Going online for the first time this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, GEMN’s flagship Mission Formation Program drew a record enrollment.
“Last year we were delighted to have 14 in the program held at the annual Global Mission Conference in the Dominican Republic,” said program coordinator the Rev. Holly Hartman of the Diocese of Massachusetts, “but this year we had 38 people enroll online, close to three times our highest in-person enrollment!”
Participants came from 19 domestic Episcopal dioceses, plus the dioceses of Dominican Republic, Haiti, Toronto and Dar es Salaam. There were about equal numbers of men and women, and ages ranged from young adults to the 70s. Eleven participants were clergy. Seven participants were returning for the second year of the two-year program.
“We weren’t sure how the program would work online, but it came off well with very few technical glitches,” Hartman said. Held April 27-May 1, the formation modules were offered in four two-hour segments on the Zoom platform over a week. “The success of this format means that an online version will be important in the future of the Mission Formation Program,” Hartman said.
Modules offered this year included Biblical Foundations for Mission, Group Process for Mission Leadership, Missional Case Study, History of Anglican and Episcopal Mission, Cultural Sensitivity, Theology of Mission, Best Practices for Short-Term Mission Trips, Developing and Nourishing Mission Teams, Long-Term Mission Service, and Forming and Sustaining Diocesan Mission.
The program asks participants to carry out a fieldwork project between the first and second years. At the close of the program on May 1, the second-year participants spoke about the projects they completed or had underway, which included: an assessment of mission work in Haiti, a mission conference held in Ohio, a photo essay on mission work in diverse parts of the world, a mission education venture for a parish, and revision of a diocesan mission grants program.
In addition to Hartman, who is global mission coordinator for the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Mission Formation leadership team included Martha Alexander, Ed.D., long active in the global outreach of the Diocese of North Carolina; the Rev. Jean Beniste, former missionary from Haiti to Dominican Republic and now rector of Christ Church, Waukegan, Illinois; the Rev. Jeffrey Bower, chair of the global mission commission in the Diocese of Indianapolis and associate rector of St. Paul’s Church, Indianapolis; and the Rev. Titus Presler, Th.D., missiologist, president of GEMN and former missionary in Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
“As in many sectors of church life, moving this program online has implications for the future work of GEMN, especially as so much education has gone online in the 21st century,” Presler said. “It’s helpful to meet in person, but the online reach of this year’s program prompts us to move more decisively toward making online encounter a major part of our work.”
The pandemic prompted cancellation of this year’s Global Mission Conference in Indianapolis, where it was to focus on the role of creation care in global mission. GEMN plans the same theme and location in the spring of 2021, though definite arrangements await the outcome of the pandemic.