Mission - Commissions - IASCOME

IASCOME - Communion In Mission - Main Documents

Developing Anglicanism

The Anglican Communion grew out of a vision for world mission.[1] The recent Decade of Evangelism highlighted this founding perspective and encouraged churches of the Communion to explore what this perspective might mean for a new era.  Today we see signs of many different kinds of mission in the Communion, leading to growth and development in terms of both the size and the nature of Anglicanism.

One way of expressing this re-emerging perspective is to say that we are a family of churches who find their communion in mission.  Within our Communion there are structures, which express our unity, marks, which identify our mission and relationships, which create our fellowship.  Yet we are a communion in mission in so far as our identifiable mission is relational and our structures serve those mission relationships.

A communion in mission is characterised at one and the same time by a celebration of commonality and difference.  As Anglicans we believe that both commonality and difference are sustained by apostolic truth and the hope of the final unity of all things as expressed in our worship.

As an Anglican communion in mission, led forward by the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge (as sister churches) that we are God’s pilgrim people.  Therefore, whilst affirming the patterns and traditions of our past, we realise that such historic arrangements are provisional, and that our Communion is developing as it is being transformed in Christ.

Transformation and Tradition

So at the heart of the Anglican Communion is a living tradition that is in constant transformation.  Historically this dynamic of transformation was generated not just by the Reformation but also by the changes resulting from the missionary movement that emerged at the turn of the 18th century and subsequently developed into worldwide outreach. 

But, of course, the fountain-head of transformation is found in the Biblical tradition itself.  The root word for tradition, traditio, which means handing over, is the word used of Jesus when he was handed over to the Roman soldiers for execution.[2] Yet out of this traditio a transformation took place through our Lord’s passion and resurrection.[3] When the Lord commissioned his disciples to share and teach the Gospel he handed over this transforming tradition. 

So when Paul talks of passing on what he has learnt about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor.  11:23) we should see a handing over of the dynamic of transformation.  “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed (handed over) …”.  In the mission of Jesus, tradition becomes transformation and transformation becomes tradition.

It is as we find communion in this transforming tradition that we are drawn into the mission of Jesus.  Our communion in this transforming tradition is a communion realised through our lived-out participation in Jesus’ traditio and nurtured by discerning his mission in the Bible and the Lord’s Supper.  But what is the nature of this communion in mission?

Affection and Association

One way of describing the relationships in the Anglican Communion, that have emerged out of the mission of previous generations, is as ‘bonds of affection’.  Furthermore, the recent Windsor Report also refers to a paramount model of the Communion, to “the voluntary association of churches bound together in their love of the Lord of the Church, in their discipleship and in their common inheritance” (p.64). 

As the Anglican Communion has slowly developed, so new ways have emerged for how bonds of affection and the voluntary association of the churches are shaped and supported.  Four ways of doing this have been recognised or introduced in the Anglican Communion.  In historical order they are: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting.  Yet it could be suggested that these four have themselves grown out of the mission relationships that first generated the Anglican Communion.[4] So perhaps the four Instruments are like musical instruments as, in their leadership role, they ‘play the music’ of the Anglican Communion’s mission relationships.[5]

The importance of both giving and receiving in relationships has been recognised for a long while in the Anglican Communion, at least since the principle of mutual responsibility and interdependence (MRI) was first proposed in 1963 and was worked out in the Partners in Mission process.[6] Yet the nature and reality of MRI, as bonds of affection and association, needs to be continually articulated and redefind to express what these relationships are as the glue that holds the Communion together. 

Christian communion has its roots in the divine communion[7].  But there are many ways of defining the concept of communion and, as Nicholas Healy notes, “what governs the use of ‘communion’ is not so much the model as such but the respective imaginative judgements and agendas of the theologians” [8] The imaginative judgement at play in this Report is to bring together, but still distinguish, communion and mission so as to explore the transforming tradition of Jesus as communion in mission.  This means that whatever understanding we have of relationships in the Church or mission in a communion of churches, communion is inseparable from and indeed is expressed in Christian mission.  We discover our communion with others in mission and our mission is to spread communion in Christ, ultimately with the whole of creation.

Whilst Biblical images like the Body of Christ or People of God can be used to describe the Church as a whole, it is other Biblical terms that can help us explore what these images mean for relationships in the Communion.  These other images or metaphors include partners, pilgrims, companions, brothers and sisters, and friends.  Each of these has been used at different times and in different contexts to explore how our relationships express our mission in the wider world.[9] Chapter Three traces some of the dynamics and developments within relationships in the Communion; Chapter Five outlines challenges faced by the relationships of the Communion in its wider context.

“The closest analogy between the triune God and human existence created in the image of this God is not persons but the personal relationships themselves.”
Paul Fiddes: Participating in God

Deepening Partnership

One of the most significant metaphors for communion in mission has been partnership.  In fact one could say that, for the last 50 years, there has almost been a partnership paradigm for interpreting communion in mission.[10] But there are indications, suggested in the report from the previous Anglican Communion Mission Commission (MISSIO) that we now need to move on in our understanding of partnership.[11]


We are being called to build on, and deepen, the partnership in our relationships as a communion in mission.[12] An alternative metaphor, explored by the previous Commission, (MISSIO) was companion.  This metaphor appears again in this Report as part of the way members of IASCOME described their mission relationships with each other and as a description of formal diocese-to-diocese links (see Chapter Three).  Companion is a metaphor that is particularly popular in the South American context.  It has connotations of sharing and equality in a relationship that has been given a wider purpose and direction.  The picture of Christians as companions on a pilgrimage of discovery and witness can be found in the story (in Luke 24) where Jesus walks, unbeknown, with two disciples to Emmaus.  As he listens to their disappointments and fears, and then shares from scripture and breaks bread, they discover with whom they have been travelling.  The two then return to Jerusalem, full of joy, to witness to the risen Lord.[13]


Another metaphor for the depths of mission relationships is brother-sister.  This is a common form of address in the New Testament, but it is also implied by Jesus’ use of Father for his relationship with God.  When Mary met the resurrected Lord, as she wept near his tomb in the garden, he told her to “go to my brethren and say to them ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20: 17).  Jesus’ disciples and his wider followers are his brothers and sisters bound together in a family relationship with God the Father.

The power of this metaphor for conveying the depth of communion in mission relationships can be gauged when the place of the family in African cultures is considered.  Writing on the traditional African understandings of human nature, Joe Kapolyo stresses that to be human is to be family.  But this is not the Northern pattern of nuclear family.  “My nuclear family that is the immediate family to which I belong as a son, at the moment comprises sixty-eight people (three have died: my father, one niece and a nephew)”! [14]

In acknowledging the challenge faced by African Christians to not just adopt surface cultural changes but find deep cultural change arising from the Gospel, he says, “One thing that stands out strongly is the African sense of community.  This value is close to biblical emphases as seen in the use of collective metaphors to describe the people of God, such as the ‘body’ of Christ”.


In John’s Gospel Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment and later reiterates it: “love one another as I have loved you”.  He then says what this means: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 12-13).  Friend is the way Jesus describes his disciples when he reiterates this new commandment. 

So another metaphor, which may help us to explore our mission relationships, is that of friend.  To understand ourselves as Christians, in terms of being friends of Jesus, may open us anew to rediscover our friendship with God, with each other and with the world.[15]

Jesus made friends of his disciples by loving them.  Christian mission is the call to love others the way Jesus did, so that we, and they, can discover the loving friendship of Jesus.  The story of Christian mission includes the discovery of friendship in Jesus.  This is the story of finding friendship across differences of culture, age, gender and viewpoint.  It is the story of discovering the Jesus who befriends people who are excluded from their own community or are from another community.  It is the ongoing story of the greatness of Jesus’ befriending-love across differences and despite difficulties.  The metaphor of friend may have particular relevance in the Northern context where there has been an erosion of community and a breakdown in family life.

As we look at the past and present of the Communion we can see that there have been fruitful mission outcomes, not least in the growth of mission relationships.  And perhaps the emergence of networks and gatherings for mission (official or otherwise) in the Anglican Communion may also suggest a growth in companion/sister-brother/friend-type relationships in which there is a deepening of receiving and giving.  These could be seen as a re-emergence of the network-kind of mission relationships that first generated the Communion.  But some of those past relationships reflected the dysfunctional patterns of imperialism.  Much more needs to be said about this dark side of mission[16]

The covenant for communion in mission is a call to recommit ourselves anew: to find ways of deepening partnership by rededicating ourselves to each other as companion, brother-sister, friend.  “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit … This I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15: 16-17). 

“Pure friendship is an image of that original and perfect friendship which belongs to the Trinity and which is the very essence of God”.  
Simone Weil: Waiting on God

The Fullness of Christ

The emergence of a new emphasis on mission as the mission of God (missio dei), arising out of the ecumenical movement and other perspectives in the 1950s, was an important corrective to the view that mission was a human enterprise.  Having said this, the Christian way of understanding God’s mission is given shape by the story of the One who was with God and has made him known.  So the place of Jesus in the Missio Dei must be an important focus for the Anglican Communion.  As John Taylor writes in his booklet The Uncancelled Mandate (London: Church House Publishing, 1998):

“For the mission that has been laid upon the Christian community from its inception arose out of, and is forever focused upon, the historical event of Jesus Christ and the task he believed he was sent to undertake as the means of bringing the purposes of God to fruition.”  (p.2)

Andrew Walls offers one way of exploring how this focus might also highlight the importance of valuing relationships in mission.  Reflecting on the mission significance of the relationships between Jews and gentiles in Ephesians, he suggests that: “If I understand what Paul says in Ephesians correctly, it is as though Christ himself is growing as the different cultures are brought together.”[17]

Yet, as Walls also says elsewhere, “the Ephesian moment – the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ – was quite brief”.  But as he goes on to comment,

“In our day the Ephesian moment has come again, and come in a richer mode than has every happened since the first century.  Developments over several centuries, reaching a climax in the twentieth, mean that we no longer have two, but innumerable, major cultures in the church.”[18]
Mission relationships across diverse contexts and cultures are therefore essential for discovering who Jesus is.  For Jews, Jesus was the Messiah; for gentiles, he was the Lord, but together they discovered more of Jesus.  Because of the decline of Northern Christianity and the growth of Southern centres, we have the opportunity today to know, in a way never possible before, “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23).  It is in the mutual enrichment of our mission relationships, as companions, brothers-sisters and friends, that we discover the fullness of Christ.  And it is this greater Jesus we seek to share with others;[19] and the One whom we shall one day all worship as that great throng around the throne from all tribes, languages and nations (Rev. 7: 9-17). 

The vision that we may know the fullness of Jesus as we share, in our mission relationships, what he means to us in our different contexts, releases insights that can inform new and different kinds of mission initiatives.

We need to move from a programatic approach to mission towards one that is values-based.[20] This alternative approach would be rooted in those values that grow out of mission relationships that cross cultures and contexts and through which the fullness of Christ is unfolded.  It is these values that are encapsulated in the proposed mission covenant.  Thus through study and action arising from the Covenant a values-approach would be taken forward, as the values of the vision of the fullness of Christ are used, to recognise and encourage mission relationships that reflect the depths of this communion in mission. 

Debates and Challenges

The word partner may now need to be qualified, where the imbalance in power between a shrinking minority in the North and a growing majority in the South, has become obvious.  Perhaps other metaphors are better at expressing the aspiration for something deeper as is required by the new commandment: the willingness to lay down one’s life for another.

Some might say that the name we have given to our bonds of affection and the association of our churches, the Communion (koinonia) is enough.  But the need to say more about the nature of this communion has become necessary in recent years.  It is only as the bonds of affection have been stretched, by changes and events in the Anglican Communion, that the nature of the relationships in the Communion has become clear.  There can be little doubt now that we really do need to be Jesus’ kind of friends, to really love each other as he loved us.

Perhaps only companions, sister-brothers or friends can truly talk about deeply difficult things: like disagreements, imbalance of resources, and differences in power.  If mission is about the sharing of the Gospel in relational terms, then the quality of the relationships modelled and sought after in the Church, and more widely, are crucial.

Thus the metaphors for communion in mission need to be related not only to the vision but also to the challenges of mission in the Anglican Communion (for more detail on this see the early sections of the next chapter).  The first challenge is the change in the nature of global Christianity[21].  Yet not only is there now a clear shift from centres in the North to centres in the South, but there is also, secondly, a growing awareness of the challenge of the power of globalisation: an economic and cultural order that frames all our international relationships.

There is a need for the Communion to address the reality of the colonial and post-colonial past, and the present neo-colonial context, of Anglican mission.  If Anglican mission is sometimes a hidden side of the Communion’s story, then the dark side of this mission remains largely unspoken.  Whilst the simplistic equation, that modern mission equals colonial imperialism, is now being challenged[22], Anglicans need to be able to share colonial, post-colonial and neo-colonial experience[23] and to do so with reference to questions of power, resources and disagreement (see Chapter Eight of this Report for a story from Canada).  One focus for this exploration could be the bicentennial, in 2007, of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire (1807).[24]

Samuel Adjai Crowther was the first African Bishop in the Anglican Communion (and should be included in our liturgical calendar).  He became Bishop on the Niger in 1864.  Crowther came to faith as a freed slave who had been rescued off the West African coast having been taken captive in Yorubaland  (part of present-day Nigeria).  About his conversion he says: “about the third year of my liberation from the slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely, that of sin & Satan.” Crowther was educated as a teacher and minister in Sierra Leone (that extraordinary reconstructed country populated by freed slaves and African returnees from the Americas) and in England. 

His remarkable ministry included not only a commitment to evangelistic mission - in the most difficult of circumstances - but also to translation work, dialogue with Muslims and establishing an indigenous ministry.  Unfortunately he died a broken man, following a resurgence of European leadership, which did not share the vision of those who had first realised that only in a truly indigenous Church, can the greater Jesus be known.

Yet Crowther stands as a figure not only of personal transformation, but also as someone who foreshadows the coming emancipation of the African peoples.  His commitment to indigenous languages and customs made him a symbol for those who came after seeking greater social freedom.

Unfortunately slavery is not at an end.  In today’s world we still see disturbing reports that tell us that, for example, there are 211 million children in slavery around the world.  A most vicious form of child slavery is the abuse of girl-children as sex slaves in war zones.  Rape as a policy of war has now become rampant in central Africa.  Young girls are the most vulnerable victims, often suffering multiple forms of abuse.

One victim who has felt able to talk about her captivity is Acayo Concy.  She has bravely shared her story of abduction and sex slavery with CMS Britain.  Despite being very young, she has already had three children from the terrible experience of being used as a ‘wife’ of soldiers bent on demeaning and dehumanising their own people.

Acayo’s experience in Northern Uganda is, unfortunately, replicated in many parts of the world; be that in war zones, mega-cities with sex-trade centres or porn sites on the internet.  The challenge for today’s church is how to liberate these children from a modern form of slavery.

That any subsequent mission and evangelism commission be tasked to address the question of the colonial and postcolonial past and present of Anglican mission, and consider how Anglicans might be helped to explore this through mission relationships.


  • What Biblical or other metaphor best expresses your experience of mission relationships?
  • What have you learnt about Jesus by listening to other people’s experience, especially those from another part of the world?
  • In what way would you like to get to know people from other churches in the Communion?
  • What forms of slavery do you know of in your region and what can the church do about them?

1. .  Stephen Neill’s classic, Anglicanism (London: Mowbray, 1977. 4th ed.), offers an account of this development in chapters 12 and 13. 

2. For an extraordinary meditation on this theme see W. H. Vanstone: The Stature of Waiting (London: Dartn, Longman & Todd, 1982)

3. Christopher Duraisingh reminded participants of this during the opening presentation of the 2003 Anglican Mission Organisation Conference held in Cyprus.

4. That introductions to Anglicanism often miss out the role of mission relationships in the formation of the Communion needs to be corrected.  But see T.E.  Yates “Anglicans and Mission” for one of the few introductory surveys, in S.  Sykes, J.  Booty & J.  Knight (eds): The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1998 2nd ed.).  See also the recommendations in chapter six about incorporating a mission focus and dimension to educational materials on The Anglican Way as proposed by the Theological Education for the Anglican Communion working group. 

5. This musical image was recently used by Bishop Tom Wright and the Archbishop of Canterbury when the Windsor Report was debated in the General Synod of the Church of England (Feb.  2005).  For a stimulating ‘stop-press’ article reflecting on the Instruments see A.  Goddard: “Walking Together? The Future of the Anglican Communion” in ANVIL (Vol 22 No 1.  2005, pp 81-88).

6.  MRI was proposed at the Anglican Congress of 1963 as a way of expressing the growing equality of relationships between the churches in the Communion.  For reflections on MRI in the context of mission developments in the Communion see Anglican Congress (Anglican Book Centre, Canada 1963 pp117)  in this report. 

7.  See D.  Doyle: Communion Ecclesiology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000) for a review of developments.  See also N.  Sagovsky: Ecumenism, Christian Origins and the Practice of Communion (Cambridge: CUP, 2000), chapters one and two, for a discussion about communion as ‘koinonia’ and some of the joys and struggles of the practice of ‘koinonia’ in the Anglican Communion.  For recent work on “communion” by an Anglican Commission see the Six Propositions on Anglicans and Communion from the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission: www.anglicancommunion.org.uk .

8. N.  M.  Healy: Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (Cambridge: CUP, 2000) p.45.  Healy reviews the use of the concept of communion by six theologians each coming from different traditions: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Liberationist, Feminist, Liberal and Free Church. 

9. It should be noted that this Report does not deal in any depth with relationships between Christians and those of other faiths.  Any understanding of communion in mission would need to include an understanding of relating to those of another faith.  Exploration of this issue needs to be taken to another level by appropriate inter-Anglican discussions and initiatives, bearing in mind colonial, postcolonial and neo-colonial sensitivities, whilst not succumbing to the rhetoric of either the clash within or between cultures.  See M.  Barnes: Religions in Conversation (London: SPCK, 1989) for one approach to this question.  

10. Two key texts that expressed and helped propagate the partnership paradigm were S. Neill: Christian Partnership (London: SCM, 1952) and M.  Warren: Partnership: The Study of an Idea (London: SCM 1956).

11. E.  Johnson and J.  Clark:  Anglicans in Mission: A Transforming Journey (London: SPCK, 2000), p.80.  One way in which partnership has been positively reframed in order to describe mission relationships has been in the emerging new approach of business as mission; another positive reframing has been provided by new interdenominational groupings of organisations and churches.

12. For some thoughts about going beyond partnership see Colin Marsh: “Partnership in Mission: To Send or to Share?” in the International Review of Mission vol.  xcii No 366, July 2003, pp.370-381. 

13. J.  Loder: The Transforming  Moment (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989 2nd ed.), chap.  4.

14. J.  Kapolyo: The Human Condition: Christian Perspectives Through African Eyes (Leicester: IVP 2005) p.130.  Kapolyo does also recognise some tension between family and church, see p.  142. 

15. During the Middle Ages in Europe friendship was rehabilitated as a way of describing the relationship with God.  Human friendship, as a way of knowing God’s love, was also newly emphasised.  For a detailed survey see Elizabeth Carmichael: Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love (London: T&T Clark 2004).

16. See Brian Stanley: The Bible and the Flag: Protestant missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester: IVP, 1990) for a study which broke new ground on this issue.

17. Interview for The Christianity Century August 2000 

18. Walls, Andrew: The Cross-Cultural Process in Human History (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002, p.78)

19. With the break up of Christendom the possibility of discovering the Jesus of other cultures emerged.  See W.  Dyrness: Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).  For an exploration of new and inter-cultural/contextual understandings of Jesus see V.  Kuster: The Many Faces of Jesus Christ (London: SCM, 2001), P.  Pope-Levison & J.  R.  Levison: Jesus in Global Contexts (Louisville: Westminster, 1992) and A.  Wessels: Images of Jesus: How Jesus is Perceived and Portrayed in Non-European Cultures (London: SCM, 1990).  For the challenge now facing Northern Christianity see C.  Greene: Christology in Cultural Perspective (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003). 

20. For example, see how this approach is used in an ecumenical way in a British context by the Building Bridges of Hope learning process sponsored by the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.  The seven values used in the learning process are as follows: focusing vision; building local partnerships; sharing faith and values; nourishing daily living; developing shared leadership; becoming communities of learning; being accompanied.  See http://www.ctbi.org.uk/bbh/old.htm .

21. See S.  Escobar: “The Global Scenario at the Turn of the Century” in W. D. Taylor: Global Missiology for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000) pp. 25-47 for a summary of changes and challenges.  See also S.  Escobar: A Time for Mission (Leicester: IVP, 2003) for a more extensive but accessible exploration. 

22. For example, see (in date order) the work of Lamin Sanneh: Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1993); I. T. Douglas & K. Pui-Lan: Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Church Publishing, 2001); R. S. Sugirtharajah: The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge: CUP, 2001); R. S. Sugirtharajah: Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: OUP, 2002) Andrew Porter (ed): The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914 (Cambridge UK/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003); Brian Stanley (ed): Missions, Nationalism, and the End of Empire (Cambridge UK/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003 Cambridge UK/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003); and Andrew Porter: Religion versus Empire? (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). 

23. See, for example, Joerg Rierger: “Theology and Mission between Neocolonialism and Postcolonialism” (Mission Studies 21.2, 2005), pp. 201-227.

24. The 50th Anniversary of Ghana’s independence from Britain (2007) is being used to educate people about past slavery and raise awareness about contemporary forms of slavery.