A 2017 Lenten reflection program based on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is being offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the Episcopal men’s monastic community based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Anyone is welcome to participate in the free program, whether individually or in groups. Sign-up is readily accessible at the series website – just name and email (no user name, password or address needed). When you sign up, you receive an email making the 14-page workbook downloadable for printing. You also begin receiving daily via email a 3-minute video reflection by one of the SSJE brothers that you can incorporate into your daily devotion.
Groups can meet weekly to share responses to the videos and the workbook, which, after the first week’s introductory chapter, is organized according to the Five Marks of Mission. In northern Vermont, for instance, participants from a number of Episcopal congregations are participating online, with those able to meet in person gathering at one parish on Wednesday evenings and others logging in live to that meeting online.
By yesterday morning, 2,222 people around the country – maybe around the world as well – had viewed the morning’s video on YouTube, which indicates that the series is garnering a good deal of interest. The introductory week began this past Sunday, Feb. 26, but one can join the series at any point, and all the videos are listed on the series website in case you get a late start or need to catch up on any you miss along the way
Outstanding from a missional point of view is that the Five Marks of Mission are being highlighted this way for an extended Lenten program of reflection. For those not so familiar with the Five Marks, here they are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
- To respond to human need by loving service.
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The marks were first put forward by the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984. They’ve been tweaked slightly over the years, the most recent change being the addition of reconciliation for the fourth mark – crucial on any biblical and theological view of mission.
SSJE has summarized the Five Marks in five verbs – Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure. This alliterative mnemonic is helpful, though one quibble is that Tend is not quite an adequate summary of the third mark: ‘Respond to human need by loving service.’
Here’s SSJE’s summary of the series:
This six-week series provides the opportunity to observe and to reflect on the ways in which the Divine Life expresses itself in and through us; individually and in our faith communities, as well as in the world around us. Each week will explore the Anglican Marks of Mission (Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform and Treasure) through videos, questions and exercises so we can speak more clearly and act truthfully, motivated always by hearts marked by God’s love.
The Marks of Love are not simply a list of tasks to be checked off one after the other; they are signs that our life is rooted and grounded in the Being of God. The Brothers of SSJE will draw on their own monastic spirituality to help us balance action with contemplation, so that our words and deeds proceed from the deepest places of our hearts, where God dwells. The resource encourages us to reflect on how we should live, not what we should do.
This series is designed for use by individuals or small groups. In small groups, facilitators will guide the growing process as participants discuss and learn together. For individuals, daily videos and reflections will lead them through a similar process. Ultimately participants will learn to offer themselves, body and soul, to God’s Mission, and to live for God’s glory.
The title of the series is ‘5 Marks of Love,’ with a subtitle: ‘Living Life Marked as Christ’s Own.’ A further explanatory subtitle reads: ‘A discipleship offering inspired by the Anglican Marks of Mission.’ This is cumbersome but okay. The brothers are trying to communicate that the series is based on the Five Marks of Mission, that they are trying to get at how mission is sustained by receiving God’s love and reflecting that love out into the world, and that discipleship to Christ is the matrix that incorporates all these elements. Fair enough: Jesus called disciples into a formation of mutual love with God and then sent them out into mission.
Resource listings on the back cover of the workbook suggest that Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Seminary had some role in designing the series, but overall it appears that SSJE is the guiding community in the series. Evidently this is at least the second such annual series they’ve fielded, a previous one being ‘Grow a Rule of Life’ last year – which continues to be available, as will ‘5 Marks of Love’ after this Lent.
Participants might wonder: ‘Good, but what is SSJE’s own commitment to mission, understood as ministry in the dimension of difference?’ My longstanding familiarity with the order provides some background, but unfortunately the website does not shed light on current commitments. In the distant past SSJE had a house in Japan, where Br. David Allen, a longtime brother, was stationed, among others. For some years SSJE owned and operated Camp St. Augustine, which was an outreach to inner-city youth in Boston. In 1996 eight or ten of the brothers, including the late Bishop Tom Shaw, participated in the pilgrimage that I organized to the Centennial Bernard Mizeki Festival in Zimbabwe, and the order continued a number of relationships there. More recently, SSJE has had significant commitments in Jerusalem in companionship with the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Altogether this Lenten series is a salutary contribution to mission reflection. I hope many more participate in it.