Rector's Blog: Growing in Mission
I wonder what you picture when you hear a churchy guy like me talk about mission. Take a moment and think about what comes to mind for you. Perhaps you picture a trip to a faraway country to build homes or schools for others. Or perhaps mission has negative connotations for you - the forced conversion of indigenous peoples in European colonies. Likely for many of you, there is not a clear picture that emerges, but more of a general sense that I’m talking about us helping people less fortunate than ourselves – maybe you are imagining poverty, homelessness, scarcity, and wondering what we can do about it.
Some of you who are as churchy as me might hear me say mission and think about the mission of the church – as in our purpose, our reason for being. I can’t not think of the Blues Brothers, plainly telling anyone who will listen, “We’re on a mission from God.” And I think you know I actually believe that – that you and I, that Church of the Redeemer is on a mission from God. Because there’s a whole world out there to love in Jesus’ name, and that is unquestionably our reason for being.
In the Episcopal tradition, we say that the church’s mission is to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ through prayer, worship, proclamation of the Gospel and promotion of justice, peace, and love. That’s a tall order, but a worthy one.
Whether you think of mission as the work we do for others, or mission as our purpose in the world, I believe these things are deeply connected. In both cases we are talking about how our being Christian effects the world around us. We’re Christian. So what? What does that mean for those around us? Does it mean we are here for them? To share life and care for them? Or is it to fix them and make them more like us? Are we helping them or helping ourselves? Are we making an actual difference or just making ourselves feel good? Are we doing enough? Is there even such thing as enough?
And here’s a big question for us whenever we think of the Church and mission: If our church just disappeared tomorrow, who outside of our congregation would notice? Who would it impact?
See, mission is messy, because it doesn’t get to be abstract – it is something that has to live in the real world and it has to draw us outside of ourselves and push us not only to think about our faith but live it – to live as if Jesus is real, as if his life and words apply directly to ours.
And, honestly, it’s been hard to try to understand our mission and to live into it during the first couple years of this pandemic. For a large chunk of time, we were told to refrain from all the typical ways we seek to impact peoples’ lives. Our sense of mission as a church has been experiencing an existential dilemma.
As we get back on our feet and begin to rebuild our life together, now is a good time for us to place questions about our mission right at the forefront of our minds.
This year our church is focusing on the portion of our Vision Statement that says we envision a church that is Growing with people of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, and political persuasion. Now, at first glance, that may seem like a very inward focus: As if it’s just about us and what we want to look like. But as I wrote last week, we are talking about spiritual growth. And we know that sharing life with people across the demographic spectrum opens our eyes more fully to the breadth of God’s activity in this world – it pushes us as a community to see God and God’s creation differently. This means our sense of mission changes. How could it not?
Mission is not about making us better people, and it should never be about us trying to make other people the right kind of people. That’s not love, that’s colonization. Mission isn’t about centering ourselves as saviors – we have a savior already and Jesus is doing just fine. Mission is about our sharing love in this world, participating in the transformation that springs from that love.
The Rev. Melanie W.J. Slane understands mission deep in her bones. She understands it in all these facets. And she has a vision for our church as a gathering of people who are on a mission from God. One of the most beautiful (yet somehow overlooked) ministries Melanie has spearheaded is the Reconcilers group. Reconcilers is an educational training program that equips participants for service and the living of their faith out in the wider community. It is for people who want to really understand the purpose and praxis of the mission God has for us. Equipping modern missionaries to sow justice, peace, and love. The newest chapter of the Reconcilers group started last week, and there is still space. I hope you will take a look at it and consider joining.
Mission is born from the recognition that God has made us all for one another – that we belong to each other utterly. Mission work acknowledges that we’re all in this together. And mission exists in the real world, with the understanding that the systems in which we operate don’t actually function as if we belong to one another. That is to say, our God tells us we are all one, but we don’t act like it, and we don’t set up societies that genuinely reflect that. So Christian mission exists as a corrective. Christian mission is what happens after we say, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” then we get up and actually try to work with God in making that true.
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