Reconciliation Highlighted As Heart of God’s Mission at Global Episcopal Mission Network Conference

By the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler

Reconciliation as the heart and overall direction of God’s mission in the world was addressed from ethnic, interfaith, racial and inter-Anglican perspectives at the annual global mission conference, “Reconciliation: God’s Mission – and Ours,” sponsored recently by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) at Camp McDowell in the Diocese of Alabama.

gemn2017macdinthedougThe church needs to “recover reconciliation as the paradigm for Christian mission,” said keynoter Mark MacDonald, the national indigenous bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada, where he has guided reconciliation processes between First Nations and Canadian churches and society in the wake of abuses suffered by indigenous children in residential schools.

“Reconciliation calls us to new life – it’s the restoration of moral order that invites transformation and a new order of life,” he said as he reflected on Jesus’ ministry and the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. He stressed that reconciliation has three dimensions – vertical with God, horizontal with other people, and circular with the cosmos, which includes planet earth. Horizontal and circular reconciliation are possible only through God’s vertical initiative with us in Christ.

“Mission as hospitality is a Christendom conversation about trying to get people into church,” MacDonald said in challenging one current view of mission. He pointed out that, in contrast, when Jesus sent out seventy followers, he told them to depend on the hospitality of those they visited. This analysis resonated with the 75 conference attenders, who had experienced the hospitality of mission companions in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

MacDonald also challenged a common assumption that reconciliation begins with an oppressor’s repentance and proceeds through the victim’s forgiveness, for often, he said, the sequence is the opposite: “Reconciliation begins when victims are inspired to reclaim their humanity and then move toward forgiveness, which invites the oppressor into a new relationship. Then begins the repair of the oppressor’s humanity, for there can be no participation in a colonial system without damage to the soul and to one’s humanity.”

“Communities can become incubators of reconciliation,” MacDonald said, referring both to missionaries in other societies and to the church in North America. Incubating reconciliation includes accompanying the suffering, offering hospitality for sufferers, being places of truth-telling, and facilitating the transformation that occurs as victims and oppressors reclaim their humanity.

gemn2017kiminthedoug“What does being a guest look like?” asked Heidi Kim, staff officer for racial reconciliation at the Episcopal Church Center. “Seeing people as victims is part of how we’ve done mission, whereas people have their own agency, and it’s important for them to move from victimhood to survivor-hood.” Kim critiqued what she called the White Savior Complex, in which whites both acknowledge their role in colonization and imagine that they are central agents of decolonization around the world, denying the power of indigenous peoples to catalyze their own liberation.

“Seeing people as victims is part of how we’ve done mission, whereas people have their own agency, and it’s important for them to move from victimhood to survivor-hood.”

Kim used images and anecdotes from popular culture to highlight what she called the spiritual narcissism that is sometimes expressed when people from the United States encounter racial and cultural difference in ministering elsewhere in the world.

One example was a fictional news story in the satirical publication, The Onion, accompanied by a picture of a young white woman smiling with two black children. The headline, “6-day Visit to Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile,” illustrated the danger of missionaries focusing on what mission does for themselves while minimizing injustice in the world.

An image of US-based high school students cheerfully painting the wall of a school building while local Mexican youth glumly look on prompted Kim to note “the dark side of gratitude.” When people say, “Going on a short-term mission trip made me so grateful for what I have,” the underlying attitude may be that they’re grateful they are not “the other” and that they want to keep what they have.

gemn2017paulgordoninthedougEmphasizing opportunities for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, Paul-Gordon Chandler urged conferees to wage peace with Muslims, build on commonalities between the two religions, recognize that Christianity, like Islam, is Middle Eastern in origin, build bridges creatively, and undertake relationships with Muslims as a pilgrimage.

With long experience in the Muslim world, including pastorates in Tunis and Cairo, Chandler, an Episcopal Church missionary, is the founding director of Caravan, a non-profit organization that builds peace through traveling inter-religious art exhibits that are hosted in such venues as the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, Jordan; St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London; Riverside Church in New York City; and American University in Washington, D.C. Its current exhibition, “I Am,” features the art of Middle Eastern women of several religions.

Noting that the crescent symbol of Islam highlights only a small part of the moon, Chandler said the crescent can be interpreted as what is different about Islam, whereas the remaining dark side of the moon can be seen as what Muslims and Christians hold in common. “Build relationships on the dark side of the moon,” he said. “Read the Quran to find out what we share rather than what we don’t share.”

Chandler pointed out that Muslims see Jesus as the messiah who will come again and also believe in the virgin birth. He said that Muslim prostrations derive from Syrian Orthodoxy, Ramadan derives from Lent, the Hajj derives from Christian pilgrimages, and the five daily times of prayer derive from Benedictine discipline. These and other shared elements provide a basis for reconciling relationship, he suggested.

gemn2017displayphilindaba“All mission is local mission, but it needs the partnership of others, and all global mission is expressed locally,” said Phil Groves of the Church of England as he led two workshops on the role of the Zulu practice of indaba in fostering reconciliation in current tensions among Anglicans, especially about human sexuality. Intensifying the adoption of indaba as a mode of interaction at the the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Groves for ten years directed Continuing Indaba, an initiative to bring dioceses from different parts of the world together for mutual understanding and mission discernment.

“All mission is local mission, but it needs the partnership of others, and all global mission is expressed locally.”

“The Anglican crisis was caused by the donor-recipient model of relationship,” Groves said. Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, the mission watchword adopted by the 1963 Anglican Congress held in Toronto, and Partnership in Mission, the model adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council in 1973, sought to overcome the donor-recipient model but were not implemented completely enough, he suggested.

In addition to the plenary speakers and their seminars, the May 24-26 conference at Camp McDowell featured workshops on companion diocese relationships, the Global Partnerships Office at the Episcopal Church Center, asset-based community development, healthy short-term mission, and young adult work, all of them keyed to the theme of reconciliation.

IMG_4310Bishop Alan Scarfe of the Diocese of Iowa led a workshop on diocesan companionship with his counterpart from the Diocese of Swaziland, Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, the first African woman bishop. Environmental reconciliation was addressed in workshops by the staff of Camp McDowell, a large conference center that raises much of its own food and supplies much of its own power through solar panels.

In addition to Episcopal Church liturgies, conference worship featured liturgies from the Church of North India, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Church of Pakistan, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop MacDonald presided at the closing Eucharist, at which Bishop John McKee Sloan of Alabama preached.

Founded in 1994, GEMN is a network of dioceses, congregations, seminaries, individuals and organizations committed to energizing global mission in the Episcopal Church. In addition to the annual conferences, GEMN runs a formation program for mission activists and offers consultation services. The 2018 Global Mission Conference, open to all, will be hosted by the Center for Anglican Communion Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, April 11-13.

Priest-in-Partnership at St. Matthew’s Church, Enosburg Falls, the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, is a mission theologian, former missionary in Zimbabwe and Pakistan, and the Diocese of Vermont’s representative to the Global Episcopal Mission Network.