Episcopal Church  – about 2.2 million, maybe even fewer – but they field 3.5 times as many missionaries: 217 serving in over 50 countries.  That works out to one missionary for about every 10,150 members – still not good, but a lot better than 1:35,500.

Moreover, missionaries of other churches are financially much better supported than are Episcopal missionaries.  Declining Episcopal support over the years has meant that the General Convention budget offers only travel, health insurance, pension premiums and $500 a month (sometimes less) for a missionary.  Other denominations such as the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches offer a realistic stipend that bears some resemblance to a stateside salary and a number of other benefits.  Thus, compared with that of other churches, the Episcopal Church’s investment in missionaries is even smaller than the differential in missionary numbers would suggest.

A couple of yes-buts are predictable:

“Yes, but missionaries are not the only way the church pursues international mission”: Yes, of course, there are Companion Diocese Relationships, grants, training programs, and many initiatives in disaster relief and so-called “development”.  But incarnational missionary presence now receives disproportionately little support, even though it is disproportionately important.

“Yes, but there are many short-term teams going out from congregations and dioceses”: Yes, there are, but their short engagement, which often has no follow-up, is no substitute for committed longer-term engagement in which the missioner develops deep relationships in the context of knowing and becoming a part of local culture.  For more on this see Chapter 11 in Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference.

The takeaway for Episcopalians:

Your missionaries serve sacrificially – Whether as young adults, mid-career professionals or retirees, Episcopal missionaries receive very little support from your church.  They are serving because they feel called.  In doing so, they give up a lot in terms of security and rest-of-life planning.  They give up more than they should have to.  The notion, in fact, that an international missionary should receive miserly compensation relative to counterparts at home is an odd fallacy that betrays the church’s real attitude, that incarnational global engagement is a peripheral add-on to the church’s real work.

• Your missionaries have considerable ego strength – Sometimes Episcopal missionaries receive good publicity, especially when the countries where they serve suffer natural disasters or paroxysms of civil unrest (think Haiti, Egypt, Sudan and Japan), and that’s good.  Most of the time they are unsung and unrecognized, and the church’s low level of support for them individually and for the program as a whole conveys to them a poor message about whether and how they are valued.  They really have to believe in what they’re doing in order to carry on.

• Local support for missionaries is crucial – Given the paltry support from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, it is crucial for congregations, dioceses and freestanding societies to raise support for missionaries and, if necessary, field them on their own.  Such democratization of mission initiative is the current wave across the mainline denominations anyway, as I point out in Going Global with God.  So seize the moment!

• Lobby for churchwide support for missionaries – At virtually every General Convention there is a resolution calling for increases in churchwide support for missionaries from the churchwide budget, but it is rarely provided.  In the budget cuts that followed the 2009 General Convention, missionary support at least held steady, which was good.  Episcopalians concerned about missionaries should be crafting resolutions to be presented by your deputies at the 2012 General Convention, both to increase the number of missionaries overall and to increase substantially the level at which they are supported.  Obviously this is a tall order in view of the various downsizings that are being considered for this year’s convention.

Looking at the overall picture from this perspective can give an extra edge or bite to your observance of World Mission Sunday.



  1. I have found this discussion very interesting and especially Mark’s comment “they seemed to be redefining “mission” as “partnership””.

    Thirty years ago, almost to the day, we had a Partners in Mission conference in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, which I helped to organise.

    It was a very useful exercise, at least for those who participated, but later we heard that it had come in for quite a lot of criticism in the UK, among other things from USPG, who seemed to think that we has misunderstood the whole Partners in Mission thing, in that we hasd assumed that it meant what the title said, instead of understanding it from the UK point of view – that it was really about Partnership in Partnership, or rather Partnership in Ecclesiastical Bureaucracy. They told us that it should take place strictly at the provincial level and that individual dioceses were quite out of line in holding Parners in Mission conferences.

    I wonder if Partners in Mission still continues, or if it has been replaced bgy something else with a more obscurantist name, like Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.

    • Responding to Ian. Thankfully the Partners in Mission process within the Anglican Communion has now been followed by an Initiative for Evangelism and Church Growth (called for by the last Lambeth Conference) which is called Anglican Witness (originally ECGI). You can follow this on Facebook at “Anglican Witness” or on the Anglican Communion Website at where you can download the news sheet “Anglican Witness”.

      • Thanks for this, Mark. I agree that we should be thankful that Partnership in Mission has been replaced by the intrinsically missional emphases of evangelism and church growth, which can rightly be gathered under the overall theme of witness. Witness includes other things as well, but it certainly has its foundation in gospel proclamation and the gathering of ecclesial communities.

        Part of the Anglican and mainline church problem has been to confuse aspects of mission that I distinguish (helpfully, I hope) in “Going Global with God.” There is the NATURE of mission, which I define as sending and being sent to witness to the action of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The TERRAIN of mission is ministry in the dimension of difference, so not all ministries are missional, but those in which any Christian or Christian communitiy reaches out to those who are different from itself. The DIRECTION of mission is reconciliation – between God and humanity and within the human community. The MODE of mission is companionship – walking together, learning together.

        The post-colonial missiophobia (a neologism coined just this moment!) that has afflicted many in the West prompted many church leaders and even mission agencies to take emotional and conceptual shelter in the safest haven possible, which is the HOW of mission, not the WHAT of mission, and then to allow all the consultations and arrangements appertaining to the MODE – all very interesting and fulfilling – to crowd out attention to the NATURE, TERRAIN and DIRECTION of mission.

        Partnership in Mission was an important step, as is Companionship in Mission and Mission Accompaniment today, but it is simply the mode of mission.

      • Thanks for that – now I know what to look for.

        For what it’s worth, what we did in Zululand took the term “Partners in Mission” literally. Our “partner dioceses” were Carlisle, Botswana and George (one within our province, one outside the province but still within Africa, and one overseas). We asked them to send a priest and a lay person, split them into mixed teams, and took them on tours of the diocese, one team to the north and one team to the south. Then we cloistered them in our conference centre to prepare a report – how was the diocese doing in mission? Then they presented the report to the diocesan council, and it was discussed, and finally they presented to a diocesan conference, which had all the clergy of the diocese and lay representatives from every parish.

        The result was a kind of SWOT analysis, though they didn’t use that term – strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. At the conference we asked the partners how we could share our strenghts with them, and asked outselves how we could overcome the weaknesses.

        Carlisle sent the bishop, his wife, and a priest. Botswana sent a priest and his wife. The Dean of George came, but to the conference only – the one closest to home made the smallest contribution.

        It was a useful exercise for the diocese, we thought, and we were rather disappointed when people in the UK thought that the main object of the exercise was to beg for money without going through the “proper channels”, and did not take the title “Partners in Mission” seriously, but regarded it as a euphemism for inter-church aid. It seemed to indicate that the whole thing had been thought up by spin doctors.

        Far from begging for money, we planned the whole thing as part of the diocesan budget, including paying the travel expenses of the people from the partner dioceses. Carlisle insisted on paying their own way, but we did offer.

  2. What about missionaries sent by missionary sending agencies, like missionary societies? Aren’t there many more of those? If you include them, how do the overall numbers compare with previous years? Does that make a difference?

    • Thanks for your comment, Steve. Yes, there are, and over the years I have celebrated them as well through my participation and leadership in the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission, a network that ceased operation in 2012. See my response to Mark Oxbrow for further details.

  3. Titus, thank you for these reflections, but …

    It all depends how you count Episcopalian (or Anglican) missionaries from the US! It is certainly true that for almost 30 years there has been a very steady (some would say cataclysmic) decline in the number of Episcopalian missionaries sent out by the central office of the Episcopal Church (TEC) but that is not the whole story. During that same period we have seen the birthing of a number of new mission movements within the Episcopal family (now mostly identifying themselves as ‘Anglican’ rather than ‘Episcopalian’ for reasons to do with the split in that church) and they now send many more people than the central office of the church. Some of those agencies would be SAMS, Global Teams, Anglican Frontier Missions and CMS-USA (now merged with SAMS). The full list is at But that’s not all. Due to the lack of commitment within TEC to the deployment of cross-cultural missionaries, many Episcopalians/Anglicans in the US have, in recent years, decided that the only route for them to serve in mission is with an inter- or non-denominational agency, so you will find (as of course you also do in the UK and Canada), many of them serving with agencies such as Interserve, Frontiers, OM, Pioneers, etc.

    It is a great shame that your posting here is totally blind to the hundreds of Anglican/Episcopalian Christians from the US who are serving in mission around the world but choose to do this in ways other than through the central church structures. It gives a very blinkered view of Anglican mission out of the US!

    So there are two factors at play. (1) A collapse in the direct sending of mission personnel by the central offices of TEC and (2) a continued strong team (but I do not have the numbers) of Anglicans from the US serving as cross-cultural missionaries through both Anglican and non-Anglican mission agencies.

    One other observation. I am interested to see your report that out of the 30 Episcopalians sent out by TEC over one third of them serve in one small area of the world, South Africa, an area than is probably one of those least in need of external Christian witness and which is itself a major supplier of cross-cultural missionaries. How does TEC priorities its sending?

    • Dear Mark! Thanks so much for your comment, which is very apt and accurate. I agree with both your concern and your substance. I’m only sorry that the work in Peshawar has prevented me from replying before now.

      As you may know, over the years I have been very involved in the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission, which came into being specifically to affirm the new mission societies in the Episcopal Church and to bring them into relationship with the official missionary structure of ECUSA. There had been powerful forces seeking to marginalize the new societies, and that persisted even for awhile after the formation of EPGM to bring agencies into mutual support and common mission

      So for me it was a great privilege to work with Edwina Thomas of SOMA-USA, Tom Pritchard of SAMS-USA, Tad DeBordenave of Anglican Frontier Mission and others, for I believed and continue to believe that they were offering and continue to offer vital dimensions of Christian witness that ECUSA’s mission program was failing to offer, often in parts of the world that ECUSA had long since abandoned or had never been involved in.

      I grieve the departure of many of the free-standing agencies from ongoing mission fellowship with ECUSA, but I understand it. And, of course, that departure was a major factor in the folding of EPGM, which had been formed specifically to bring mission activists together across otherwise alienating divisions. So I am very far from being an ECUSA/DFMS exclusivist in mission.

      The focus of the blog posting, however, was specifically on the official ECUSA/DFMS missionaries. I continue to believe, as I have written in numerous publications, that the Episcopal Church’s mission ecclesiology, by which the church is itself defined as a missionary society – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – is an important contribution to global Anglican missiology. Therefore the DFMS’s level of commitment to missionary-sending continues to be important, which is why I continue to monitor it.

      Further, as a practical matter, the alienation of the very free-standing mission societies – the ones you cite and which I have worked with extensively – from the DFMS makes the matter of how many DFMS missionaries there are even more important than before, precisely because those societies, to my regret, no longer wish to be associated with the Episcopal Church.

      Over the years in various publications I did total up the number of Episcopal missionaries serving at various times from the various societies and presented an aggregate of the total as “missionaries of the Episcopal Church.” My recollection is that the number was well over 200. Early in the 2000s Nan Cobby, formerly of Episcopal Life, undertook to research the number of Episcopalians serving with non- or inter-denominational agencies such as Wycliffe Bible Translators. I cannot now remember the figure, but it was considerable, as you speculate it must be – it might have been in the neighborhood of 400-600 for the aggregate of DFMS missionaries, plus those with freestanding USAmerican Anglican agencies, plus those with non- and inter-denominational agencies.

      As for your comment about the concentration of missionaries in places where the need for missionaries is much less than in other places, I quite agree. Both SAMS-USA and Anglican Frontier Mission were founded precisely and rightly to remedy that defect. As people like Tom, Edwina and Tad often pointed out, a downside of the Partnership in Mission principle was that it nurtured the notion that mission was only appropriate where there are Anglican partners. Obviously, this is a principle that would have been unintelligible to Patrick of Ireland, Cyril and Methodius, James Hannington, George Augustus Selwyn, Kenneth Cragg, Henry Martyn – or Paul, Priscilla and Aquilla! It has its place, but it is debilitating when taken as comprehensive. Of course, the partnership principle arose quite properly out of the imperative for relationships of mutuality with newly autonomous churches around the world. The fact that it became a comprehensive principle for the DFMS reflects the DFMS’s focus on institutional church structures.

      For a history of Episcopal mission networks – both EPGM and GEM – I refer you to “Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference” (2010), pp. 113-117.

      • Dear Titus, Greetings to friends in Peshawar, especially Bishop Humphrey, and thank you for your helpful and considered response. Yes, of course, I recall my visits to EPGM meetings and regret its demise. I still have my copy of your “Companions in Transformation” paper from 2003 and am glad to hear that you are hanging on to your vision for the DFMS (TEC) as a movement in mission (an expression of the Missio Dei).

        Almost two years ago I shared a platform at the USPG Annual Conference with Katharine Jefferts Schori and Thabo Makgoba and had an interesting debate about the church as agent of mission. I remain deeply committed to the church (both local and diocesan/provincial) as the primary agent of mission but found my discussion with my two episcopal colleagues that day very difficult for two reasons. (1) they seemed to be redefining “mission” as “partnership” whereas my understanding of the Missio Dei is that it is something much deeper and more radical than that, and (2) they seemed to be redefining “church” as the institutional expression (bishops in synod) rather than as the gathering laos of God. Until we can resolve these two issues I think it is very unlikely that there will be much progress in bringing together again the DFMS and the AGMP. But I pray!

        In fellowship,

      • Dear Mark,

        I like your response so much that I must respond immediately:

        Your anecdote about the forum discussion with the primates of ECUSA and Southern Africa is a perfect example of what I was noting as the conflation of mission into partnership, a conflation engendered by precisely the kind of institutional imprisonment that I noted and which is illustrated so well in your anecdote. I believe one factor behind it in both North and South is what Lamin Sanneh has so helpfully discussed as the Western Guilt Complex about Mission. For some the mistakes of Western mission, which were and are real, have become so wildly exaggerated that they cannot speak of mission except as an unfortunate term that comes up along the way to talking about partnership. There is little understanding that partnership – or, better, companionship or koinonia in the gospel – is one among a number of important dimensions of mission. To conflate mission into just one of those dimensions results in conceptual distortion and practical stagnation.

        You speak of Missio Dei, which, of course, has become a touchstone in contemporary missiology. I prefer to use the English: the mission of God, or God’s mission. This reclaims the centrality and depth of the word “mission” in the English vernacular, versus the common embarrassment about “mission” among North Atlantic English-speakers. It also ensures that ordinary church-goers who may not know Latin do not feel left out of our missiological discussions. God is on mission in the universe and in this world – that is the reality.

        I’m a bit of an anomaly on the DFMS/AGMP alienation. It grieves me deeply. I feel deep sympathy with both sectors of mission work. I understand why the AGMP agencies felt they needed to depart, and I do not criticize them for it, though I disagree with that move. I’m touched by your prayer that the two be brought together again, for that is my prayer also. While I treasure the missiological significance of the DFMS ecclesiology of mission – and have served myself as a DFMS missionary in Zimbabwe – I value equally the missiological significance of the grassroots agencies that have sprung up to supply what was lacking in DFMS initiatives.

        Warm regards,

  4. Thanks for this. I am Episcopalian, and a missionary, but not through the DFMS itself. I have left some comments over at my blog and linked to your article here. Thanks for posting on things like this.

  5. Titus has it right on.

    Martin McCann MD, Tanzania

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