Posted by: Titus Presler | June 29, 2015

Episcopal missionary numbers deserve to be increased by 2015 General Convention

Increasing the numbers of Episcopal missionaries is the intent of a resolution before the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City. Passage of the resolution is urgent in view of the startlingly low current number of Episcopal missionaries, whether Young Adult Service Corps members (YASCers) or Episcopal Volunteers in Mission (EVIMs).

The updated June 2015 roster of missionaries on the Episcopal Church website lists just 47 individuals, including 4 married couples. 12 of the 47 are YASCers, leaving 35 adults not in the young adult category.

These are remarkably low numbers for a church that claims to be committed to global involvement expressed in the incarnational presence that is a touchstone of Anglican identity in mission.

Moreover, the current numbers constitute a significant decline – 22% – from the 60 missionaries that were listed in 2012. That number included 8 YASCers. In commentary at that time I noted:

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 in 2011 the Presbyterian Church (USA) had the same membership total as the Episcopal Church  – about 2.2 million, maybe even fewer – but they fielded 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.

In Resolution A112 “Encourage Support for YASC and EVIM,” the Standing Commission on World Mission proposes:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church encourage dioceses, seminaries, and parishes to recruit and support both Young Adult Service Corps members (YASCers) and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission members (EVIMs); and be it further

Resolved, that the General Convention continue its commitment to increasing numbers of YASCers by 10 per year for the triennium 2016-2018, (30 in 2016, 40 in 2017, and 50 in 2018, for a total of 120 for the triennium); and increasing the number of EVIMs by 10 percent each year, for the triennium 2016-2018; and be it further

Resolved, that the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance increase the budget for the Young Adult Service Corps from $1,100,000 to $1,800,000, and a 10% increase for the Episcopal Volunteers in Mission, for the 2016-2018 triennium in order to implement this resolution.

This version reflects good editing and expansion by the Legislative Committee on World Mission at this convention. The resolution’s brief explanation rightly cites the importance of international companionships and the gifts missionaries bring back home:

YASCers are valuable in developing relationships with global partners and for what they bring back to the communities from which they came. Likewise, EVIMs are important servants of the Church, as they bring their experience and expertise to the places where they are received, and bring the global Church back to their communities.

Given that YASCers generally serve just one year, implementation of the resolution would result in 50 young adults serving in 2018 (70 having served in the previous two years) and 46 other adults serving, for a total of 96 in 2018. That would be a significant increase over the current number, though still not equal to the numbers serving in the early 2000s.

Further perspective is provided by the plan that was presented to the 2003 General Convention by the Standing Commission on World Mission to increase missionary numbers steadily to the point where there would be 330 missionaries by 2010 and 500 missionaries by 2020:

The Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), a new program, had eight participants per year in the 2001-03 pilot triennium, with minimal advertising and recruiting. This number could easily grow to 40 by 2006. The approximately 100 current DFMS missionaries fill only 30% of requests for missionaries. This number can and should increase.

We propose a goal of at least 220 DFMS-appointed missionaries and 110 YASC missionaries by 2010. This would represent 1 YASC missionary and 2 other DFMS missionaries per ECUSA diocese.

Of these, we look forward to:

  • 10% being missionaries received from other parts of the world by ECUSA dioceses;
  • 10% representing personnel from other parts of the world who serve in yet different parts or the world (so called South-to-South appointments); and
  • at least 10% of missionaries from the Episcopal Church coming from racial and ethnic minorities.

By 2020, we envisage at least 300 DFMS-appointed missionaries of all categories and 200 YASC missionaries. Of these, 20% would be missionaries received from other parts of the world, 20% South-to-South, and 20% from racial and ethnic minorities.

We have tied these ECUSA figures to all the dioceses, to emphasize the importance of engaging the international dioceses of our church (such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Taiwan and others) in the world mission of ECUSA. The international Episcopal dioceses provide important cross-boundary mission opportunities within ECUSA, and they should be involved in the church’s world-wide mission presence.

Greater numbers of DFMS missionaries will require a proportional increase in budget allocation. Several funding realities should be borne in mind:

  • Episcopal missionaries live close to the economic level of indigenous colleagues in their places of service and thus differ from the missionaries of some other churches.
  • Funding for DFMS missionaries is diverse, for no missionary is fully funded by DFMS. Each missionary usually is assisted by parish and diocesan contributions, and most missionaries now conduct fund-raising. DFMS funding is used effectively as a catalyst for funding-raising from other sources.
  • Centralized funding of DFMS missionaries therefore is a fraction of the central funding of missionaries of ecumenical companions such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church USA.

The Commission proposes that in the 2007-09 triennium $1,000,000 be allocated for YASC and $4,000,000 for other DFMS missionaries.   Thus we propose a triennium budget for missionaries of at least $5,000,000. This would represent an aggregate increase of $1,750,000 over the current $3,250,000. (The 2001-03 budget provided $250,000 for YASC and $3 million for other DFMS missionaries.)

In order to administer and support this growth in missionaries, the Commission proposes that Mission Personnel Office staffing increase from the current 1 program staff and 3 support staff to 2 program and 5 support staff by 2009, and 3 program and 7 support staff by 2012. Assignment of staff to the Young Adult Service Corps must be a high priority. As with other staff increases, we propose that additional staff be deployed in the provinces to extend the mission networking, with the possibility of shared support with the provinces and other local institutions to be explored.

This plan was one small part of the 2001-03 Standing Commission on World Mission’s vision document, Companions in Transformation: The Episcopal Church’s World Mission in a New Century.  The full document was part of the the commission’s Blue Book report in 2003, and it was published through Morehouse as a separate booklet and distributed to deputies and bishops at the time.

Obviously, the vision has not been fulfilled. Instead of missionary numbers increasing, they continue to decline. Twelve years later, Resolution A112 represents a belated but important attempt to halt the decline and move the numbers chart in a modest upward direction. It deserves enthusiastic support and funding.

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Responses

  1. June 30, 2015

    Dear Titus Presler,
    Thank you for this blog site on mission.

    I am a retiree and former EVFM from the Diocese of WNY. I support an increase in the number of missionaries, and strongly encourage passage of Resolution A112. After returning from my mission assignment, I assisted Mission Personnel with training/orientation/debriefing of participants in a summer mission exposure program. The program focused on exposing ethnic minorities to foreign mission, and included a south to north component. A significant number of the participants went on to become ordained and/or leaders throughout the church. Mission exposure has also resulted in the development of relationships, between the domestic sending and overseas receiving dioceses. I believe these results are indicative of the value and merits of increasing missionary activity in the Episcopal Church.
    “The new face of mission can bring all of God’s people together.”

    Peace and Blessings,
    Cn. Shirley M. Watts

    • What a great reflection, Canon Shirley! I’m so glad you wrote. Your highlighting of the summer exposure program that exposed ethnic minorities to cross-cultural mission is a great addition to the conversation. I witnessed one of those trips – it was to Zimbabwe – while Jane Butterfield was mission personnel officer. Thanks, Titus

  2. I am very interested in learning more about the missionary work of TEC. I know a couple of Episcopalians who are missionaries, but none actually sent out by DFMS rather than some other agency (SOMA, AFM, etc.). Who are these missionaries of TEC? I don’t know of a single one. Where is this information to be found? Thanks for raising this interesting topic.

    • Thanks for the inquiry, Duane. You can find the complete listing on the Episcopal Church website, as indicated in the posting. Go to Missionary Personnel, then to Roster of Missionaries. There you will find names, locations, nature of ministry, and type of appointment.


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