Now is the time for change. That message came through loud and clear at the presentation of a new vision for world mission on Saturday.
With globalization widening the gap between rich and poor, religious and political oppression spreading, the earth “groaning” under environmental misuse and millions of people never getting a chance to hear the gospel, a new focus becomes vital, said the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, chair of the Standing Commission on World Mission.
“It’s not money … not programs … it’s people … Our offering of personal presence is central,” said the former missionary to Zimbabwe who now serves as dean and president of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest. “Mission is fulfilled primarily through relationship.”
Presler was summarizing the new vision for world mission prepared by the commission. It calls for the church to address “poverty and the evil powers which perpetuate suffering; environmental degradation … AIDS … violence of all kinds, especially against religious minorities, women and children.”
In what many consider a startling departure from the past, the vision statement, titled “Companions in Transformation: The Episcopal Church’s World Mission in a New Century,” calls for a new focus “among peoples with little or no gospel exposure,” people in parts of the world where there are no Anglican partners, where other faiths — particularly Islam — dominate and even make mission work dangerous.
That change drew praise and thanks from several speakers at the evening presentation at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Bishop Mano Rumalshah, former leader of the church in Pakistan, said he “thanked God” for this new offering. “Even in England, they are taking it seriously.” Rumalshah told of how, just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, he asked the presiding bishop: “Tell me, your grace, where your church is consciously involved with the world of Islam?”
The Rev. Tad deBordenave, director of Anglican Frontier Mission, also applauded the added direction, saying there are “compelling reasons” to support “those who have none of our resources … the most compelling being because Christ loves them and wants them in his kingdom.”
The Rev. Canon Patrick Mauney, director of the Office of Anglican and Global Relations, admitted, “It has worried me for some time now that there has been no vision held up before the church.” The existing model of world mission, developed in the ’60s and ’70s, addressed a different world and a time when the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society devoted a far larger percentage of its money to supporting overseas dioceses. Those needs have eased; yet, he insisted, “It is absolutely true that the Episcopal Church cannot not be involved in world mission. We stand as the colossus in the world as a country and, frankly, as a church in terms of our human and financial resources. So we can’t not be involved.”
Copies of the new vision statement, included in every deputy’s and bishop’s registration packet, can be obtained from Morehouse Publishing.