The Rev. Brian Gregory is a GEMN board member from the Diocese of Olympia, WA
“Mission has been an integral part of my understanding of the Christian faith from a very early age. Raised in a Christian Missionary Alliance church (a distant cousin of the Methodist Church with a strong emphasis on global mission), I saw my church family send and support dozens of missionaries all over the world and welcome them back home for visits to hear the many ways the Gospel was coming alive in the communities in which they lived and worked. Mission was such a part of the DNA of my faith and that of my church community, I couldn’t imagine the church apart from being sent into the world to proclaim and embody the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t until college that I had my first experience of mission. It was a spring break mission trip to the Dominican Republic with a local Presbyterian college ministry and the experience changed me, grew my faith, and set a course in my life and ministry that has continued since. I saw, firsthand, how Jesus’ commission to his disciples (and to us!) to go into the world to participate in the work God is doing can come alive in particular contexts.
Just after college, I visited an Episcopal Church for the first time. My then-girlfriend, now-wife, and I walked into the Episcopal cathedral in Spokane, WA for Eucharist and were captivated by the prayers, the liturgy, and the centrality of the Table as we take in Christ to be sent back out into the world to be Christ. I heard in the liturgy language of reconciliation, participation, and mission. The missional DNA that existed deep in my heart had found a liturgical home and we have been Episcopalians ever since – and I was just recently ordained to the transitional diaconate on the path to becoming an Episcopal priest.
While our liturgy is deeply missional, implicitly and explicitly calls us to mission, and the Episcopal Church is guided by a theology and way of life that is deeply conducive to healthy expressions of mission, I have, at times, been disheartened by the Episcopal Church’s avoidance of mission. Whether we are wary of the language, given the long, dark, and damaging “mission” done in the name of Christ throughout the centuries; we fear mission is simply coercively proselytizing; or we are not convinced that mission is the vocation of all Christians, even if we do not give years of our life to working as a missionary in foreign land – Episcopalians sometimes say the word “mission” like it is a bad word. As a youth director in an Episcopal Church, a newly ordained deacon, and, God willing and the people of God consenting, a future Episcopal priest, it is one of my missions (no pun intended) in ministry to redeem and reclaim the language and action of mission for our congregations.
I have had the joy and honor of doing so with youth from the congregation in which I have served for the past six years – traveling as far away from Seattle as Guatemala and as close as Mount Vernon, WA, just an hour north. Whether the context is local or global, the task is the same: “Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves,” “Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” and “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (The Baptismal Covenant).
Our youth have lived and worked among immigrant farmworkers just north of Seattle – working in the berry fields with families from La Iglesia de la Resurreccion, an Episcopal mission congregation that works with Hispanic farmworkers and their families. They have encountered and wrestled with topics of justice, immigration, and the role of the church in the world. Our youth have worked with children and families that live in the community around the Guatemala City garbage dump with an organization called Safe Passage that provides hope, education and opportunity for families that fight to survive by working the largest dump in Latin America.
They saw a small part of God’s kingdom on display as they saw wholeness, health, and hope growing in an oftentimes desolate and desperate community and developed a theological lens through which to look at the world and discover God’s kingdom all around us. And our congregation had the joy of reflecting on these all those experiences as we all discern how God is calling us to participate in the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in our world. While these experiences were what we might call “short-term mission,” they are points from which to build both a theology and lifestyle of mission that will change everything that follows.
When I attended the GEMN conference in Puerto Rico in 2016, I was inspired and filled with hope as I encountered other Episcopalians who are passionate about and committed to mission. And the members of GEMN are not only interested in engaging in the work of mission for themselves, we desire to inspire and equip our whole church to join in the work God is doing in our world. For some, that might mean becoming a missionary in another country for an extended season of one’s life. For others, that might mean finding a community or organization close to home with which to partner to participate in God’s work. For still others, that might mean short-term mission trips in which to offer our gifts for the sake of our world and partner with long-term missionaries. No matter what form it takes, we are all called to mission. GEMN exists to provide you with resources, relationships, and learning that will help you discern where God is calling you and take the next step into mission.”