Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Personal encounters: The church's future depends on missionaries, not mission work

A personal story by the Rev. Richard Lindsley Walton Jr., in EpiscopalLife Online:

In our relationship with the Anglican Communion today, particularly with those in the Global South, it appears we Episcopalians are reaping what we so often have sown by the aloofness of our wired money transfers: the deep division of alienation.

With all due respect to our archbishops, diocesan bishops and professional theologians, the essential point is this: It is much harder to dismiss the other when we have lived, worked and worshipped together, when we have shared a common meal. This is especially true about those with whom we have the most profound disagreements. Living together is still the best way to discover what we truly have in common and what it means to be in communion.

From the first hour Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, she made it clear that she believes the church is currently being forced to neglect its most urgent mission. A few months later, on the day Jefferts Schori was officially invested, when addressing in her sermon those who "disdain" the Episcopal Church's theological position on human sexuality, she proclaimed the great importance of making poverty history, of funding AIDS work in Africa, of distributing anti-malarial mosquito nets around the developing world. And yet, as laudable as those aims and projects are, the question is not the importance of mission; it is the means by which we do it.

In 1933, close to 500 Episcopal missionaries were serving outside the United States. By the late '70s, however, there were fewer than 70. And the trend continued to decline, or to show unstable improvement, until the 1990s. . .

. . . The decline in Episcopal mission is a complicated story, but much of it had to do with a trend toward sending money to fund development projects rather than sending missionaries themselves. That trend often was motivated by guilt about colonialism, both political and religious, and by fears of current economic and cultural imperialism.

Yet, when compared to other Christian relief agencies, the Episcopal Church was not even notably generous. That is the bad news. The good news is that by the dawn of the new century, Episcopal Church mission work began a remarkable renewal. The future of that renewal, however, is very much in question. . .

. . . For decades, dioceses around the communion consistently have requested large numbers of educators along with medical personnel, and more specifically theology instructors, but the Episcopal Church often has shied away from education, especially theological education, as seemingly nonessential. . .

Unfortunately, Walton's suggestion for mission is to export ECUSA's brand of theological chaos, but read it all for yourself.

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