Members of MISSIO were appointed for a period of five years during which four meetings were held. It was agreed at the first meeting that thinking about mission, and developing strategies or programmes to assist the Anglican Communion in promoting its mission and evangelistic work, would be facilitated and enriched by exposure to the varied contexts in which the church was engaged in mission.
Therefore, MISSIO decided against solely a Conference Room approach to its work, opting instead to spend some time at each of its meetings observing the mission work of the local church. This enabled local churches to offer their insights, while MISSIO learned significant lessons through this engagement in different contexts. At the same time, MISSIO members were able to give support and encouragement to their brothers and sisters on the local scene. This sense of partnership developed over the five-year period and the diversity of the contexts contributed to the enlarging of MISSIO’s vision.
A brief account of this process of engaging the local context will be helpful to the understanding of this report.
In Singapore, MISSIO members worshipped and ministered in local congregations on the Sunday of their stay. The vibrancy of the worship services and the priority given to mission and evangelism by these growing churches were a source of inspiration. Given the multi-ethnic, multi-religious nature of that part of the world, special attention was given to unreached peoples, and this was highlighted in a presentation to MISSIO by a local clergyperson. The church was involved in mission to the neighbouring countries, with church members joining short-term mission teams. The diocese places a strong emphasis on the theological and practical training of the laity for such mission work. MISSIO was hosted for dinner by the diocese and the bishop, and other lay persons had the opportunity to extend a welcome and to speak of their work.
The Ely meeting, held in the winter, did not provide the opportunity for the extensive interaction with local congregations, as was the case in Singapore. However, members shared in the worship at the Cathedral, and also attended Evensong at Kings’ College, Cambridge. Guided tours of Ely Cathedral and Westminster Abbey gave the group a rich sense of the history of the Anglican Church in England. Visits to Church House (office of the Church of England General Synod) , Lambeth Palace (residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Partnership House (centre of Church of England International Mission Agencies) in London showed the agencies and structures supporting the church’s mission.
Because there have been very few Anglican Communion meetings in Brazil, it was decided to hold the third meeting in Recife. The difficulties of meeting in Brazil in terms of cost were overcome in part by the generosity of the Brazilian Church in providing hospitality. The group was welcomed with open arms by the local church, and members were privileged to worship and minister in several churches. The Bishop of Recife, the Provincial Secretary and other members of the clergy and laity were always on hand to assist MISSIO in carrying out its work. From the first day, when a visit was made to a small mission in order to see the work among people who live and earn their livelihood in a garbage dump, the group knew that the Brazil experience would contribute significantly to the spirit and content of its interim report.
The presence of a local priest-theologian as missiological consultant to MISSIO was a great asset to the deliberations in the Brazilian context. Further visits to churches and church events in the evenings after an intense day’s work, allowed MISSIO members to hear the stories and feel the heart-beat of the Anglican Church in this part of Brazil. The growing churches of Brazil reinforced a truth often expressed, that churches engaged in mission and evangelism must always be open to change - change in structure, change in style of worship and change in programmes. When new members of varying backgrounds are constantly being added to the church, the traditional way of doing things will constantly be challenged. Resistance to change in such a situation will retard the growth and vitality of the church.
Dispersed accommodation, coupled with the hosting of evening meals in a variety of locations, made for long days with perhaps not enough rest. News that the contract of the Director of Mission & Evangelism at the Anglican Communion Office was not being renewed, and fears of the termination of MISSIO’s assignment, hindered the group’s productivity. However, the visible connection between evangelism and social action, geared at transforming the unjust structures that perpetuate poverty in the Brazilian situation, was inspiring.
Following the pattern of previous meetings, exposure to the context was regarded as an essential feature of the meeting. The Organisational Training and Development Centre, which was chosen as the venue for the meeting, provided ideal conditions for a high level of productivity. The pleasant surroundings, the good weather conditions, the suitability of the conference room facilities and the co-operation and friendliness of the staff of the Centre, were all conducive to work.
MISSIO was pleased to have the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion present for most of its meeting, as well as Ms. Maureen Sithole, liaison member from the ACC Standing Committee. Special note must be made of the presence at the meeting in its early stages of Archbishop Khotso Makhulu, who readily entered into the discussions and made contributions that were much appreciated. Bishop Jonathan Siyachitema of the diocese of Harare also visited and spoke of the work of his diocese. A member of MISSIO, Sebastian Bakare, now bishop-elect of Manicaland, provided further insights about the church in Zimbabwe and the country in general.
Weekend visits were made by MISSIO members to three of the four dioceses in Zimbabwe. Some members remained in Harare, while some travelled by road to Manicaland, and others by air to Bulawayo in the diocese of Matabeleland.
The stories brought back from these visits are too numerous to be told, but they speak eloquently of the many faces of Zimbabwe. There were churches with all the signs of colonial wealth and grandeur, and others in desperate need of very basic facilities. There were the traditional English Anglican services, 1662 Prayer Book and Hymns Ancient & Modern, and there were services in local languages with the revised liturgy of the province, where the use of drums and marimbas brought an African flavour to the worship. In every case, however, the Anglican ethos was evident.
One cannot think of mission in the Zimbabwean context without confronting the divisive issues of colour, race, tribe, class, wealth and poverty. One cannot avoid facing the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The figures vary, but the death toll ranges between 1000 and 1500 per week, with some 2000 new cases every week. Funerals occupy a great deal of the time of the clergy, and according to one priest, there is hardly a home he visits that does not have someone infected with AIDS. Doing mission in this context requires a theology that is relevant to these issues.
MISSIO was impressed by the vitality of the churches and the courage of the clergy and lay people in facing the many challenges. There was a case reported of a priest who had 64 congregations in the parish, but who carefully organised his work by dividing the parish into zones. The Mothers’ Union was reported to be 10,000 strong in the Harare diocese, raising again the issue of the place of women in ministry. There are no women priests as yet in this province.