Mission = expanding the Eucharist

Scott Gunn has resurrected his blog and written a cogent explanation of why the passing of the peace during the Eucharist is not best served by turning it into a hugging-and-chatting marathon.the peace

I’ve been a part of churches like that and it’s been fine. But he’s also right that the purpose of the peace is not to ask our friend how the weekend has been but to embody the reconciliation with one another that is ours in Christ. As he notes, it is Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to “be reconciled” before bringing our gifts to the altar that provides the grounding for the act. Moreover, in the earliest recorded teaching on the Eucharist (I Corinthians 11) St. Paul lambasts the Corinthians for the divisions in their community when they celebrate the Eucharist—the rich eat well together and the poor stay separate and eat, well, not a lot presumably (v. 21). Paul says this amounts to showing “contempt for the church of God.” (v. 22) It’s no mistake that in the following chapter Paul offers his lengthy teaching on the body of Christ, a reminder of how we are all in this together. So if we’re not reconciled with one another before receiving the Eucharist, we’re kind of missing the point.

This raises a particular question, one that a commenter asks of Gunn in his post:

I am not aware of reconciling being possible at that time. If I need to reconcile it would require more than an smile and a handshake.

How are we supposed to resolve the pressing divisions in our community and in the world with a handshake, a hug, or—if we’re being properly Biblical—a kiss?

The answer? We’re not.

The passing of the peace is simultaneously both a handshake that reminds us of our need for reconciliation with our neighbour and an embodiment of the work of reconciliation that has already been wrought on the cross. The bread and wine that we use at the Eucharist is both “just” bread and wine and at the same time the mystical body and blood of Christ. When we enact the liturgy, we are both doing normal, everyday acts—reading, speaking, handshaking, giving, receiving, eating—and participating in the work of salvation and redemption—hearing the intertwining of our life with the Biblical narrative, embodying reconciliation, returning to God what has been given to us, receiving the body and blood of Christ.

The liturgy, therefore, prompts us to ask questions that help us gauge the rest of our lives. The passing of the peace, I find, raises some of the following questions for me:

  • With whom in this congregation am I trying to avoid passing the peace? With whom do I genuinely need to seek reconciliation?
  • Does it feel particularly false with anyone when I say, “Peace be with you”?
  • Most importantly, who is not in this congregation? With whom am I missing opportunities for reconciliation because of their absence from this Eucharistic community? Whom should I be looking to invite into this community?

And that leads to a reminder that our liturgy is not just something we do to feel good about ourselves. It is not something we have to get through before we can get on to the important stuff. Our liturgy is mission(al). It is the enactment of our faith.

Indeed, my favourite definition of mission is simply this: expanding the Eucharistic community. When we draw more people into this community of people who are in right relationship with God (confession/absolution), with another another (passing the peace), and gathered around the crucified and risen Christ on the altar, then we are truly sharing the love of God in Christ with the world.

iPhones, Backpacks, and the Best Travel Agency in the World: Mission and Unity in the Anglican Communion

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut has kindly posted a video of my keynote address to the diocese’s annual mission conference in early March. It’s adapted from my book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

Some excerpts:

[iPhones are] an honest description of the world we live in. On the one hand, we have globalization, those forces that are drawing us ever more closely together so that distance and time cease to matter in the way they once did. On the other hand, we have the frank recognition that globalization benefits some people more than it does others, that it imposes costs on some people more than others, and that we are a long way from the Biblical model of relationships marked by mutuality, love, and mercy. The very fact that I don’t know where this device came from, that I can only hazard a guess as to who had a role in producing it, is an indication of just how broken these relationships are. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that they cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you,” but we seem intent of saying something like, “I may have a need of you, but I’m going to do my best to ensure I don’t have to acknowledge that.”…

The way the Christian community shows its distinctiveness and difference is in the quality of relationships within it. Christians are different because we relate to other Christians in a way that is unique in the world….

There’s one more thing to say about the way in which the community of followers of Jesus is different from other communities in the world: we don’t get to choose who else is in the community. God’s love is open to all people and those who respond in baptism become members of this community. Whether we want them or not is, quite frankly, of no concern to God. The community in mission is a community that holds together a lot of difference. People from all different kinds of backgrounds and beliefs are brought together by the gracious love of God. And that’s a good thing, even though it is sometimes painful and difficult, and may make us want to scream at the top of our lungs, “I have no need of you!” Belonging to the church means believing that all other baptized Christians have something to offer us and we to them, no matter how different they may be. This is a truly counter-cultural idea….

Sometimes we hear it said that the church can find unity in mission. But the more accurate thing to say is that unity is mission. Our life together as Christians in a divided world is part of our witness to the world. Does the church model another way of living to a fractured world? Or does it simply mimic the world in its patterns of broken, global relationships?…

At its best and at its strongest, the Anglican Communion is a network of people who share these mutual, life-giving, counter-cultural relationships, people who want to make known the reconciling love of God in Christ. It is our role to seek these people out—to let them seek us out as well—and come to acknowledge the unity in which we are called to live. The unity of the Anglican Communion could be good news to a divided world. 


There’s a lovely article in Glencoe News about Noah Hillerbrand, a young, lay Episcopalian, who has just begun working with the Diocese of Renk in South Sudan:

After the family joined Christ Episcopal, Hillerbrand became even more deeply involved in that community. It was his dad Eric who first suggested he meet with Bishop Joseph last fall, when he made one of his many trips to Chicago.

“My first thought was that it sounded really cool, but I thought I’d probably find something else to do,” Hillerbrand said. “But when I asked Bishop Joseph what I could do there, right away he said, ‘Teach English.’ There was no hesitation, and he said he could find plenty for me to do. That was when I felt this was something important.”

I’m particularly delighted that he found my book, Grace at the Garbage Dump, so helpful as he prepared for his time in Renk:

Hillerbrand finds inspiration from a book by Episcopal priest Jesse Zink, who served for two years in a South Africa slum neighborhood’s medical clinic.

The book Zink wrote about his experience ”really spoke to me,” Hillerbrand explained. “When he first arrived, he didn’t know the language, he wasn’t trained to do anything at the clinic. He had to be content with being with these people. He called it a ministry of presence. Realizing the ministry of presence is something that I’ve kind of trained my trip around.”

You can follow Noah’s work on the Facebook page he has set up for his trip, facebook.com/BERenkSSudan.

When we shift our focus in the Anglican Communion away from bishops, it’s amazing what kind of stories we find.

Malek, South Sudan

Malek has a special place in the mission history of South Sudan.

The first CMS team, plus a visitor from the Uganda mission. Shaw is back row, left.

In early 1906, six young men—none older than 30—arrived at this community on the east bank of the Nile River, fresh-faced and eager to convert the Dinka people to Christianity. They were representatives of the Anglican Church Missionary Society, and what they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm.

Within 18 months, five of the six were gone, felled by a combination of ill health, incompetence, and sheer frustration at the perceived obstinacy of the Dinka. The one who remained, Archibald Shaw, soon contracted malaria and was sent to Khartoum to recuperate. The Anglican presence among the Dinka was nearly extinguished almost before it had begun.

Shaw returned to Malek and began building a mission station. By the time he retired in 1939, Malek had a school and a church but CMS had found much greater success elsewhere in southern Sudan. Malek continued on as a mission station, but Shaw and others saw their work among the Dinka largely as a story of failure. Such Dinka Christians as there were were former students who were largely disconnected from their traditional way of life.

In time, the independent government of Sudan took over running the school at Malek. But the school was destroyed during Sudan’s first civil war. It was re-built in the 1970s during a period of peace, and then destroyed again during the second civil war.

Today, this is all that remains of the house that the CMS missionaries built for themselves.IMG_7324

But here is the church.IMG_7326

And there’s not only a primary school, but also a secondary school in the community.

In virtually every village around Malek, there is now a mud-and-thatch church, a fact that would have stunned those early CMS missionaries, whose evangelical tours through those same villages are a record of frustration.

The Dinka church on the east bank of the Nile River is a thriving institution. Indeed, the growth has been so quick and comprehensive, that Anglicans in Malek now want the church to carve Malek out of the existing Diocese of Bor and make it a free-standing Diocese of Malek.

One of the clerics in this picture decided it was just too hot to wear a collar.
One of the clerics in this picture decided it was just too hot to wear a collar.

It is this man who now oversees the Malek archdeaconery and is leading the effort to create the diocese. Joseph Akol Gak was ordained in the 1980s, when the school had just been rebuilt (and was about to be razed again). He spent time ministering to Christians in refugee camps in Ethiopia and across southern Sudan. In the span of his ministry, he has seen the Dinka church move from being a socially marginal institution to one that is at the centre of Dinka life.

Regardless of whether or not Malek becomes a diocese, it will still stand for me as an example of the importance of consistent, faithful Gospel witness across generations. The world is always pressing on us the need for results, the sooner, the better. Timelines contract. Horizons shrink. The church is not immune from this pressure.

But mission requires the long view. Sometimes our plans seem frustrated. But when we look closer, we can see the hand of God at work often even despite our best efforts.

Recommended reading for the structure committee

The Episcopal Church has a new committee charged with re-designing the church’s structure. Many other American denominations are making or have made similar moves lately, part of a push towards a more “missional” focus for the church. While I have some concern that the Episcopal committee is, at 24 members, too large as to be unwieldy, I look forward to hearing their recommendations in a few years time.

Since it’ll likely be a little while until they meet formally, they have some time do some holiday reading. Here’s a preliminary list of books I hope the committee members are familiar with:

  • Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? First published in 1912, this book from an Anglican missionary in China upended missionary orthodoxies of the day and remains as relevant and enduring a challenge to the church of our time as it was to his. (I wrote more about Allen’s relevance a while back.)
  • Vincent Donovan, Christianity RediscoveredDonovan was a Catholic missionary among the Maasai and his book represents an attempt—half a century later—to put Allen’s teaching into practice. It’s an incredible reflection that forces the reader to think seriously about what the core of the church is, what the message is that the church has to offer, and how all of that works out in messy, real-world ways.
  • David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Just re-issued for its 20-year anniversary, this is the single best book I ever read in seminary. David Bosch, a South African who was killed shortly after this was published, takes the reader through the Biblical basis for mission and the history of different mission paradigms, before laying out a multi-part understanding of what the mission is to which the church is called. Incredible reading.
  • Christopher Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Wright takes the reader through the whole sweep of the Bible, demonstrating how mission is the key theme of the writings that form the ground for our faith. It’s another thick book, but it’s also one will make you look at the Bible in a new way and, if nothing else, give you great material for your next Bible study or sermon.
  • One I haven’t been able to read—but would like to—is Life-Widening Mission: Global Anglican Perspectives, a series of essays from young Anglicans around the world.

What would you recommend? These are all books about mission, in one way or another. Any suggestions for books about organizational change, management theory, etc.? Leave suggestions in the comments.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good read!

“Progressive Evangelism” and proclaiming the Gospel afresh in every generation

I was once in the customs and immigration line at Heathrow airport with the Rev. Otis Gaddis and watched as he struck up a conversation about faith with two other people in line. It was a sight to behold and I was filled with admiration for how skillfully he was able to do so. So it is no surprise that Otis—and several other of my former classmates—are among those profiled in a recent article about “progressive evangelists” in the Episcopal News Service.

“It [progressive evangelism] assumes that Christ is already present,” Gaddis said during a recent telephone interview. “The goal is not to bring people to church but to reveal the presence of church between you and the person you’re talking to.”

This line from Otis reminded me of something Max Warren, the former general secretary of the Church Missionary Society (and no “progressive” about evangelism or much of anything else) once said. He noted that the first thing a missionary should do when arriving in a new place is remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. That is, wherever we go, God has been there before us.

It reminds me also of Stephen Bayne, the first executive officer of the Anglican Communion, who once told a group of missionaries: “missionaries do not go out into the world to introduce the world to God or He to it. He is already there; He has been there from the beginning; He is standing waist deep in history, calling us to join Him. For the mission is His and not ours.”

I love that image of God being “waist deep in history.” God is already out there. We are going to join in. The progressive evangelists profiled in this story remind us that as much as we’d like we can’t do so on our own terms.

The ENS article provoked this comment from a Tom Swift:

Neither Jesus (“Go and make disciples of all nations”) nor Paul (“I preach Christ and him crucified”) would recognize this as evangelism. Christian evangelism is sharing the good news that sin and death have been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Changing peoples’ minds and belief systems” is exactly the point! Such good news must be spoken with great love and respect for the other person’s values and beliefs, but it must be spoken to be evangelism.

This critique, I think, is helpful. I am reminded of Desmond Tutu’s line about the need to “share grace gracefully.” Particularly for Episcopalians—who have long made central our membership in the catholic church—a conversation about faith is not enough. A line like this

Progressive evangelism is not, however, about converting or getting people to church, he said.

can be a little worrisome, if you think about it. On some level, we believe that the grace that is in the sacraments needs to be shared broadly. Evangelism, at some point, has to be about “getting people to church.” (Or, even better, “converting” them.)

One of my favourite churchy slogans is “Proclaim the Gospel afresh in every generation.” The generation of which people like Otis and Adrian and Matthew and I and so many others are a part of bears this burden like every other generation prior to ours.

What’s interesting is the way in which the conversation started by evangelists in this article focuses so much on method: how do we proclaim? In this case, the answer seems to be by showing up in places where folks don’t expect the church to be. It’s also defined negatively, as in, not like those other, more conservative denominations.

I think what is missing from the conversation in the church these days is a focus on the third word in this slogan: Gospel. What is the Gospel we have to proclaim? What is the good news that people need to hear in this world? In what particular form does the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection need to be proclaimed? What is the kerygma—to use the word Paul uses—that we want to share?

These are the questions that still need to be addressed.

Back by popular demand…

We had so much fun signing copies of my new book, Grace at the Garbage Dump, on Sunday that we’re doing it again today.

It’s the last day the exhibit hall is open at General Convention. So if you’re in Indianapolis, swing by the Global Episcopal Mission Network booth—#629, it fronts on the food area—and pick up a copy.

You can also learn all about the new study guide for the book and ways in which you can take all the rhetoric of mission that is swirling around Convention and turn it into reality in your local congregation and diocese.

Candidate for President of House of Deputies Martha Alexander took a break from campaigning to stop by on Sunday. You should too!

Check out some of the great reviews of Grace at the Garbage Dump or read the first chapter for free on Amazon. You’ll realize what an asset this book can be as you head back home from Convention.

Turning Mission Rhetoric into Congregational Reality: New Study Guide

“Mission” is the buzzword of this year’s Episcopal General Convention. It’s already a buzzword in mainline Protestant denominations.

But how can churches across the country put that mission rhetoric into reality? What does it mean for a congregation to discern its role in God’s mission?

The new Study Guide and Mission Resource for Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century is designed to help Christians put the rhetoric of mission into reality. Designed to be used with youth groups, mission/outreach committees, book study groups, and adult education forums, the Study Guide features overviews and summaries of each section of the book, questions for conversation and discussion, links to further resources, and much, more more. And it’s entirely free.

Download the Study Guide for free at www.jessezink.com/guide. Copy it, distribute it, and use it as a resource to help your congregation find out what God is calling you to… whether just down the street or halfway around the world.

If you’re in Indianapolis for General Convention, stop by the official launch of the study guide. Hosted by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (Booth #629) on Sunday, July 8 from 2pm to 3pm, come by for two or twenty minutes to buy a copy of the book (at a special Convention only rate), ask questions about the guide, and learn more about how to involve your congregation with mission. More information is in this press release.

Read all about what people are saying about the book—and how they are commending it as a resource for congregational study—by clicking over to the reviews page.

Questions? Comments? Contact the author directly. jessezink [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @jazink.

Again, you can download the study guide for free at www.jessezink.com/guide.

Mission and marriage, they go together like a…?

Complete the sentence and win a prize. I’m stuck.

Episcopal News Service has a commentary I wrote on my recent wedding and young marriage.

The unity of our relationship, and every other marriage relationship, is a testament to the hope-though not always the reality-that fractured relationship can be restored. (I interpret the current debate about same-sex marriages in the church to be, in large part, about whether that same hope can be found in such relationships.) Our marriage, then, is not simply about the love we have for one another or our desire to spend our lives together. Our marriage is part of our role in God’s reconciling mission. Marriage is missional.

You can read the rest of it here.

There are some good comments on the piece at the article itself. Or you can leave them here, on the article or speculation on what it might mean to follow the article’s logic through to the upcoming General Convention.

“The Dinka national characteristic is laziness.”

The title of this post is taken from an article in the Church Missionary Society’s Gleaner newspaper in 1906. Missionaries of the new CMS mission among the Dinka people of southern Sudan were reporting back on what they were learning. As you might guess from this extract it’s not all that positive.

I gave this article (which I found while doing research at school this spring) to my class of Dinka students in the Sudanese American Theological Institute that I’m teaching at in Phoenix this summer. We were talking about the early years of the European mission effort in southern Sudan. Here are some other extracts from the article:

The value of the medical mission in breaking up the fallow ground is again receiving marked demonstration in the Dinka Mission. Illness is naturally prevalent owing to the fact that the Dinka will use the same water hole for drinking, washing himself, and watering his cattle! As the benefit of proper treatment is appreciated the pioneer doctor’s hands are kept full.

Contact with clothed Europeans is also having an excellent civilizing effect. Clothes are desired, and the possession of cloth leads to the need of soap. Clothing does not harmonize with the daubing of grease, red ochre, and ashes, and so the civilizing process goes on.

(This is actually not true. In separate letters home, the doctor and others complained about not having enough to do because the Dinka basically ignored them. But facts never got in the way of anyone’s fundraising appeal!)

The article makes me wince when I read it. It reeks of the late Victorian, noblesse oblige that so characterized mission efforts of that time. The way the word “civilization” is used constantly is a reminder that missionaries saw it as their job not just to spread the good news but also to bring with them their cultural suppositions.

I gave it to the students and I wanted to know what they thought. Right off the bat, one male student read it and said, “That’s accurate.” A female student agreed and said that it was the women who do all the work in Dinka culture. That prompted a male student to say, “They didn’t understand what men do in Dinka culture.” And the conversation took off from there. (For what it’s worth—and I noted this in class—I’ve read lots of ethnographies of Dinka from various points of the last 150 years and it’s amazing how often the word “lazy” crops up.)

We ended up talking at length about how—if at all—missionaries can separate their own cultural background from the gospel they are seeking to share. Ultimately, the answer is not entirely. The gospel is always enculturated. Missionaries share the way they understand the gospel and then it is received and transformed as it enters a new culture. The question for missionaries to ask, then, is what parts of what I am sharing are essential to the gospel and which are not?

This is all pretty obvious stuff for folks who’ve been engaged in cross-cultural mission. But it’s worth reading wince-inducing mission histories because it reminds us of this central dynamic in Christian mission between gospel and culture.

Mainline Protestant denominations have, in the past several years, moved away from explicit evangelism to a partnership model of mission that stresses the development of relationships. There is much to commend to this model and I’ve written a book that essentially endorses it without, of course, losing sight of the kerygma of Jesus Christ.

Even as we do so, however, I think it’s still important to step back and ask ourselves the question: what is gospel and what is culture? In working with other cultures—even in partnership—we still bring with us cultural suppositions as deeply rooted (if less obviously offensive) as those the first CMS missionaries brought with them when they went to southern Sudan.