President’s Report – January 2021

PRESIDENT’S 2020 REPORT TO THE GEMN MEMBERSHIP

The Rev. Canon Titus Presler, Th.D., D.D.

January 2021

Greetings to all in the community of the Global Episcopal Mission Network!  I thank God for your vision of the mission of God in the life of the world, your personal participation in that mission, and your dedication to catalyzing others to join the movement of God in the human and planetary community.

This report is usually made at GEMN’s Annual Meeting, which in 2020 was to take place at the Global Mission Conference at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, April 28-May 1.  The coronavirus pandemic prompted cancellation of the conference, so no annual meeting could be held.  I am therefore offering this report on the GEMN website.

The coronavirus pandemic has made many things unpredictable in the world at large and in the mission world.  I am reporting to you at this specific time, and all comments about the future will likely be conditioned by emerging constraints and possibilities.

One overall observation is that while the pandemic has imposed many constraints on global mission, it has opened up additional avenues of commitment and relationship.  When mission activists are not preoccupied with logistics of travel and projects, we are prompted to attend to the nuances of how we interact with our mission companions in other places.  For GEMN, meeting online – as we’ve done in the Mission Formation Program, the Mission Thursdays series, and in the global conference held in late November by the Partnership for World Mission in Britain – has enabled people in widely dispersed places to engage with one another in ways that are often difficult to arrange and finance in person.  Just as church life in general will never be the same, so global mission will be permanently affected by what the pandemic has taught us about how we can live and work together.

‘Earthkeeping: Creation Care in Global Mission’ is the theme we chose for the 2020 Global Mission Conference, and we were delighted to have distinguished activists prepared to offer plenary talks on the urgency of integrating mission with the planetary crisis: Rachel Mash, a South African priest who coordinates Green Anglicans; Leon Sampson, a priest in Navajoland, where ecological challenges are formidable; and Orlando Gomez, the bishop of Costa Rica, known for its ecological commitments.  An outstanding collection of workshops was organized.  We were disappointed when the pandemic prompted us to postpone the conference until 2021, but we are planning to hold the conference virtually in spring 2021, on and around Earth Day, which is April 22. We are exploring options for a virtual conference with the plenary speakers and workshop leaders.  We continue to be grateful for the grant made by the Creation Care initiative of the Episcopal Church to support the conference.

GEMN successfully tested the electronic option with the Mission Formation Program, which was offered online in late April, during the same week that it would have happened if the in-person conference had occurred.  The recently renovated program was offered during four two-hour sessions to thirty-two 1st-year participants and seven 2nd-year participants, who received an orientation to biblical foundations, mission history, mission theology, cultural sensitivity, mission organization and team development.  The total enrollment of 39 far exceeded the 2019 high of 14, and evaluations by participants were positive.  This success is prompting GEMN to consider future online versions even when it becomes possible to meet in person again.  The program team of convener Holly Hartman, Martha Alexander and Titus Presler was augmented this year by Jean Beniste and Jeffrey Bower, and team members are mentoring the 1st-year participants in developing their fieldwork projects.

Questing: The Way of Love in Global Mission is another innovative development that GEMN offers the church.  Published in mid-2020, Questing relates the seven steps of the well-known Way of Love – Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest – to avenues of participation in God’s global mission.  The seven sessions include mission stories, biblical reflections, missional learning, prayer and action, and are designed for study groups and individuals.  Co-authored by Grace Burton-Edwardes and Titus Presler, Questing is published through Amazon and is available on Kindle and in print on the Amazon website.

As online learning and conferencing come to the fore in the 21st century, now especially spurred by the pandemic, we have been delighted to share in a $50,000 Constable Fund Grant for a ‘Global Mission Toolkit’ that will develop video and online resources for equipping Episcopalians and other Anglicans to participate in God’s global mission.  The Toolkit project is a joint effort of the Standing Commission on World Mission, the Office of Global Partnerships, and GEMN, the first three-way collaboration of this kind in the history of the church’s global mission, itself an important step forward.  A steering committee from all three groups is developing the project, a project coordinator has been hired, and the committee is chaired by David Copley, director of Global Partnerships, which is the repository for the grant.  Webinars, videos and print resources are in the planning stages.  GEMN’s committee members are Grace Burton-Edwards, Jenny Grant, Holly Hartman and Titus Presler.

Pandemic Mission Thursdays with GEMN via Zoom in September provided GEMN members and other mission activists with forums for missional conversation, especially since we were not able to hold the conference and annual meeting.  Each electronic gathering featured a speaker who discussed an aspect of missional adaptation to the pandemic: Bill Kunkle of the Dominican Development Group and Jeff Bower of the Diocese of Indianapolis; Holly Hartman of the Mission Formation Program; Elizabeth Boe of Mission Personnel; and Dale Stanton-Hoyle of Five Talents.   The series will resume on a monthly basis in 2021.  Meanwhile GEMN is publishing a series of articles on how the pandemic is affecting mission engagement.    

The Global Episcopal Mission Community, a Facebook group sponsored by GEMN, provides all interested in global mission a forum for open discussion and resource sharing those interested in global mission.  GEMN Board members administer and moderate the site, and all GEMN members and other mission activists are invited and encouraged to participate.

‘Sharing Jesus: Evangelism in Global Mission’ was the theme of the 2019 Global Mission Conference that was held in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, 3-5 April 2019.  Evangelism has not been prominent in Episcopal mission for decades, but it is one of the three current priorities of the Episcopal Church, so it was especially appropriate for GEMN to highlight its importance.  Keynote speakers were Stephanie Spellers, canon for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care; and Griselda Delgado del Carpio, bishop of Cuba.  They were supplemented by Moisés Quezada Mota, bishop of Dominican Republic; Jeremy Tackett, digital evangelist; Bill Skilton, a bishop active in the Dominican Development Group; and Anthony Guillén, director of ethnic ministries.  The Diocese of Dominican Republic was most hospitable to the record 120 participants.  When the Creation Care conference happens, GEMN will have addressed all three of the church’s priorities, for reconciliation was the conference theme in 2017 in Alabama.

GEMN’s Board, organization and finances have continued to develop in positive directions.

– Membership has held steady with about 30 dioceses, 20 organizations, over 100 individuals and several seminaries holding membership in the network.  The Membership Team organizing the support appeal this January, for membership in GEMN arguably may be even more helpful during the pandemic than during ‘ordinary’ times.

GEMN’s Board is an outstanding group of mission activists who bring enthusiasm and insight to the network’s tasks: the Rev. Jean Beniste, Diocese of Chicago; the Rev. Jaime Briceño, Bexley Seabury Seminary; the Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards, Diocese of Atlanta, vice president; the Rev. Holly Hartman, Diocese of Massachusetts; the Rev. Dr. James Boston, Diocese of Oregon; Ms. Jenny Grant, Office of Global Partnerships; Mr. William Kunkle, Dominican Development Group and Diocese of Southwest Florida; Dr. Martha Alexander, Diocese of North Carolina; the Rev. Maurice Dyer, Diocese of Pennsylvania; Ms. Patricia Martin, Diocese of the Dominican Republic; Ms. Molly O’Brien, Diocese of Virginia, secretary; and the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, Diocese of Vermont and Bridges to Pakistan, president.

– Board members serve on teams to advance the work: Bylaws, Communications, Conference Logistics, Conference Program, Finance, Formation Program, Membership, Resource Development.  An Executive Committee monitors the work and plans the Board’s monthly meetings.

Facilitating the network has been Executive Director Karen Hotte of the Diocese of Massachusetts, but she stepped down from that position at the end of December 2020 for family reasons after seven outstanding years assisting the network on a halftime basis.  Karen was invaluable in coordination, communications, web management and long-range planning, and we miss her.  A Staffing Team of the Board is exploring future staffing possibilities to recommend to the Board.

– Board members and officers are continuing in place for an additional year beyond their ordinary terms.  Members serve for staggered three years, but elections were not possible without an annual meeting this year because of the pandemic.  Following the example of other such organizations, the Board decided that all members will serve an additional year.   

GEMN’s finances are reasonably stable, thanks to the dues faithfully offered by the various diocesan, organizational, seminary and individual members.  GEMN’s 2020 budget is $66,000.  The conference cancellation negatively affected income, but the Board is considering ways to move forward in a responsible way.  GEMN’s treasurer is Mrs. Pamela Boston of the Diocese of Oregon.  GEMN’s finances were buoyed by a $10,000 anonymous donation received in December 2020.  In addition, a $1,000 donation was received specifically to start a long-hoped-for endowment fund for GEMN.  Thanks be to God!

– GEMN’s Bylaws are in process of revision with the leadership of Martha Alexander.  The revision will reflect the current types of membership and the current ways in which the Board and the network operate.

‘Desired Future State of GEMN in 2021’, a one-page planning document developed in 2016 and revised twice since then, continues to guide the GEMN Board.  At its 1 ½-day online meeting in September the Board assessed our progress and refined our priorities in light of the pandemic.  We are moving forward joyfully during a challenging time when God is calling us to intensify our commitment to participating in God’s multi-faceted mission in the world today.

Virtually all components of this summary report on 2020 are available on the GEMN website, hence the lack of distracting links within the report.  You’re already on the website as you read this, so spend some time touring around!

Thank you, all GEMN members, for your participation and support.