03 March 2008

Success or failure? Church of Ireland Overseas Missions

Bishop George Berkeley, an early Irish missionary with SPG in North America

Patrick Comerford


I have been involved in different capacities over the years with many of the mission agencies and organisations within the Church of Ireland, including USPG Ireland, the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland), the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, the Association of Missionary Societies, the National Bible Society of Ireland, and diocesan and General Synod councils for mission.

Many people in Ireland are aware of the Roman Catholic mission work originating in Ireland, but few may be aware of the degree and scope of the Anglican missionary enterprise, particularly the extent of missionary activity that has originated in the Church of Ireland, among its clergy and its laity.

In many ways, the story of Irish Anglican mission work is both unknown and untold. Little has been written about it – we get only a passing reference in Edmund Hogan’s book, The Irish Missionary Movement, A Historical Survey, 1830-1980 (Dublin, 1992), which is magisterial in so many other aspects.

Where Irish Anglican mission workers are mentioned, there are some major assumptions that do not bear up to scrutiny: Pádraig Ó Máille, in the Encyclopaedia of Ireland (Dublin and New Haven, 2003), presumes that all Church of Ireland missionaries served with the Church Mission Society Ireland and its predecessors, and that therefore they were all evangelical. The great Canadian chronicler of the Irish diaspora, Donald Akenson, in a number of papers, presumes that all the Irish Anglican missionaries in Southern Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were evangelicals and as such shaped an evangelical ethos in the Anglican presence in those countries that lasts to this day.

Pádraig Ó Máille was off the mark slightly, because many (and indeed, the first) Anglican missionaries from Ireland, including the philosopher George Berkeley, worked under the aegis of the high church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), and were precursors of that wing of Anglicanism that led to the Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholicism of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Akenson is wrong in both of his presumptions: not only were the majority of Anglican missionaries from Ireland who worked in southern Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the 19th and 20th centuries primarily from the High Church and Anglo-Catholic traditions, but they were closely identified with the Christian Socialist values of that movement, so often characterised by the “slum priests” of East London. And so in South Africa, for example, they shaped not an evangelical church but a radical Anglo-Catholic church with the political spirituality that we associate with Desmond Tutu in later generations and a church that had an inner strength to resist apartheid.

Irish Anglican missionary work is difficult to chronicle and difficult to analyse theologically. It is difficult to chronicle because there is no one single archive for Irish missionary work, there is no one single database of Irish Anglican missionaries, and no one single history of Irish Anglican missionary work has ever been written. Instead, the writing has been left to partial writers, identified with one or other mission agency, such as Bland, Hodgins and Vere White. Their partial approaches often border on hagiography rather than history, and their books are written for supporters and members of the agencies. So we are left without any critical assessments of Irish Anglican missionaries and their work. None of these single-agency histories comes near to thinking about developing a theology of mission out of the experience of Irish Anglican mission work overseas, and so neither the mission agencies and the Church of Ireland nor the wider church and the academic community are served by these publications.

This deficit means there are new fields for anyone wanting to do research in this area: the theology of mission in the Irish Anglican tradition; the impact of mission experiences on Irish Anglican theology, liturgy and spirituality; the work of Irish Anglican missionaries in translating Scripture, liturgy and theology; and the inter-action between the different mission agencies in the Church of Ireland.

The attitude to mission at the Reformation

Geographical and political limitations hindered the development of missionary activity by European Protestants. During the Reformation, the main emphasis was on reforming the church rather than on mission. Until 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia, Protestants were fighting for survival or engaged in theological controversies. The Protestant powers of the 16th century had little contact with the wider world outside Europe: Spain and Portugal controlled the sea routes. These geographical and political limitations were reinforced by theological limitations and attitudes to mission. The Thirty Years’ War reinforced the dominant Reformation concept of a regional church – cuius regio, eius religio – under which a ruler had no reasons to support church activity outside his dominion.

This theological climate was slow to change. In 1618, the Synod of Dort – whose strict Calvinism influenced the early 17th century Church of Ireland through Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) of Armagh – declared that the children of heathens were not to be baptised, even if they had been taken into Christian households. According to the German Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard (d. 1637), the command to preach the Gospel to all the world had ceased with the apostles. In 1652, the Lutheran Faculty of Theology at Wittenberg stated that any responsibility the church might have for mission was repudiated on biblical, historical and theological grounds.

There were exceptions to this negative theology of mission: a Swedish mission to the Lapps in 1559, or a failed German group mission in Constantinople between 1577 and 1581 which is said to have converted only one single Turk.

Both Stephen Neill and the David Bosch hold that the history of Protestant missions supported officially by the European churches begins in the 18th century with the Pietists of Halle in Germany, who expected the imminent second coming of Christ, preceded by an outpouring of the Spirit on Jews and heathens. However, their emphasis on the salvation of individuals was a narrow missionary aim, providing what Bosch calls “a rather one-sided vertical dimension, with little understanding of man’s cultural relationship and Christ's universal kingdom”.

The development of mission within the Anglican Communion

So we may ask: What about early Anglican missionary work overseas?

Elizabeth I’s charter in 1583 for the first English colony in North America referred to the compassion of God “for poor infidels, it seeming probable that God hath reserved these Gentiles to be introduced into Christian civility by the English nation.” Chares I’s charter for Massachusetts stated that the principal end of the plantation was to “win and invite the natives of the country to the knowledge of the only true God and Saviour of mankind and the Christian faith.”

Despite these sentiments, the Anglican settlers in America and the West Indies, from both Ireland and England, and those “poor infidels” were left without episcopal care for two centuries. As a direct response to this neglect of the settlers by the bishops, Thomas Bray, who had worked in Maryland, was responsible for founding the two earliest Anglican mission societies, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 1698, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG, now USPG) three years later in 1701.

While the SPCK had a more universal mission in mind, Bray imagined SPG providing the men and the means for missionary work in the New World, especially among the Black and Indian peoples. SPG’s founding charter defined its main work as caring for the needs of Anglicans in America and the West Indies. But in 1710 the society carried two resolutions stating that its work related principally to “the conversion of heathen and infidels”, and calling for “itinerant missionaries” to preach the Gospel among the “Six Nations of the Indians.” In pursuance of this plan, SPG missionaries devoted themselves to working in many parts of America and the West Indies among the Native peoples and the slaves.

Anglican missionary endeavours in India were slow to begin because of the open opposition of the East India Company. Anglican missionary work in Africa began in 1751, when the Revd Thomas Thompson, an SPG missionary in New Jersey, offered to go to the Gold Ghost (Ghana). Anglican efforts in Latin America were less organised, owing to a policy of not attempting to convert nominal Christians, and the fact that the only British colonies there were British Honduras and British Guiana.

For almost a century, Anglican mission work remained the preserve of the SPG. However, SPG was seen as part of the political and ecclesiastical establishment. Because of its charter, SPG found it difficult to extend its mission work beyond the colonies. It was also seen as primarily a High Church mission agency, and in reaction to both of these perceptions, a second Anglican mission agency was founded by English evangelicals in 1799: the Church Mission[ary] Society was the first voluntary, membership-based Anglican mission agency.

The expansion of British influence through trade and colonialism opened new territories as potential mission fields for Anglicans in the 19th century. When the East India Company’s charter was being renewed, there were fresh demands for the right of missionaries to work India, with the government conceding eventually in 1833. The first Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison (1782-1834), arrived in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1807, and commercial and political pressure on China, culminating in the Opium War and the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, had the ironic consequence of opening China to Anglican mission work. The first CMS missionaries in China included Canon Thomas McClatchie (1814-1885) from Dublin, who arrived in China in 1844.

The 19th century saw a real expansion of Anglican missionary activity in other parts of the world. The first Anglican missionaries from CMS arrived in New Zealand in 1814, and Anglican missionary work began also in Iran (1811), where Robert Bruce from Ireland was to have a major impact, Palestine (1816), Egypt (1818), Japan (1858) and Korea (1865).

Key theological events gave a new shape and focus to Anglican mission work in the 19th century. Through the Pietists, the evangelical revival spread to England, influencing men like John Wesley, a former SPG missionary, as well as giving rise to new movements for social reform and change with men like William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885) and Charles Simeon (1759-1836), one of the founders of CMS, campaigning against the slave trade and against industrial working conditions. The movement known as the ‘second evangelical revival,’ which crossed the Atlantic from America to Britain and Ireland in 1858, was linked with the formation of religious and evangelical societies, including missionary bodies, and gave new impetus to societies already existing, including CMS.

David Livingstone’s account of his travels in Africa in a speech in Cambridge in 1857 generated new missionary enthusiasm that gave rise to the formation of new missionary societies at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin and Durham, and the eventual formation of the the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), bringing the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism into missionary work.

Bishops, mission and the Anglican Communion

Throughout this period, there was an unfolding controversy among Anglicans over the place of episcopacy in missionary work – should the bishop go as a pioneer to found a new diocese, or should the bishop be called in only after missionary societies had already established Christianity?

The problem of the provision of bishops to sustain mission work in North America led eventually, in a direct way, to the formation of the Anglican Communion as a collection of independent churches rather than there being one large, global Anglican Church as some sort of outgrowth of the Church of England. Earlier plans to provide bishops for Virginia and later for New York – with Jonathan Swift, Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, among the nominees proposed as Bishop of Virginia and later of New York – fell by the wayside. By the time of the American Revolution, Anglicans in North America were still without episcopal leadership and ministry. Without a bishop there could be no confirmations, ordinations, or church consecrations, and the future of Anglicanism and its mission in North America was in doubt.

The failure of the Church of England to respond to the missionary needs of the former English colonies in North America led both to the separation of Methodists from Anglicanism, but also to the foundation of the Anglican Communion, and to a new approach to mission among Anglicans. The consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the Episcopal Church of Scotland, a church that suffered under the penal laws, marks the beginning of the Episcopal Church (TEC), and the formation of the first, structured Anglican church outside these islands.

In 1787, four years after Seabury’s consecration, the first Anglican bishop was consecrated for work in the British colonies, marking the real beginning of Anglican expansion. And so it was that an Irish missionary working with SPG, Charles Inglis, who was born in Co Donegal, became the first Bishop of Nova Scotia and the first overseas bishop of the Church of England. Over the next century, Anglican bishops were consecrated for dioceses formed in India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and China. However, the consecration of the first Anglican missionary bishop from the United Church of England and Ireland without a diocese did not take place until Charles F. Mackenzie was consecrated in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1861 as “bishop to the mission and the tribes dwelling in the neighbourhood of Lake Nyasa and the River Shire”.

The formation of mission societies in the Church of Ireland

The formation of both SPG in 1701 and CMS in 1799 generated a strong missionary response among the clergy and the laity of the Church of Ireland. Early Irish committee members of SPG included Samuel Dopping, son of a Bishop of Meath, and Marmaduke Coghill (1673-1783), who built Drumcondra House – which, curiously, later served as one of the powerhouses of Irish Catholic missionary work when it became the nucleus of All Hallows’ College.

Coghill helped form an Irish committee of SPG in 1714. But by then two Irish missionaries were already working with SPG in North America: Dr Francis Le Jau, who went to South Carolina in 1706 and was then in the Leeward Islands; and Robert Maule, who had gone to South Carolina in 1707. However, the most famous of early SPG missionaries from the Church of Ireland must be the philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), who worked in Rhode Island for 2½ years and tried unsuccessfully to establish a missionary college in Bermuda, before returning to Ireland to become Bishop of Cloyne.

In many parts of the world, Anglicanism owes its origins to the work of SPG missionaries from Ireland. Charles Inglis (1733-1816) from Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal, became the first regularly consecrated Anglican bishop for an overseas diocese. William Wright, an SPG missionary from Ireland, arrived in South Africa in 1821, and his celebration of the Holy Communion on Christmas Day 1822 was the first public such celebration according to Anglican rites in South Africa. Bishop Harry Vere White, the historian of SPG in Ireland, claimed this as “the beginning of the [Anglican Church of] … South[ern] Africa.”

The Irish missionaries who worked with SPG often made great personal and heroic sacrifices: Edward Cusack from Co Kildare was the first missionary to the desolate coast of Labrador; George Nobbs was the first missionary to the Pitcairn Islands and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers; Franics Balfour from Drogheda became the first resident bishop in what is now Lesotho; “Father Pat” Irwin, from Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow, who was a pioneering Irish missionary in Canada, and Dr Marie Hayes from Raheny, Co Dublin, who died in the hospital wards of Delhi in 1908, are legendary throughout the Church of Ireland to this day. Today, those missionaries with SPG, or USPG as it is now known, continue to make sacrifices: Noel Scott has faced jail in Zimbabwe in recent years because of his outspoken resistance to the tyranny of Robert Mugabe.

CMS, founded in London in 1799, soon had supporters in Ireland. The Hibernian Church Missionary Society, founded in 1814, is now known as the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland). Its missionaries first concentrated on those parts of Africa and Asia not open to SPG missionaries under the terms of its charter. CMS Ireland’s major influence was in East and Central Africa, particularly in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, but Irish Anglican missionaries from CMS have served on five continents in almost 40 countries from A to Z (Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Canada, China, Congo, Egypt, Greece, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia).

Like their SPG counterparts, CMS missionaries from Ireland also made great heroic sacrifices, even to the point of death: the Moncrieffs, husband and wife, died in the Massacre of Cawnpore in India in 1857; George Lawrence Pilkington, from Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath, worked as a Bible translator in Uganda, and was killed in Uganda in 1897 while working as an interpreter for British troops. In an outburst of anti-foreigner violence, the Revd Robert Warren Stewart from Dublin was murdered along with his wife Louisa and two of their children at Hwasang, in 1895. Two years later, the Revd Joseph Stratford Collins, who had worked in China for 10 years, drowned in the River Min in a whirlpool in 1897; to compound the tragedy, his wife, Mary Isabella Collins, and two of their children, Ethel and Philip, then drowned on their return journey home. The Revd Harry Graham was shot dead by pirates after seven years missionary work in China.

A unique outgrowth of the work of both SPG and CMS Ireland was the formation of two university missions in Dublin, modelled on the Oxford and Cambridge Missions to Delhi and Calcutta. These two university mission societies in Dublin predate the Maynooth Mission to China, founded in 1918, by more than 30 years or the span of a full generation. A series of meetings in TCD in 1885 was addressed by the inspirational Robert Stewart, who was home appealing for help for his educational work in China. At those meetings, over 40 students solemnly dedicated themselves to missionary work overseas.

These meetings led to the formation of what is now known as the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, which worked principally in China, and, five years later in 1890, of the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, which worked in India.

Both university missions produced pioneering Irish Anglican missionaries, sending many doctors, nurses, teachers, priests and bishops to China, Japan and India from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century. In China and India, they gave their names to two uniquely Irish foundations that survive to this day: Trinity College, Fuzhou (1907), whose centenary celebrations last year were attended by a delegation from DUFEM; and Saint Columba’s Hospital, Hazaribagh.

On this course, other lecturers have referred to the Irish Church Missions, founded in 1847, and to the Achill and Ventry missions in Co Mayo and Co Kerry. Saint Columba’s College, now a secondary boarding school in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, was established in this period as a training college for High Church missionaries.

Two other unique missionary enterprises with their roots in the Church of Ireland are worth mentioning also. The first is the Leprosy Mission, which was founded in Dublin in 1874. Although it is interdenominational, it has always received strong support within the Church of Ireland.

The second is the involvement by some bishops of the Church of Ireland in their own mission enterprise when they supported dissident priests who left the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal and Spain and who wanted to form their own church in communion with Anglican churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury was supported by the Lambeth Conference, the worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops, in not giving his approval to the consecration of bishops for the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Church of Portugal, fearful that this might be seen as proselytism rather than mission, and interference in the internal affairs of another Church. Nevertheless, in 1894, Archbishop Plunket of Dublin, assisted by the bishops of Down and Clogher, consecrated a new Spanish bishop. The English Church Union sent condolences to the Archbishop of Toledo, but the links between the Portuguese and Spanish Churches continued, and today they are full members of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Communion became formalised at the end of the19th century, with the calling of the first Lambeth Conferences. These conferences meet every ten years, and a key figure in calling the first conference in 1867 was an Irish-born Anglican missionary bishop from Co Cork, John Travers Lewis, Bishop of Ontario.

Developments and failures in Anglican mission work

Today, the work among the new international communities in Dublin, or the new contacts made in Romania and China by CMS Ireland and DUFEM show that the mission agencies are seeking ways to respond to a changing Ireland and to a changing world. However, if there have been successes there have also been failures on the part of Irish Anglican mission agencies and workers.

Like many of their Victorian Anglican counterparts, the evangelical missionaries who served with agencies such as CMS Ireland moved away from the Pietistic understanding of mission to see the aim of mission as the founding of self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting churches. The Victorian missionaries are often said to have made only limited concessions to local culture and to have had too close a connection with western imperialism and colonialism.

Archbishop Randall Davidson of Canterbury famously urged a generation of schoolboys to offer themselves as “missionaries in the imperial work of the Church of England,” and his friend Bishop Henry Montgomery from Moville, Co Donegal, who became secretary of SPG, insisted “the clergy are officers in an imperial army.” Yet, despite these imperial claims by Davidson and Montgomery, the two Dublin University missions worked largely outside British areas of colonial and imperial interest. Apart from Hong Kong, China remained outside the grasp of Britain, and the DUFEM missionaries worked without colonial interference or control. Similarly in India, Chota Nagpur was one of the few areas largely untouched by British colonial interference for many decades. SPG reported in 1901: “The Diocese of Chhota [sic] Nagpur differs from other Indian dioceses in that it contains no European troops, comparatively few Europeans, and no Government chaplain, so that almost the whole work is of a distinctly missionary character, and the European residents are ministered to by Missionaries.”

The martyrdom of the Stewart family showed that the lack of imperial links could leave missionaries vulnerable, but that vulnerability, as the mission found, could also be one of its real strengths in its work, and was turned to advantage.

Many of the mission methods used by the Irish Anglican missionaries were more advanced than the general assessment often made of missionaries. John Hind, the Belfast-born Bishop of Fujien (Fukien), was a pioneer in women’s ministry: he ordained six women, three of them Chinese, as deacons. Hind was convinced that the mission to China must become the Church in China. He reversed the accepted seniority of the missionaries; in future they were to be assistants to Chinese incumbents, and would cease to chair the existing network of church councils; minutes of the synods would be in Chinese; synod business would be conducted only in Chinese; and the synods would decide where the missionaries were to work. His aim was to bring the Chinese Church to being independent of outside help, and he realised that a time would come when it would be better, for the health and safety of the Church, for westerners to leave China.

The policy on the indigenisation of the church in China set out by Hind and Bishop John Curtis (1880-1962) of Zhejiang (Chekiang) from Dublin, reflects the radical missiology of Roland Allen, an early 20th century Anglican SPG missionary in China. His thinking is similar to many ways to the “three-self” principles (self-supporting, self-propagating, self-governing) that have guided the churches in China since the revolution in 1949, but which have been difficult if not impossible for many western-based mission agencies to accept to this day. In India, the DUMCN was quick to recruit locally-born and educated staff, and to place them in positions of responsibility, so that the mission’s work was quickly handed over to Indians. The wisdom of this approach was vindicated eventually when the Indian Government finally placed a moratorium on foreign missionaries in 1966, and the church in Chota Nagpur now stands on its own two feet.

The current state of mission work within the Anglican Communion

Anglican missionary theology and practice in recent decades has been characterised by what has been described by the American Episcopalian theologian, Titus Presler of Boston University, as the shift “from paternalism to partnership”. Partnership House until recently was the shared London headquarters of USPG and CMS. The Partnership for World Mission was established in the Church of England in 1978. “Partnership” is a house style in all Anglican mission agencies, so that the mission agencies no longer call their workers in the field missionaries but mission partners.

Presler says that it is one of the strengths of Anglicanism is that mission work has been organised by-and-large not by the churches but by the mission agencies themselves, which are voluntary organisations, supported by and dependent on the giving of individual members. But this too could be seen as a weakness: organisations that are responsible for planting new churches and dioceses that are not finally responsible to bishops and dioceses demonstrate a marked weakness in their ecclesiology. This is symptomatic of the underlying weakness of the mission agencies, which have been strong on developing mission “activism” but weak in developing mission theology.

In the past, Anglican mission agencies were divided on whether their purpose was to make converts or to work for the expansion of the Catholic Church as it finds its expression in Anglicanism. One emphasised individual salvation, the other emphasised the Kingdom of God through its sacramental and liturgical life, often coupled with a radical political engagement that reflected a particular vision of the Kingdom of God. But by and large, all the Anglican mission agencies today accept the Anglican Consultative Council’s five point definition of mission, first formulated in 1984 and developed in 1990.

The ACC has said mission is:

● To proclaim the good news of the kingdom;
● To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;
● To respond to human need by loving service;
● To seek to transform the unjust structures of society;
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Sadly, many mission agencies continue to reduce mission to evangelism, and evangelism to a personal conversion experience that is little more than effecting a “feel-good” temperament.

According to a report given to the General Synod last year, about half the parishes of the Church of Ireland have mission links. The overwhelming number of these is with places in Africa, including dioceses, parishes, schools and hospitals; the next figure for mission links is in Asia, with fewer in Latin America, and fewer still in East Europe.

Twenty mission agencies or societies are affiliated to the Association of Missionary Societies, which groups almost all mission agencies and societies working within the Church of Ireland: the Bible Society of Northern Ireland, the Church Army, Church Mission Society Ireland, the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People – Ireland, the Church Pastoral Aid Society, Crosslinks, the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, the Intercontinental Church Society, Interserve, Irish Church Missions, the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association, the Leprosy Mission, the Mission to Seafarers, the National Bible Society of Ireland, Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA), the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the South American Mission Society, Tearfund Ireland, and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG Ireland, Anglicans in World Mission).

Some of those, such as the Irish Church Missions and the Church Pastoral Aid Society, can be defined as home mission agencies. Others are obviously foreign mission agencies. But in recent years the distinction between home and overseas mission has become blurred for many agencies: for example, how do you categorise the work of the Mission to Seafarers? When CMS Ireland organises summer camps for teenagers, the mission agencies support work among immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, or DUFEM gives bursaries for exchanges between students in Dublin and Hong Kong, is this home or foreign mission work?

Some issues in Anglican mission theology today

The blurring of these lines has been reflected in the recent decision by the General Synod of the Church of Ireland to amalgamate the two mission councils, concerned with home mission and overseas mission into one General Synod Council for Mission. To use a buzz word popular today, we are all working together on building a “mission-shaped church.”

The principal day-to-day issues facing Anglican mission agencies today include:

● Working with HIV/AIDS.
● A drop in giving to all mission agencies throughout the Anglican Communion, and making them more dependent on the demands of the support base rather than responding to the needs of churches.
● Growing secularism and the general acceptance of post-modernism. Post-modernist thinking affirms the separateness of mission agencies at a time when they need to coalesce in a secular world.
● Muslim-Christian encounters, which are often confrontational but need to be turned into dialogue. An example of seeking best practice in this field is the Anglican-Muslim dialogue initiative in Egypt.
● The emerging needs of churches in countries in post-communist countries such as Romania and China to be equipped in and empowered for mission.
● Learning to distinguish between development work and mission: it is easier in many parishes of the Church of Ireland to raise funds for the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund or Christian Aid than to raise support for a mission project. Does dependence on Irish government funding set priorities for the mission agencies that focus more on development than on mission? Is Tearfund a mission agency or a development agency?
● Ecumenism not only between the churches, but between the agencies within Anglicanism, which are competing with each other for a support base, and feel threatened when another agency is seen as shifting its ethos because of closer working relations with external bodies.
● The emergence of new churches that are not easy to define within the terms of Anglican ecclesiology, such as the Church of North India and the Church of South India; for example, is the China Christian Council a Church in ecclesiological terms?
● Seeking to guard against reducing mission to evangelism, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, to good works.
● The emergence of a shallow fundamentalism that is lacking in real spirituality, and which promotes a feel-good factor but not discipleship.

Despite these shared definitions and common commitments to mission, many real divisions remain within the Anglican mission enterprise. In a recent article in the Guardian on the current “Battle for the soul of Anglicanism,” the Revd Dr Giles Fraser of Wadham College, Oxford, typified the two main Anglican mission agencies, CMS and USPG, as conservative, evangelical and liberal, high church societies that “carved up the empire, creating Anglican provinces of hugely different theological temperaments”.

This may be the worst legacy that we have received today in the Anglican Communion from our missionary ancestors. There are churches in Nigeria that are known this day not as Anglican churches but as “the CMS church.” In South Africa, it is difficult to experience the full breadth of Anglican inclusiveness, because of the strong influence of Anglo-Catholic missionaries, many of them from Ireland.

This clear rift is also reflected in the current debate within the Anglican Communion, supposedly about the sexuality of one bishop in the United States, and the attitude of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada to same-sex relationships. But Christianity today largely belongs to the “two-thirds” world, and the same is true of Anglicanism. And with that goes a perception in many African Anglican dioceses that dioceses in northern Europe and North America are rich, domineering, and demanding that churches in the two-thirds world should be shaped in their image and likeness in return for generous financial giving in the past. Perceptions, however misplaced, of over-bearing use of authority, lax moral standards, and a drift towards a liberal yet more catholic understanding of ecumenical relations that threatens the “Protestant” character of many African churches.

The rift threatens to divide the Anglican Communion. Already Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and bishops in Uganda and Rwanda are sending missionaries and priests to North America, not to convert non-Christians or to plant churches, but to win away members of the Anglican or Episcopal Church (TEC). The mission agencies are caught in a dilemma: do they support the churches they once gave birth to and that still look to them for support, or do they support the bishops of their own churches at home.

The debate, whether or not it leads to a rift in the Anglican Communion, may deeply injure if not divide many of the mission societies. This is the sad legacy of an Anglican approach to mission that was based on enthusiasm and the voluntary principle but failed to develop a coherent theology of mission that was integrated with a coherent and consistent ecclesiology.

(Revd Canon) Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. This essay is based on a lecture given in the National University of Ireland Maynooth, on 3 March 2008, on the BA Second Year course, Mission History and Ireland (Special Topic, HY 289). This essay was last corrected on 30 April 2008.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

Very very good article. I would like to know more about the background of these Irish Anglican missionaries, esp. those who went to China. Were they mainly upper-middle-class Irish men and women who received a good education (by the standard of the time)? It seems that quite a number of Irish evangelicals ended up serving in south China while their high church counterparts serving in South Africa. There was one Irish woman missionary Deaconess Edith Couche who served with the CMS/CEZMS in the Diocese of Kwangsi-Hunan, for a period of 40 years. Do you know much about her? If so, I would like to learn more from you. Furthermore, did any High Church Irish men and women went with SPG to North China and Shantung [Shandong]?
~~Enquiry from a Chinese Christian living in England