Posted by: Titus Presler | January 21, 2019

Partnership for World Mission Conference in England focused on reconciliation

Reflecting an intensifying theme in mission circles worldwide, the annual Partnership for World Mission Conference (PWM) of the Church of England held in Nottinghamshire in November focused on the missional imperative of reconciliation amid the proliferating alienations of the contemporary world.

‘Prisoners of Hope: Proclaiming God Reconciling Love amid Separation’ was the stated theme.  ‘The conference is about the space between separation & reconciliation,’ explained conference organizer Janice Price, mission adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  ‘Not about separation alone or reconciliation alone but about the space between, where we are prisoners of hope.  in the liminal space between separation and reconciliation.  Reconciliation does not get the headlines that separation does – reconciliation is about the millions of small interactions that bring reconciliation about.  Let us inhabit the phrase Prisoners of Hope.’

Attending were about 85 people from all over the Church of England.  Some represented mission agencies, including USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), CMS (Church Mission Society), Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA-UK), Christian Aid, Melanesian Mission, Mission to Seafarers, Common Everybody, Send a Cow and Anglican Alliance, the international network of Anglican relief and development agencies.  Most attendees represented dioceses that have mission companionships around the world, typically with dioceses in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Daud Gill of Pakistan & Manchester with Titus

With my wife Jane I attended as a representative of PWM’s counterpart in the Episcopal Church USA, the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), of which I’m currently president, and I was also asked to be one of the plenary speakers.  GEMN is a freestanding network of dioceses, congregations, agencies, seminaries and individuals committed to catalyzing global mission engagement throughout the Episcopal Church.  GEMN Executive Director Karen Hotte, Board member Martha Alexander and GEMN member Tassie Little attending the 2016 PWM conference, and it was good to renew the relationship at the 2018 gathering.

Here’s a summary of plenary talks:

The relationship between church and mission was the topic of a biblical talk by Philip Mountstephen, about to leave as head of CMS to become bishop of Bristol. Naturally he emphasized how mission is intrinsic to church, how it’s not that the God’s church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church. Working on the frequent tension between mission on the periphery and church structures at the center, he noted that resting at the center is always easier and said the discomfort of the frontier argues for the autonomy of mission organizations as equal expressions of church, lest they be enervated by central structures.  He noted that Max Warren in the early 1940s vigorously resisted an effort to fold the British mission societies into central structures.  Suggesting that diverse communities nurture missional vision, Mountstephen made this important point: ‘People of the Jesus Movement were first called Christians at Antioch because of their diversity: Following Christ was the only thing they had in common!’  And it was the community at Antioch that commissioned and sent out Paul and Barnabas on mission.

The situation of Ireland and Northern Ireland was discussed by Adam Pullen, chair of the global mission group in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which covers both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He mostly introduced the Church of Ireland to the group, though he also discussed the impending difficulties related to Brexit. He commended a booklet about Irish Anglicans’ world mission work: ‘Radiant Faith: Living Out the Five Marks of Mission.’

• Reconciliation work by the church in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017 was the subject of a remarkable narrarive talk by Graham Tomlin, area bishop of Kensington, the area of Grenfell Tower. Seventy-two people  died in the fire, 70 were injured, and 223 escaped. He cited seven ‘C’ stages in the reconciliation work: Crisis, Communication, Convening, Costliness, Crying, Compassion, Catalyst.  Tomlin was active in catalyzing church and public conversations that brought diverse constituencies together around the issues of poverty and minority religious and ethnic communities that were dramatized by the fire.

• ‘Recentering Christian Mission in God’s Mission of Reconciliation’ was the title of my talk, in which I sought once again to emphasize that reconciliation is the ultimate direction of God’s mission and that therefore all mission efforts should be designed and tested by the criterion of reconciliation. It’s not that our mission efforts in education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and climate change are misplaced – not at all. My point is rather that they need to be grounded theologically, devotionally and practically in God’s overall aim of reconciling all people with God, one another and with all creation.

• Conflict and the challenge of reconciliation in Zimbabwe was the subject of a talk by Catherine Fungai Ngangira (at the podium above), an outstanding young Zimbabwean seminarian at the University of Durham who until recently had worked in the Diocese of Harare. Much of what she recounted was familiar to me from my own long mission experience in Zimbabwe, including the yearslong conflict between government and the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe earlier in this century, but it was good to be updated on the situation, which continues to be difficult. (See elsewhere on this blog for many postings related to the earlier conflict.)

• Alienation and reconciliation in the migrant situation of Europe was the subject of a talk by Robert Innes, bishop of the CofE Diocese of Europe (which exists alongside the Convocation of American Churches in Europe), which has over 200 congregations stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to Moscow. Here’s a significant excerpt:

Official EU statistics record that almost half the migrants entering Europe are active church members; only 30% are from Muslim background countries, of whom only a third are active mosque-goers. There are therefore five active church members for every active mosque-goer amongst arriving migrants. The boost to church life in London and Brussels from vibrant Christian communities from the southern hemisphere is well known. One neighbourhood of 50,000 people in Amsterdam which was built 50 years ago without a single church building now has 11,000 Christian worshippers attending 150 Christian fellowships meeting in all sorts of spaces, thanks to migration. For Christians, the migration challenge offers unparalleled spiritual opportunity.

Innes made a number of observations for ‘Thinking Christianly about the European Migration Crisis’: Responses have been insufficient and/or unethical.  A limit to the generosity of host countries must be recognized.  Portraying migrants as dangerous is reprehensible.  Religious freedom must prevail.  Hosts have a responsibility to welcome, and migrants have a responsibility to integrate.  Chaplaincies and private sponsorships have been helpful in reconciliation.

A preview of the Lambeth 2020 Conference, the approximately once-a-decade conference of all Anglican bishops worldwide, was provided by Phil George, executive director for the conference, and Janice Price. ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ is the theme, which, obviously, is so vague as to encompass everything! The list of topics to be covered is commensurately long, indicating not much focus yet, but I think they may ultimately focus on creation care – we’ll see.  The theme scripture will be First Peter as the focus of all the Bible studies.  This will be the first Lambeth Conference where bishops’ spouses are fully included as integral to the conference instead of having their own side-conference, so Carolyn Welby, wife of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has a strong role in planning the conference as well.  As with Lambeth 2008, there is to be a Hospitality Initiative in which British dioceses host bishops during the days prior to the conference.  Of the £6 million fundraising goal, £4 million had already been raised by November!

The conference was held Nov. 12-14 at the Hayes Conference Center in Swanwick in rural Nottinghamshire, a very pleasant and welcoming setting.  As always at such gatherings, much of the value lay in the many conversations held at meals, in hallways and at meeting tables.

In addition to Jane and me, attendees from the Episcopal Church included Jerry Drino, one of the speakers, who is from California and who has long coordinated an initiative in what is now South Sudan; David Copley, Elizabeth Boe and Jenny Grant from the Global Partnerships unit at the Episcopal Church Center; and Madeline Roberts, a Young Adult Service Corps missioner working in Liverpool on the Liverpool-Ghana-Virginia three-way companion relationship focused on healing from the slave trade.  Pictured are Madeline, Jane, Jenny and Elizabeth.

The worship was extensive and excellent, this year coordinated by an outstanding priest-pianist-director, Philip Swan from Liverpool, and another priest, Malcolm Rogers, who had a good meditative approach.  Music selections were globally eclectic, and international visitors were recruited to share music from their areas.  Mutual prayer was encouraged through prayer cards that were shared in table groups.

One affecting worship feature invited people to light votive candles and place them over locations of particular concern to them on a large map of the world.

Altogether a terrific gathering!

 

 

 


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