During much of the history of the Episcopal Church, most of the church’s global mission work was coordinated and carried out by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), established in 1835 as the church’s centralized structure for mission.
In response to crises of poverty and racism in the United States in the late 1960s, the church reallocated to domestic priorities much of the funding that had gone into international engagement through missionaries and other collaborations. In response, mission-minded Episcopalians founded a number of voluntary societies, which began to send missionaries and initiate various partnerships on their own.
This growth of independent mission activity was so strong that, in preparation for the 1994 General Convention, Executive Council proposed that DFMS discontinue sending missionaries as a normative practice, because the new organizations were committed to carrying out that work. The proposal was controversial, however, and the Episcopal Council for Global Mission, a network founded in 1990 to nurture collaboration between the new societies and the church’s central structures, mobilized to oppose the proposal because its members felt that sending missionaries was a core function of the church as a whole.
Meanwhile, another group of mission activists prepared a contingency plan in case the proposal was approved. They reasoned that if DFMS were to discontinue sending missionaries, the next canonical level in the church, the dioceses, could continue that work. They formed the Global Episcopal Mission Network as a consortium of dioceses to step into that role. The dioceses of New York and Southern Ohio were the sponsoring dioceses of the new network.
The 1994 General Convention did not approve the proposal that DFMS discontinue sending missionaries. Nevertheless, the founding members of GEMN believed that the new network would be useful in supporting the work of DFMS and promoting the cause of global mission throughout the church, so they continued to organize GEMN. Bylaws were drafted, and GEMN was incorporated in 1996 as a non-profit organization in the state of New York.
GEMN early began a pattern of holding an annual mission conference at various venues around the country. A major initiative was the annual Mission Institute, which later became the Mission Formation Program. The network was supported financially by diocesan membership dues. During much of its history GEMN has had a part-time executive director. When the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission (ECGM’s successor network) disbanded in 2010, GEMN became the church’s sole network for promoting world mission.
In the 2010s, membership in GEMN was expanded beyond dioceses to include congregations, seminaries, religious orders and individuals, a membership that reflects the fact that much of the Episcopal church’s global mission is now carried out by these diverse entities, as well as by the church’s centralized structures. Thus global mission has been decentralized, localized and democratized, a shift that the Episcopal Church shares with other denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA.
As formulated by the GEMN Board in 2021, the purpose of GEMN is to “Gather, Inspire and Equip People to Participate in God’s Mission.” The network’s core values are Humility, Inclusion and Companionship.
GEMN creates a space for global mission activists to exchange ideas and best practices. It offers global mission education and provides resources to those who are exploring their call to engage in mission. GEMN itself does not initiate global mission work. Instead, it is a network of mission-activist organizations and individuals that seek to support one another in sharing experiences, resources and perspectives on the global mission of God.
GEMN’s major initiatives include:
- The annual Global Mission Conference with outstanding plenary speakers, insights from experienced missioners, opportunities for networking, workshops, site visits, mission organization presentations, and other resources to the mission community;
- Global Mission Training through the Global Mission Formation Program for Global Mission Advocates, designed for those engaged in or thinking about engaging in mission, and for those who would like to bring global mission training to their own local area;
- Global Mission Resources that include mission planning materials, bibliographies, mission financing strategies and more; and
- Global Mission Advocacy and Networking to keep global mission at the forefront of the church’s dialogue and to connect those seeking a way to live out God’s call to mission engagement.
Global Mission Conferences
The annual Global Mission Conference has been a core initiative of GEMN since 1996, creating a dedicated space for gathering mission-minded dioceses, church members and mission organizations to learn, discern and exchange best practices for global mission engagement. Recently, we have sought to hold the conference outside of the continental US once every three years, so far in Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
- June 1996 – Nashville, TN
- April 1997 – San Antonio, TX
- May 1998 – Ellenton, FL
- April 1999 – Denver, CO
- October 2000 – Fort Mitchell, KY
- June 2001 – Los Angeles, CA
- June 2002 – Virginia Seminary, Alexandria, VA
- June 2003 – Boise, ID
- June 2004 – Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, TX
- June 2005 – Indianapolis, IN
- June 2006 – Gambier, OH
- June 2007 – Monteagle, TN
- June 2008 – Held in conjunction with “Everyone, Everywhere” – Baltimore, MD
- May 2009 – Burlingame, CA
- June 2010 – Virginia Seminary, Alexandria, VA
- October 2011 – Held in conjunction with “Everyone, Everywhere” – Estes Park, CO
- May 2012 – Ivoryton, CT
- May 2013 – Bogota, Colombia
- May 2014 – Seattle, WA – New Directions in Mission
- May 2015 – All Saints’ Church, Atlanta, GA – Mission and Peacemaking
- May 2016 – Ponce, Puerto Rico – Mission amid Migration
- May 2017 – Camp McDowell, Nauvoo, AL – Reconciliation: God’s Mission and Ours
- April 2018 – Virginia Seminary, Alexandria, VA – Mission Connects Us: God, World, Church
- April 2019 – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Evangelism in Mission
- April 2020 – Indianapolis, IN – canceled due to Covid-19 Pandemic
- April 2021 – Online – Earthkeeping: Creation Care in God’s Mission
- May 2022 – Online – Women in Mission