15 March 2012

Anglican Studies (8.2): Anglican responses to Missio Dei

The Mission was the No 1 movie on the Church Times ‘Top 50 Religious Films’ list … but how do we respond as Anglicans to Missio Dei?

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 15 March 2012, 11 a.m to 12 noon:

Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.


The Anglican Communion understands mission as primarily God’s mission (Missio Dei). For the member churches of the Anglican Communion, God’s mission is holistic, concerned for all human beings and the totality of a human person; body mind and spirit. It is concerned for the totality of God’s creation. This holistic understanding of mission is expressed in the Five Marks of Mission:

● 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 unjust structures of society
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Bonds of Affection (ACC-6, 1984, p. 49; Mission in a Broken World, ACC-8, 1990, p. 101)

As you can see, the Five Marks of Mission are not comprehensive in themselves. But they serve as a guide and they help the member churches of the Anglican Communion to live out a mission lifestyle in our local contexts, and in a variety of ways.

Mission takes place primarily in a local context – congregation, parish, diocese and province – but it is the responsibility of every baptised Christian; young and old, male and female, lay and ordained.

Right from the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nairobi, Kenya (ACC-1) in 1971, Mission has been an important strand of the work of the Anglican Communion Office. At this first meeting, the ACC identified four themes:

● Unity and Ecumenical Affairs;
● the Church’s role in Society;
● Order and organisation in the Anglican Church,
● Mission and Evangelism.

The “Five Marks of Mission” were subsequently developed by the Anglican Consultative Council at meetings between 1984 and 1990,:

● 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 unjust structures of society
● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These five points have won wide acceptance among Anglicans, giving parishes, dioceses and Anglican provinces around the world a practical and memorable checklist for mission activities.

The Five Marks stress the doing of mission. Faithful action is the measure of our response to Christ (cf. Matthew 25: 31-46; James 2: 14-26).

The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Christ’s own summary of his mission (Matthew 4: 17; Mark 1: 14-15; Luke 4: 18, Luke 7: 22; cf. John 3: 14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, perhaps this ought to bed be the key statement about everything we do in mission.

But, as the Anglican Communion travels further along the road towards being mission-centred, do the Five Marks need to be revisited? And, if so, what is missing?

The challenge facing us is not just to do mission but to be a people of mission. That is, we are learning to allow every dimension of Church life to be shaped and directed by our identity as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s reign in Christ. Our understanding of mission needs to make that clear.

All mission is done in a particular setting or context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, as we saw last week it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. The Five Marks should not lead us to think that there are only five ways of doing mission!

For example, we can also see mission as celebration and thanksgiving. 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 is itself 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; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.

Introducing the Readings:

1, Anglicans in Mission, a transforming journey, ed Eleanor Johnson and John Clark, London: SPCK, 2000.

This is the report of Missio, the Mission Commission of the Anglican Communion, to the Anglican Consultative Council, which met in Edinburgh in September 1999 (ACC-11). The report was prepared by an international team from 19 nations, in the context of the 1990s, when Anglican Churches throughout the world were responding to the call from the 1988 Lambeth Conference for a “dynamic missionary emphasis going beyond care and nurture to proclamation and service.”

The members of the commission grew together through their meetings and encounters with Christians in the nations where they met. They recognised that the member Churches of the Anglican Communion were on a journey together that would transform them as they sought to follow God in his life-giving mission of love to the world.

Their report reflects on this journey towards transformation, and combines exhilarating stories of mission and evangelism with:

● Theological insight
● Advice and strategies for successful mission
● Reflection on the changing patterns and structures for international mission
● A review of the Decade of Evangelism, with guidelines to strengthen partnerships.

Their report concludes with a list of prayers and resources for mission to continue to challenge the Church today.

2, Communion in Mission (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2006).

This is the report of the Inter Anglican Commission on Mission and Evangelism (2001-2005) to ACC-13 in Nottingham, and includes the interim report to ACC-12, Travelling Together in God’s Mission, and final reports of two major mission consultations in Nairobi and Cyprus.

The report identifies a number of strategic ways in which the Anglican Communion has moved forward in mission and evangelism supported by a growing network of connections.

It calls Anglicans to a renewed commitment to working together in mission as companions, friends and brothers and sisters, strengthening the relationships that hold us together for the sake of mission in the world.

It calls for a development of Covenants in Mission across the Anglican Communion. The report is earthed in stories from around the Anglican Communion and includes questions for discussion and reflection.

3, Mission in the 21st Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission, ed Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross (London: Darton Longman Todd, 2008).

This is a collection of essays written in advance of the Lambeth 2008 Conference, where the theme for the Anglican bishops was “Equipping Bishops for Mission.”

The agenda and content of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which had the theme, “Equipping Bishops to Fulfil Their Leadership Role in God’s Mission,” was very much shaped by the Anglican Communion’s understanding of mission as central to the existence and life of the Church.

In preparing for the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Mission Department of the Anglican Communion Office carried out a survey on mission and evangelism issues around the Communion and produced a booklet, Holistic Mission, out of which many Self Select Sessions were prepared for the bishops and the spouses at the Lambeth Conference.

Mission and Mission agencies in the Church of Ireland today:

The Church of Ireland Council for Mission, which reports to the General Synod, includes members elected by the General Synod, representatives from the 12 dioceses of the Church of Ireland, one member each from the Bishops’ Appeal and the Mothers’ Union, one person from the Methodist Church, and representatives from the mission agencies working within the Church of Ireland through the Association of Mission Societies (AMS), of which I am a former chair.

Last night [14 March 2012], Colin Ferguson of the Leprosy Mission spoke in chapel on behalf the AMS member societies. The 22 member organisations are:

The Bible Society in Northern Ireland, the Church Army, Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland), Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), Crosslinks, Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM), Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, Intercontinental Church Society (ICS), Interserve, Irish Church Missions, Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association, Kilbroney Centre, the Leprosy Mission, Mission to Seafarers, Mission to Seafarers Northern Ireland, National Bible Society of Ireland, SAMS Ireland (South American Mission Society), Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), Tearfund Ireland, USPG Ireland, USPG Northern Ireland, and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The Bishops’ Appeal, Christian Aid and the Mothers’ Union are not members. Why do you think this is so?

Is there a difference between “home mission” and “foreign missions”?

Last year’s report of the Church of Ireland Council for Mission spoke of how mission in the Church of Ireland is often driven by the mission agencies (see p. 391).

But should the Church take ownership of mission and drive it forward, owning the agenda and taking responsibility for identifying the resources? This implicit, for example in the full legal name of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US a national church corporate body, which is the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.”

Is there a conflict between the goals of development and mission, or are they complementary?

Do the mission agencies give the impression of over-emphasising fund-raising in the parishes at the expense of empowering parishes to engage in mission?

Do the present divisions within the Anglican Communion have their sources in, or reflect the differences in emphasis of the mission agencies based in these islands?

Concluding comments:

The memorial in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, to Bishop Frank Weston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Bishop Frank Weston, who was the Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. “The one thing England needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.”

And so he concluded: “But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

Next week:

9.1: Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue;

9.2: Postcolonial Biblical exegesis and liberation theology in contemporary global Anglicanism, including readings from Bruce Kaye, Titus Presler, and/or Desmond Tutu.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for an introduction to a seminar on the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 15 March 2012

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