About 170 years. The Episcopal Church USA—planted by the Anglican Communion’s oldest missionary Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (now USPG) -- has officially been sending missionaries beyond itself since General Convention 1835 effectively made our entire church a missionary society: “The [Domestic & Foreign Missionary] Society shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of this Church.”
First among “all persons” to be sent were strategically designated “missionary bishops” -- episcopal leaders equipped by their office to establish the church in new territories. In 1835, Jackson Kemper was appointed missionary bishop to the great western territories of the USA; William Boone was elected in 1844 to be “bishop of Amoy and Other parts of China,” where Episcopal missionaries had arrived before him in 1835. Samuel Ferguson was the Episcopal church’s first African American missionary bishop, elected to serve in Liberia in 1884 (following the first missionary bishop in Liberia elected in 1851). Three Episcopal missionaries arrived as the first non-Roman Catholic missionaries in Japan, and in 1866 Channing Moore Williams became the missionary bishop for that part of the world.
Ever since, the Episcopal Church has been sending missionaries forth and, increasingly, receiving missionaries from far corners of the globe. Although the church center’s mission personnel programs, under a variety of department names, have sent the vast majority of Episcopal missionaries, supported from ECUSA’s central budget, numerous Episcopalians have gone forth supported by voluntary societies and, in the very beginning, by the Women’s Auxiliary and the United Thank Offering.
While there has been no official moratorium on missionary sending since it all began, the commitment and capacity of the church to send and sustain missionaries certainly has had its ups and downs. The high point of mission sending (almost 250) was 1940, and the low point was 1995, with a dramatic decrease (180 to 80) in the decade between 1970 and 1980, due to the church’s “Special Program,” which concentrated mission support on tensions in the tumultuous inner cities at home.
Numbers were low (100 and fewer) but held steady for the next 15 years, until Executive Council presented a budget to the 1994 General Convention -- with fewer than 60 missionaries in the field -- that had eliminated the missionary programs of the DFMS. It was proposed that the newly formed voluntary societies would carry on the missionary sending.
A protest arose, however, from around the church, led by missionary activists: a few working within Church Center, delegates to General Convention, bishops and, most significantly, leaders of the voluntary mission societies, South American Mission Society, and Anglican Frontier Mission in particular. The budget was saved. By 1999 the programs started growing again, with a Young Adult Service Program added by nearly unanimous vote of General Convention in 2000. Although numbers are constantly in flux with the comings and goings of missionaries enrolled in “long-term” programs requiring a minimum commitment of one year, the combined support of DFMS missionary programs funded in part by each missionary’s diocese and parish(es) sustains 102 Episcopal missionaries today.
To find out more, visit our website at Anglican & Global Relations’ MissionWorks pages: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/agr/mission and click on MissionWorks. You can even download an application form!