Thursday, 10 June 2010

Spirituality and Mission

To be a light to the nations ... from a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford


A profound spiritual under-girding of mission is found in a statement of the Commission on Mission of the National Council of Churches in Australia that said: “Mission is the creating, reconciling and transforming action of God, flowing from the community of love found in the Trinity, made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus, and entrusted to the faithful action and witness of the people of God who, in the power of the Spirit, are a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God.”

But I wonder how many of us notice a large gap between our spiritual lives and our commitment to mission.

On the one hand, we often think of mission in external ways: it’s something that I engage with out there, something practical, something active, something that expresses my values and beliefs in an externalised way.

On the other hand, spirituality is something internal: it’s something that I keep in here, something that is part of my prayers, my inner thoughts, my religious emotions, but not to be expressed publicly – in some cases not even connected with how I pray in Church.

On the one hand mission is seen as “good works” – something I do in the world. On the other hand “spirituality” is part of my private life.

If you have noticed this dichotomy, this dysfunctional aspect to your prayer life, or you have noticed it in others and wondered what to do about it, then this is the “Interest Group” for you.

That dichotomy, that dysfunctional relationship between spirituality and mission was recognised and addressed by Bishop Frank Weston in his closing address at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, when he reminded those present that their spiritual life must coupled with a true devotion to Christ in the poor and downtrodden:

“Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

I want to steer us towards looking at this topic under three headings:

1, The Five Marks of Mission;
2, Intercessions and personal prayer;
3, Mission and the Eucharist;
4, Mission in the Offices of the Church;
5, Mission in context and learning from the Spirituality of Others.

1, The Five Marks of Mission

The Anglican Communion, at various stages, has defined and accepted the Five Marks of the Mission of the Church and the Mission of Christ as:

1, To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
3, To respond to human need by loving service
4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society
5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

To what degree is each of these five marks spiritual and a potentially integral part of spiritual life, an aid to spiritual growth or offers potential for prayer?

1, To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

The first mark of mission is not simply personal evangelism. It cannot be reduced to that. Proclaiming the Good news of the Kingdom is more than one-to-one encounters. It can have no purpose unless we have an understanding of what Good news is and have a vision of what the Kingdom may be like.

What is good news depends on the places, times, cultures and needs we encounter and live in.

Proclamation comes in more than words. We all know the difference between the news as we listen to it on Radio or the BBC World Service, watch it on ITN or Sky, read it in the Guardian, the Sun, the Telegraph or the Times. It is not only that the medium conveys the message, or that the medium is the message, but the medium defines our priorities in both proclaiming and receiving the news.

If the Church is to have an integrated approach to Proclamation, then it must be in both Word and Sacrament, it must provide example in Discipleship, it must seek not only to invite people to be Christians but to invite them into the Church too, and it must have a vision of the Church as a foretaste of the Kingdom.

And so at the heart of proclamation is not programme – programmes about publishing more leaflets, printing more Bibles, sending out more people, collecting more money. At the heart of proclamation is vision and invitation – vision of the kingdom, and invitation through the Church into that kingdom. And that vision and invitation require an integrated spirituality. Otherwise, we end up with relying on what I describe as “feel-good-factor mission”: mission that is judged successful because it answers the goals set by a programme, that counts its success by the “bums-on-pews” factor; and keeps those people in the pews not by challenging them with a vision of the kingdom but by making them feel happy with happy hymns, happy prayers, self-affirming sermons.

We share a common call to share in God’s healing and reconciling mission for our blessed but broken and hurting world.

The world has been graced by God and God’s work through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to seek to heal the hurts of the world and to reconcile its brokenness. As Christians we are called to share our relationships in the mission of God to the wider world, bearing witness to the kingdom of love, justice and joy that Jesus inaugurated.

2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

How do you learn? We are all different types of learners. When you buy a new DVD player or a new laptop, how do you learn to use it? How are you taught to use it?

Do you take the new instruction book out of its plastic wrapping? Perhaps, like me, you even need instructions on how to open the plastic wrapping.

Do you learn to use by reading the instructions or by following the diagrams?

Do you ask someone else to show you?

Do you rush in and do it yourself, prepared to learn by your own mistakes?

To teach new believers requires different teaching methods. It’s not enough to convert individuals merely to the point of making a personal declaration of faith. They are taught in different ways, including being taught by example. Is your example in faith infectious? Is your practice in prayer one that others can find nurturing? Have you an inner life that embraces others to the point that they may make mistakes … not because they are different, but because they are learning for themselves?

3, To respond to human need by loving service

A major portion of USPG’s financial resources are devoted to health care and educational projects.

But this is not because we are a charitable giver in some way that makes us an Anglican Oxfam or Christian Aid. We give for two reasons:

(1), It is part of Christian responsibility to share our resources:

What resources we have are for sharing – not just money and people, but ideas, prayers, excitement, challenge, enthusiasm. It calls for a move to an equitable sharing of such resources particularly within the Church.

There is no point in giving to something if our giving does not reflect our prayers for what we are giving to. Why give to support a hospital if we never pray that malaria will be eliminated, or that women should never be deprived of resources so that they die in childbirth, or that an antidote will be soon found for HIV/AIDS?

But don’t, either, dismiss other people’s giving when they stop at giving and don’t get involved. Their giving may be where they stop, but you cannot see where they started. It may be a continuation of their prayers, and may be the only way they can express their desire for sharing and justice. We must never disempower those who only appear to give.

(2), It is an expression of the priorities of Christ and the priorities of the Church:

Jesus expends most of his compassion on behalf of women, children, slaves, the widowed, the orphaned, the financially marginalised and the ostracised. This is one of the lessons from last Sunday’s Gospel reading. By giving first and foremost to healthcare and education, we are prioritising our mission according to the priorities of Christ himself. And that is getting our spiritual priorities in the right order. Do we reflect those priorities in our personal prayer?

4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society

I wonder how often in our parishes and in our dioceses do we affirm those who are seeking to transform the unjust structures of society as engaging in mission, as missionaries?

When I supported the Gaza Flotilla, and spoke at demonstrations in Dublin last week after the murder on the high seas of some of the crew members, I was attacked by another priest for engaging in politics. But I was seeking to transform the unjust structures of society, and I was supporting those who do so.

We cannot bewail the system in Zimbabwe that deprives hospitals, schools and churches of resources, without also praying to have that society transformed.

It is an Anglican tradition to pray in the versicles and responses and in the intercessions for our governments. Praying for them recognises that they always need to be prayed for, not always because we agree with them, and often because they need to change.

5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth:

God’s concern is for the whole of life – not just for people, but for the whole created order. And so we are called to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Your concern for the environment, your promotion of your parish as an EcoChurch, is not a political fad, it is an integral part of mission and its spiritual foundations are rooted in the promise of God’s reconciliation for ourselves and for the world.

The hope we have is for all the living, the hope of a reconciled universe, the hope for a new heaven and a new earth, in which God’s will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

2, Intercessions and personal prayer:

And the Lord’s Prayer brings us to personal prayer and intercessions.

There is a well-known saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.

But we all have our own inner foxholes. What do you pray for in the depths of your soul?

What do you pray for?

There is a very useful theological principle that says: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means not just that our beliefs should shape how we pray, but when we pray truly we show what we believe truly.

What do you really for?

Think about if for a moment. Ask yourself not what prayers did you say ‘Amen’ to in Church last Sunday, but what do you really wish for, hope for, long for, want?

The Lord’s Prayer and the Intercessions on Sundays are two ways of encouraging us to pray in a way that shapes our discipleship and our priorities.

Which part of the Lord’s Prayer do you say Amen to? ‘Thy Kingdom come’? ‘Thy will be done on earth?’ ‘Give us … our daily bread?’ ‘Forgive us our trespasses?’ Teach us, liberate us, to forgive others? ‘Deliver us from evil?’

Do you truly pray for us to live in the kingdom, for us to have daily bread, for us to be forgiven and to forgive, for us to be saved from evil?

Have you noticed how this is a prayer written in the plural. I had a problem while celebrating the Eucharist last Sunday in a parish where I was visiting and taking duty on behalf of a priest colleague. Unexpectedly, the reader prompted everyone to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if it were a moment of personal piety and spirituality before the fraction and reception. But the Lord’s Prayer is precisely not that. Our individual Amen is part of the collective Amen to the spirituality and the mission of the Church.

Individual prayer only has meaning within the totality of the spirituality and mission of the whole Church.

And a similar problem arises with the intercessions at the Eucharist in most parishes.

Who frames and writes the intercessions in your parish?

How often are they written by the priest, even though they are supposed to be the prayers of the people?

How often are they simply a shopping list, simply telling God what we want, like a Miss World entrant saying she wants to travel the world and work with children?

How seldom is there any connectedness with each item in the intercessions?

For example, how seldom do we pray for the diocesan bishop, so that any connection with the church and the church universal is disjointed?

How often are mission priorities just top of the list as priorities rather than a point of real prayer for parishioners?

How useful do you think this week’s prayer priorities in the USPG prayer diary were? (see handout 4).

How much effort is put into seeing that the intercessions reflect what people have been praying about in the previous week, and what they pray about in the coming week.

Empowerment, particularly spiritual empowerment, is an important constituent of both ministry and mission.

3, Mission and the Eucharist

The intercessions and the peace – and there is a connection between both – should form the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship itself is a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12: 1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11: 26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling. It under-girds the forms of public witness we engage in.

A new Facebook group is called “Comfortable Words” and it was formed by people who say they are keen on maintaining the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Its name is inspired by the Comfortable Words at the beginning of the Eucharist, which include those comfortable words in John 3: 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son …” (Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν Υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν …)

The original Greek conveys better than the 1662 English that God bestowed on the world, God sent into the world, God gave as a present to the world … well, not actually, the world, but, as it says in the original Greek, the Cosmos.

God so loved the world that he sent … The Lambeth Conference in 1998 agreed: “Mission goes out from God. Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world ... So mission is never our invention or choice” (Section II p. 121). The initiative in mission is God’s, not ours. We are called simply to serve God’s mission by living and proclaiming the good news.

This is reflected in the suggested intercessions for Saturday in the USPG Prayer Diary for this week: “Give thanks that God is in control and that mission is, ultimately, his work – not ours. We offer God our head, hands and heart – and he does the rest.”

But are these comfortable words for us, or would we rather control, manage and assess and evaluate our mission programmes?

I’m not a Prayer Book conservative in cultural terms, but the beginning of the Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer reminds us that mission, God’s mission, and God’s love for the totality of creations, is at the heart of the call to worship.

At the beginning and the end, in the Gloria and in the Agnus Dei, we recall that in that in the Incarnation Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. Incarnation is not to be reduced to personal faith and salvation, my spiritual priorities are not to enhance my feel-good factors.

The sin of the world – what alienates the world from God, what hinders creation from realising the potential of the incarnation – is at the very heart of the five points of mission, and at heart of what we pray about in the Eucharist.

And so it is for a very good reason that the intercessions come between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. The world and its needs are a bridge between Word and Sacrament.

And Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission. The prayers after communion include a fundamental commission of each and every one of us as missionaries, as Christ’s mission partners in the world: “Send us out in the power of your spirit to live to your praise and glory.”

Or: “May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.”

The dismissal: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” calls for the response :”In the name of Christ. Amen.” We say Amen to our missionary commission Sunday-after-Sunday. Mission is not separate from, or divorced from the spiritual priorities in celebrating the Eucharist.

And this is enhanced, built on, empowered by the different Eucharistic prayes found in the Church of England in Common Worship.

For example in Prayer D in Common Worship says: “To the darkness Jesus came as your light. With signs of faith and words of hope he touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean” (Common Worship, p. 194).

And: “Defying death he rose again and is alive with you to plead for us and all the world.” (Common Worship, p. 195).

In Prayer E, after the acclamations we find this mission challenge: “Lord of all life, help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth” (Common Worship, p. 197).

Or in Prayer F, we say in our prayers leading up to the Sanctus that “as we watch for the signs of the kingdom on earth, we echo the song of the angels in heaven…” (Common Worship, p. 198).

4, Mission in the Offices of the Church

Saint Andrew’s Church, Swanwick ... the offices of the Church and the Canticles have a strong missionary priority (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But it is not just in the Eucharistic rites that we are challenged to see mission as an integral part of our spirituality, prayer and worship, that we are commissioned to mission.

This has always been part of the tradition of Anglican worship, and is not more fully illustrated in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer than by referring to the traditional canticles.

In the canticle Venite, we are told about God: “In his hands are all the corners of the earth.”

We pray this canticle most mornings in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. And as I hear and pray those words I cannot help smiling as I recall those games at summer camps where we all stood around holding a blanket or a parachute, kept shaking it up higher and higher, and eventually hoping to hop in under it, like a tent.

When God holds all the corners of the earth in his hands, then praying for the earth, all who live in it, and for its sustainability, its resources and its environment, becomes a mission challenge that is part of our spirituality.

In the canticle Benedictus, we ask God:

“To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
for the remission of their sins …

“To give light to them that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death:
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Don’t tell me that there is no mission thrust in the traditional Anglican offices, that they do not call for and demand mission priorities and fresh expressions of church, that they are no longer relevant to the mission needs of the Church today.

Westminster Abbey ... the beauty of Choral Evensong can have an impact on a teenager

Some years ago, I spent a few days with my elder son in London. He wanted to see the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum as part of his classical studies. But the highlight of our visit for him was not the marbles, nor the Tower of London, not the dome of Saint Paul’s, nor the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, the Changing of the Guard, No 10, Buckingham Palace , Madam Tussaud’s … The highlight for him was Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey, where we sat into the choir stalls.

Don’t tell me Choral Evensong and Evening Prayer are no longer appealing to a younger generation. And do not tell me that they make no compelling demands for mission.

In Evening Prayer, for generations, we have reminded ourselves in the Canticle Magnificat:

“He hath put down the mighty from their seat
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

“He hath filled the hungry with good things:
And the rich he hath sent empty away.”

Now in the simple spirituality of the Anglican offices, that’s what I call praying through the Five Points of Mission in the Anglican understanding of mission.

In Evensong, in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, we are reminded that God’s salvation has “been prepared before the face of all people.” The Christ Child is “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.” Here personal piety, Anglican spirituality, Gospel demands and mission priorities come into focus together.

I could take further examples, for instance, from the Litany, which we pray each Friday morning in the chapel at the Church of Ireland theological Institute, in the way it prays for the needs of the Church, our communities and the world.

5, Mission in context and learning from the Spirituality of Others

Our spirituality and our mission priorities must always take account of and learning from others in the context of mission. We cannot pray outside the incarnational contexts in which we find ourselves.

Some years ago, I stayed on a few occasions in the Deanery beside All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. I expected to be woken by the bells of the cathedral, but instead was woken each morning by the call to prayer by a muezzin using a large megaphone in a storefront mosque in the street below.

In a mission context, it was a reminder that others can remind us of how our day needs to be punctuated by rhythm of prayer, and how in our casual slumber we need to be reminded that prayer provides deeper rest than sleep.

As an example of cultural incarnation and contextual mission and spirituality, in Muslim countries I have found myself not merely adapting my prayer life but being challenged and transformed by Muslim attitudes to prayer and faith. The following are examples:

1, For Muslims, prayer is submission. This is implied in the name Islam and is made visible in the posture of prostration. How much of our prayer is less what God demands of us and more about what we demand of God? How willing are we to submit to God in prayer? How often are we more likely to find in prayer that we are asking God to submit to us? This is often expressed physically. Most of us were probably taught to pray in the morning and at night, kneeling by our bedside. How many of us find this too childish and too humiliating today?

2, For Muslims, prayer requires that coming properly prepared; hence the ritual of a Muslim washing face, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet before prayer. Do we prepare to pray, in the same way that we would prepare to eat, or prepare before wetting out in our cars on our journey? If not, what does that say about the priority of prayer in our daily activities?

3, For a Muslim, prayer is individual. And so a Muslim takes off his or her shoes and enters and stands bare-footed before God. Do you expose yourself to God in prayer? Or do you protect yourself from God in prayer?

4, Paradoxically, for every Muslim, prayer is also collective. Muslims stand toe-to-toe with those beside them in public prayer. There is no escaping the other, and therefore no escaping the needs of the other. My needs are only worth considering when I consider the needs of the other.

5, Moving out, for Muslims, prayer is also universal. In prayer, all face towards Mecca, so that all are facing the same way, in concentric circles that are spreading out around the globe.

6, And prayer embraces the whole kosmos. Those circles can keep on spreading out, like the ripples in the pool. But within the circles, Muslims constantly turn to their left and right, to those things, seen and unseen, which are then incorporated into prayer.

How often do want to be left alone at prayers, at intercessions, at the peace, even at the reception during the Eucharist?

It is easy for Christians to see that Islam is a missionary religion. Do you think Muslims see Christianity as a missionary religion?

I could draw parallels with what I have said about prayer in Islam with the spiritual disciplines and expressions of faith in Islam. The “Five Pillars of Islam” are spiritual disciplines rather than doctrinal norms, and they are:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith): This is a simple credal confession … how often do we know and concisely express what is at the heart of our beliefs? This simple creedal formula has a mission thrust for Muslims. Anyone who says it becomes a Muslim. Where is mission at the heart of our Creeds?

2, Salat (Prayer): Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. How often is the daily life of a Christian punctuated with the rhythm of prayer? Someone becomes a Muslim through a simple confession of faith. It is said one stops being a Muslim when one stops praying. Do we consider that when we stop praying we stop being Christians? Is your day punctuated with prayer?

3, Sawm (Fasting): For Muslims fasting is first and foremost a practice associated with Ramadan, but it is a spiritual discipline at other times too. Nor is it simply about abstaining from food during daylight hours – it includes fasting from smoking, from sex, and more especially from all expressions of anger. If fasting had the same central place in Christian spiritual discipline, imagine what we could do prayerfully during Lent and Advent. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that teaches us, helps us to realise how, the whole body needs to be committed to prayer and not just, in the Anglican way, the brain and the intellect.

4, Zakat (giving of alms): this giving is a spiritual discipline that is a duty for Muslims. It is not charity – as one Muslim explained to me, charity is that giving that begins when duty ends. We still see giving as charity and not as a duty. Islamic attitudes to the spiritual discipline of giving would probably mean USPG and other mission agencies did not have to face up to our present financial problems.

5, Hajj (Pilgrimage): There is an old spiritual song that includes the lines: “This land is not my home, I’m only travelling through.” Muslims make pilgrimages not only to Mecca and Medina, but to Jerusalem, to Hebron, to the graves of prophets, saints and Sufi mystics and poets. Life is a pilgrimage. I have a pilgrimage at least once a year to Lichfield, where I had my first adult experience of faith, and my first call to ordained ministry. It is a way of saying thanks to God, a way of reminding myself of God’s blessing and call to me, a way of not becoming too fixed in my ways. Pilgrimage is a spiritual disciple that keeps us on the move, that keeps us ever-engaged in God’s mission.

What are your spiritual disciples, and how do they make bridges beyween these three:

● Your personal prayer life.

● Your engagement with the prayer life of the Church in Word and Sacrament?

● Your commitment to the mission of the Church and God’s mission?

Handout 1: The Five Marks of Mission

1, To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God;
2, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers;
3, To respond to human need by loving service;
4, To seek to transform unjust structures of society;
5, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Handout 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith);
2, Salat (Prayer);
3, Sawm (Fasting);
4, Zakat (giving of alms);
5, Hajj (Pilgrimage).

Handout 3: Quotation from Bishop Frank Weston:

“Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

“You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

Handout 4: This week's prayers in the USPG Prayer Diary:

Sunday 6

First Sunday after Trinity:
This week we pray for two important conferences: Edinburgh 2010, which closes today, and the USPG Annual Conference, which starts on Wednesday. We pray for all delegates as they engage with the complexities of engaging in mission today.

Monday 7

Give thanks for the endeavours of all pioneers in mission who have dared to engage with mission in new and creative ways. Pray that Christians might learn from both their successes and mistakes.

Tuesday 8

Though their understandings may vary, there is a sense in which all Christians are engaged in mission. At a very deep level, mission is a part of who we are. Pray for all Christians as they seek to express God’s love through their everyday lives.

Wednesday 9

Give thanks for USPG and its support for global mission since its founding in 1701. USPG has constantly faced the challenge of adapting to the changing world – and today is no exception. Pray for the Society as it undergoes change.

Thursday 10

Pray for all delegates and speakers at the USPG Annual Conference; pray that it will be a time of refreshment and inspiration – a time for learning and growth.

Friday 11

Barnabas the Apostle:
Pray for the ongoing work of USPG as delegates return to their churches in Britain and Ireland and around the world. Pray that they will be invigorated to attempt new things in mission.

Saturday 12

Give thanks that God is in control and that mission is, ultimately, his work – not ours. We offer God our head, hands and heart – and he does the rest.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a member of the council of USPG and the board of USPG Ireland. This paper is based on notes to introduce two “interest groups” at the USPG Annual Conference, “Witnessing to Christ Today,” at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire, on 10 June 2010.

‘Surely we can never give up on each other, for God never gives up on any of us’

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town speaking at the USPG conference in Swanwick this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

There are times when it seems The Episcopal Church (TEC) has not listened enough to other voices in the Anglican Communion, especially those in the Global South, the Archbishop of Cape Town told the Presiding Bishop of TEC this morning during the second day of the USPG conference in Swanwick. .

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was present as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town said there are times when it seems TEC acts in ways that communicate a lack of care for those in Global South.

He said his plea was for TEC to be sensitive to those who are still drinking spiritual milk and not yet eating solids. He accepted that cross-border visitations have also undermined TEC and efforts to handle disagreements in a godly way and that gracious restraint has not been exercised.

The debate undermines our witness and dissipates our energy, Archbishop Thabo said. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, he said not everything that is lawful is necessarily right.

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern African was speaking about ‘Mission Realities for Southern African Anglicans – and their Wider Implications.’ He began his ministry in the Diocese of Johannesburg, is a former Archdeacon of Sophiatown, and was the youngest-ever Archbishop of Cape Town.

Referring to the “really difficult question in the Anglican Communion of our differences over human sexuality,” he said the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is a global microcosm of the Anglican Communion, a part of the “Global South,” and faces the same concerns about poverty sickness and injustice. At the same time there are many wealthy, westernised congregations that are typical of the Global North.

Yet that church is still hold together, and managing to do so despite differences over human sexuality that span the whole range of views, including among the bishops.

He said it is no light or easy matter for his church. But none of them says they are no longer in communion with others. The sharing of pain, perceiving the marks of the living Christ who is also the suffering Christ, in one another, can lead too to the experience of the Resurrection.

For Anglicans in southern Africa, their shared opposition to apartheid had helped forge a common identity. But a shared enemy in the past is not a reliable foundation for going forward in the future. But a continuing sense of Christ in and among us in the pain of our divisions, through our suffering, can make us confident of the resurrection.

In Southern Africa, their different views take second place to “our unity around Christ among us. Differences of opinion are acceptable, schism is not.” They are talking and worshipping together, reading Scripture and praying together. Despite their brokenness in their common life and damaged relations, nonetheless they exclude non-one from their common councils and their common life.

“Surely we can never give up on each other, for God never gives up on any of us,” he said.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at the USPG conference this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

He said Jesus is the standard in discerning between authentic cultural expressions and flawed syncretism, and spoke of being witnesses to Jesus Christ is the essential heart of mission.

There are different expressions of the Gospel truth, but he asked what is acceptable diversity and what is unacceptable deviation.

We began the second day of the conference with an early morning celebration of the Eucharist, at which the president was the Revd Dr John Perumbalath of the Diocese of Rochester, a USPG Trustee.

Later today, I am leading two workshops or interest groups on ‘Spirituality and Mission,’ and the Irish participants intend to have a few meetings too.

Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the Council of USPG (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) – Anglicans in World Mission, and a director of USPG Ireland

‘The Holy Spirit is not finished with us yet’

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori with Bishop Michael Doe of USPG and Canon Patrick Comerford of USPG Ireland at the conference in Swanwick this week

Patrick Comerford

Any Irish person with a commitment to mission would have been delighted with the way Saint Columba’s Day was celebrated appropriately last night in Swanwick at the closing of the first day of this year’s conference of USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) – Anglicans in World Mission.

Our evening liturgy focussed on Saint Columba’s Day, and we prayed:

“Lord, teach us to silence our own hearts and minds
that we may listen for the movement of your Holy Spirit,
and feel your presence in the depths of our being.”

And the closing blessing was:

“May God bless us
in our sleep with rest,
in our dreams with vision,
in our waking with a calm mind,
in our soul with the friendship of the Holy Spirit
this night and every night.”

Earlier the evening, during a panel discussion, when a question came from the floor about Saint Columba’s day, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (TEC), the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori replied instantly: “Thanks be to God for Columba’s willingness to go.”

Another panel member, Canon Mark Oxbrow, international director of the Faith2Share network, spoke positively of the mix of Latin and Celtic Christianity on these islands, where two streams come together, and mused that this maybe model for the unity we can have as Christians and in the Anglican Communion.

The third member of the panel was the Southern African Primate, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, who is the keynote speaker at this morning’s conference session.

Last night’s panel discussion ranged across a wide range of topics, including the environment, reconciliation, the future of mission agencies, sexuality, and the current crisis and divisions in the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Katharine, who is an oceanographer by profession, spoke of the current oil spill in the Gulf as a major environmental disaster. But she also spoke of other major environmental disasters, including those created by the search for oil reserves and the planting of oil wells and pipelines in Alaska and within the Arctic Circle.

She said one of her guiding environmental images from the Gospel was a Resurrection story, When Mary Magdalene first encounters the Risen Christ, she thinks she has met the gardener, and she said the image of Jesus the Gardener is one “we need to get to know more.”

Topically, Archbishop Thabo related the stories of people who are living in poverty in South Africa and who are facing difficulties and challenges because of the “clean-up” ahead of the World Cup.

Mark, who spoke of his own experiences of environmental issues in China, suggested Anglicans might benefit from engaging more with and learning more from the creation theology of the Orthodox Churches.

When it came to maintaining the unity of the Anglican Communion, the panel was asked whether there was a need for some sense of sacrifice to accommodate local sensitivities.

Archbishop Thabo said it cannot be an “either or” dichotomy. The heart of the diocese is the parish, the unit of the province is the diocese, and so on. In the current challenge, we should not be afraid to confront pain. If we opt for the particularity of the local, we will have given an answer that opts out of the current challenges we face, he said..

Quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he said: “The Holy Spirit is not yet finished with us.” And he added that we need to face challenges as we build “our beloved community.”

Mark Oxbrow said we cannot separate the global and the local. “But that’s where the struggle begins ... and I want to go on with that struggle.”

“I think tension is a good thing,” said Bishop Katharine. She said we need to engage with God’s mission in the tense and painful places. God not finished with us, she said, echoing Archbishop Thabo’s earlier quotation from Archbishop Tutu. There is still growth to be had, light to discover, new challenges to face, she said. The only thing that does not face tensions is a dead body. But: “We are not called to be a dead body; we are called to be a resurrected body.”

When Mark said the saw reconciliation as part of mission, not something “separate from mission, it is mission,” she added that reconciliation is the goal, is the fruit and is the antecedent of mission, reconciliation “cannot be teased apart from taking part in God’s mission.”

Taking part in the panel discussion at the USPG conference in Swanwick (from left): Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, Canon Mark Oxbrow, international director of the Faith2Share network, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (TEC), the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

When the panel was asked whether they thought there is a future for mission agencies or whether mission agencies have had their day, Bishop Katharine instantly responded: “My experience of mission agency is the Domestic Foreign Missionary Society. I am not a good person to try to answer this, but it is of the nature of the Church to be a mission agency, whether formally or not.”

Mark Oxbrow declared: “Frankly, I’m not at all interested in mission agencies, but I am interested in mission movements.” He saw mission moving in diverse ways, changing and finding new shapes that we cannot predict. “But if that shape is USPG, then praise God.”

Turning to mission and dialogue in today’s context, he referred to a conversation with an imam from a mosque in Woking who said that in a multifaith context, we need to share faith, and not just discuss what we eat.

As the discussion began to draw to a close, the General Secretary of USPG, Bishop Michael Doe, asked Bishop Katharine whether she ever thought that TEC, even if it had done the right thing, had done it too soon.

She replied that issues of same-sex relationships had been before her church since the 1960s. She conceded that not all Episcopalians agreed with the episcopal consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, but she said that since then TEC had been living with a moratorium for seven years and that “was exceedingly painful for many in our Church.” She recognised that many are still offended and surprised. But she said this had been a faith decision taken in the TEC context, and that her church could not wait any longer and be faithful.

She said she did not want to be arrogant or dismissive, and said she recognises the pain this meant for others. But she said most Episcopalians do not think “we could have kept the moratorium any longer and remain faithful.”

When a diocese elects a bishop, and receives consent, “I don’t have a choice ... and as the presiding bishop it is my responsibility to go and preside.”

When a questioner from the floor asked whether sexuality is the real issue, or whether the real debate is about a reorientation within the Anglican Communion, she said .the legacy of colonialism is still being played out in many places, and there is still an unhealed legacy from the sin of colonialism. Addressing that history may help to find a way to live together in justice with people with whom we disagree, she suggested. “Human sexuality is the presenting issue. I don’t think it’s the basic issue.”

This morning, we begin the second day of the conference with a celebration of the Eucharist at 7.30, at which the president is the Revd Dr John Perumbalath of the Diocese of Rochester, a USPG Trustee. Later in the morning, Archbishop Thabo is to speak about ‘Mission Realities for Southern African Anglicans – and their Wider Implications.’

Later in the day, I am leading two workshops or interest groups on ‘Spirituality and Mission,’ and the Irish participants intend to have a few meetings too.

Meanwhile, as the debate continues way beyond Swanwick, may I adapt some of the words of last night’s blessing:

“May God bless us this day with vision,
in our waking with a calm mind,
in our soul with the friendship of the Holy Spirit
this day and every day. Amen.”

Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the Council of USPG and a director of USPG Ireland