Posted by: Titus Presler | July 30, 2018

GC2018: GEMN highlights global mission at General Convention

This is the third in a series of blogposts on events and actions related to global mission at the 2018 General Convention, held July 3-13 in Austin, Texas.

The global dimension of the Episcopal Church’s participation in God’s mission had higher visibility at the 2018 General Convention in Austin due to the efforts of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of mission-activist dioceses, congregations, mission organizations, individuals and seminaries.

About 150 people attended the Global Mission Reception that GEMN organized at Uncle Julio’s Restaurant on the evening of July 4.  The theme, ‘Celebrating the Global Jesus Movement,’ connected global mission with the ‘Jesus Movement’ theme that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has championed and that was echoed in multiple ways in convention legislation and rhetoric.

Those of us who are longtime mission activists enjoyed seeing lots of old friends, but especially encouraging were the many mission-engaged people who were new to us and who have not been part of GEMN in the past: Sister Sarah Margaret and several other members of the Society of St. Margaret, the oldest continuing Anglican women’s monastic order, who have long had important work in Haiti; Sister Ellen Francis Poisson of the Order of St. Helena, who has long been active in matters related to Iran; Deborah Parker of Stand with Iraqi Christians.  And there were many others.

Equally important, David Copley and Elizabeth Boe of Global Partnerships at the Episcopal Church Center ensured that a good number of the officially sponsored International Visitors – primates, bishops and provincial secretaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America – came to the reception before they were taken to a July 4 celebration sponsored by Global Partnerships and Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies.  All the international visitors were introduced to convention as a whole through an outstanding video of brief self-introductions that was shown to the House of Deputies and House of Bishops during the legislative sessions.

Due to other convention events and constraints, people came in a couple of waves, so Grace Burton-Edwardes, GEMN’s vice president, and I as president twice fielded the program we had prepared , which ensured that all attendees were welcomed and got a sense of the energy in the world mission community and what GEMN does for the church.  We included short presentations by a missionary: former Young Adult Service Corps missionary Jared Grant in the first go-round, and current DFMS Honduras missionaries Stephen and Rhonda Robinson in the second.  Connecticut’s Bishop Ian Douglas, who was our leading-edge challenge donor for GEMN’s presence at convention, spoke about how the Companions in Mission network in Connecticut is modeled on GEMN, so that the diocese networks the global mission work of congregations and organizations in the diocese rather than initiating work on its own.  Representing a mission organization, Bill Kunkle, executive director of the Dominican Development Group, spoke of that group’s work.

We were delighted to see our colleagues from Virginia Seminary who hosted so generously GEMN’s 2018 Global Mission Conference in May: Robert Heaney, Hartley Wensing and Molly O’Brien.  Bp. Alan Wilson, area bishop of Buckingham in the Diocese of Oxford, and his chaplain, Canon Rosie Harper, brought greetings from Phil Groves of the Anglican Indaba Initiative, who spoke at GEMN’s 2017 conference on ‘Reconciliation: God’s Mission – and Ours’ at Camp McDowell in Alabama.

The reception revived an earlier tradition of the World Mission Reception that used to be hosted at General Convention by what was then called the Anglican and Global Relations unit at the Episcopal Church Center during the 1980s and 1990s, but which was discontinued due to churchwide financial constraints.  The 2018 event was so successful that GEMN will very likely sponsor it again at the 2021 General Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.

The GEMN Booth in the Exhibit Hall welcomed visitors throughout convention, hosting conversations and making connections.  It was staffed throughout by GEMN Board members Jim and Pam Boston of the Diocese of Oregon, Suzanne Peterson, a former DFMS missionary to South Africa who is now in the Diocese of Iowa, and longtime GEMN member Louise Gotthold of the Diocese of California.  Others who assisted for shorter periods of time were Board members Holly Hartman, Grace Burton-Edwards, and Executive Director Karen Hotte, and GEMN member Tom Gebhard of Warm Hearts International, a Malawi-focused organization based at St. David’s Church in Austin.

Additional Board members present at convention were Martha Alexander, deputy from North Carolina, Bill Kunkle of the Dominican Development Group, and Jaime Briceño, digital missioner and recruiter at Bexley Seabury Seminary.  And other especially active GEMN members at convention were Judy Quick, deputy from Alabama and a former GEMN vice president; Tim Skimina, deputy from Northern Indiana and a former Board member; and Buck Blanchard, formerly of the Diocese of Virginia and now global mission coordinator for the Diocese of Colorado, and a former GEMN Board member.

#GEMNstories is a Twitter initiative GEMN initiated at convention that invites people from around the church and around the world to simply share brief insights and stories about mission – at any time and in any place!  Readers of this blog are invited to share at that hashtag on an ongoing basis.

Global Mission Legislation was visible at General Convention. GEMN itself sponsored four resolutions, all of which were adopted in one form or another.  Resolution D062, originally drafted by the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in the Sudans, urged solidarity and renewed mission with Christians in Sudan and South Sudan.  Resolution D050 urged solidarity with victims of religious persecution.  Resolution D054 sought increased funding for Episcopal Volunteers for Mission and the Young Adult Service Corps, and Resolution D061 sought to establish an Episcopal Gap Year Program.

The 27-member World Mission Legislative Committee, on which I served, had energetic discussions of these and other resolutions, and the commitment and passion of its deputies and bishops from around the church was impressive.  In particular, the committee itself took the unusual step of initiating three resolutions on its own: Resolution A207 exhorts the church to engage more deeply in global mission.  Resolution A215 urges support for the Diocese of Venezuela during the current crisis in that country.  Resolution A208 seeks to reestablish the Standing Commission on World Mission that was disbanded, along with many other standing commissions, by the 2015 General Convention.

Committee members testified before the Program, Budget & Finance Committee about the importance of increased funding for missionaries, and financial support for the Gap Year Program and a new standing commission, but in the end these allocations were not included in the budget.  This reflected competing priorities and a decision across the board not to revive standing commissions.  Detailed legislative analysis appears elsewhere on this blog, but one bottom line is that GEMN itself may need to grow further into the roles of vision and advocacy that the Standing Commission on World Mission used to offer.

And, in fact, Resolution B031 commended GEMN for the Global Mission Conferences, the Mission Formation Program, mission advocacy and overall networking.  Texts of all the resolutions that came before the World Mission Legislative Committee are here.

The Diocese of Cuba was welcomed into the Episcopal Church at this convention – with great fanfare and celebration.  This will give extra energy to the various mission collaborations already underway between various dioceses and Cuba.

Financial support for GEMN’s General Convention presence was offered generously by a number of dioceses, led off by a challenge grant from Bp. Ian Douglas of Connecticut, which was matched by Bp. Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio.  Others making generous grants were Bp. Ed Konieczny of Oklahoma, Bp. Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, Bp. Kee Sloan of Alabama, Bp. Robert Wright of Atlanta, Bp. Alan Gates of Massachusetts, Bp. Sam Rodman of North Carolina, Bp. Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio, and Bp. Shannon Johnston of Virginia.  GEMN is very grateful to these bishops and dioceses for sponsoring GEMNs presence, and their generosity is itself an encouraging sign of global mission commitment in the church.

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