“Mission: Journey into Healing” was the theme that three plenary speakers and two panels focused on at the 2023 Global Mission Conference held by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) in Tampa, Florida, May 3-5.
Sixty-eight people attended the conference at St. Mark’s Church, the first in-person conference GEMN has held since 2019, and it also included an online option. While most attendees were from the United States, conferees also came from the Dominican Republic, England, Guatemala and Honduras.
A holistic, eucharistic and Latinoamerican theology of healing was presented by Dr. Alberto Moreno, Latino missioner in the Diocese of Oklahoma. Building on an instance of physical healing through prayer, Moreno developed what he called the Mysterium Saludis, Mystery of Health, that works cyclically through the phases of the human being in anthropology, human community in ecclesiology, and salvation in Christology. Moreno’s discussion drew on diverse thinkers such as Karl Rahner, Victor Frankl, Gustavo Guttierez, Vergilio Elizondo and Teilhard de Chardin.
“It’s impossible to separate health and faith,” declared Rebecca vander Meulen, executive director of the J. C. Flowers Foundation, as she spoke about healing in medical mission and public health. “In healing we live out our identity as church,” she said from her long experience of working with HIV/AIDS, malaria and Covid in southern Africa. Vander Meulen noted that in the Greek New Testament the same verb is used for physical healing and spiritual salvation. The church’s deep community reach, tradition of caring and role in guidance prompts health authorities to welcome it as a partner, she said.
“The bones of our house have a defect,” said the Rev. Walter Brownridge, canon missioner for cultural transformation in the Diocese of Vermont, using a real estate metaphor as he addressed healing from racism and colonialism in mission. “The Whites who stayed in South Africa could talk about their history better than many U.S. Whites can,” he said, reflecting on his experience as an Episcopal missionary in South Africa after the end of apartheid. “Missionaries are the repairers of the breach, the menders,” he said. He drew on thinkers such as Willie James Jennings, Isabel Wilkerson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Charles Marsh.
“Poverty is not defined by economic deficit but by inner hopelessness,” declared the Rev. Carola von Wrangel, manager of Episcopal partnerships for Food for the Poor on a panel about healing from poverty. Dale Stanton-Hoyle, retiring CEO of Five Talents, recalled how that organization moved from external inputs to small, self-generating savings groups, 95 percent of which are still operating after 13 years. Haiti Companions co-founder Terry Franzen celebrated how that group’s medical staff in Haiti has been entirely Haitian since 2015.
A panel on healing mission relationships post-Covid featured Christy Wallace, executive director of the Dominican Development Group (DDG), Deborah Parker, executive director of Stand with Iraqi Christians (SWIC), and Dr. Benjamin George, secretary of Helping Hands for Hospitals. They agreed that travel restrictions during the pandemic had challenged missional relationships and that extra effort is now needed to rebuild them. All three organizations have been able to resume in-person encounters in mission.
The Covid pandemic affected GEMN as well, prompting cancellation of the 2020 Global Mission Conference. The conference was held entirely online in 2021 on the theme, “Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission,” and 2022 on the theme, “Women in Mission.” The online conferences enabled many more people to attend and last year drew from 19 countries, but global activists were delighted to gather in person this year with the benefits of informal networking and building friendships.
“The mission conference became a ‘Go!’ for the Way of Love in mission,” commented GEMN president Ayda Patricia Martin of the Dominican Republic. “Healing in mission must become a practice for individuals, congregations, dioceses and mission organizations, as the conference emphasized. I deeply appreciate all who attended – God bless you all!”
Eucharist in the parish’s sanctuary-in-the-round was coordinated by St. Mark’s rector, the Very Rev. Robert Douglas, and featured a sermon on healing by the Rt. Rev. Douglas Scharf, the new bishop of Southwest Florida. Morning and evening liturgies featured homilies by GEMN Board members the Rev. Paul Rajan, Jenny Grant, Bishop Alan Scarfe, Canon Brownridge and GEMN Executive Director Canon Dr. Titus Presler.
Standing Commission on World Mission chair Martha Gardner reported on that group’s efforts to stimulate appointment of diocesan global mission advocates, address legacies of racism and colonialism, and research the dynamics of rising religious nationalism, among other topics. Reporting on the work of the Office of Global Partnerships, global relations and networking officer Jenny Grant highlighted how the Young Adult Service Corps and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission are being rebuilt after contracting due to Covid, and invited participation in the office’s monthly mission networking Zoom meetings.
Stimulated by the participation of two clergy from the Diocese of Southwark in the Church of England (CofE), conferees expressed interest in collaborating with the Partnership for World Mission, a network of dioceses and mission organizations in the CofE. Earlier this year GEMN leaders held a consultation with several key people in the Partnership for World Mission.
The Mission Formation Program, coordinated by the Rev. Holly Hartman of the Diocese of Massachusetts, offered presentations on biblical foundations, mission history, mission companionship, team-building, communications styles and cultural dynamics. The program drew a diverse and international group of 20 attendees, with sessions led by Dr. Martha Alexander, the Rev. Jean Beniste, the Rev. Jeff Bower, Canon Dr. Helen Van Koevering, Rajan and Presler.
GEMN is a network of dioceses, mission organizations, congregations, individuals, religious orders and seminaries that seek to gather, inspire and equip people to participate in God’s mission. Its core values are humility, inclusion and companionship.