Mission - Resources - Papers

Encouraging networking among mission organisations, dioceses and parishes By Mrs Edwina Thomas

We invite you, Oh God, to inspire. Speak to us, speak to me, Lord, that we could know what Your heart is. We ask this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Your faces are so beautiful, even the ones that I don’t know. I realise that when I go home and I look at the list of people who are here in Cyprus, I will not have met all of you. I will not have gleaned from everyone. You are here because you are a leader. You have extraordinary experience; you have learned from God, learned from what He’s taught you. You have visions and dreams and anointing. The ministries represented in this room are so wide. Some of you are committed to evangelism, to sharing the Good News with those who have never heard the gospel. Some of you want to make the gospel known among those who need re-evangelising. Some of you train in spiritual matters; others tend to the medical needs of the poor and persons with HIV/AIDS, and try to communicate about the church’s responsibility for that. Some of you serve others in the fields of education, development and training. You recruit, train and deploy people who minister in all these areas. The wide range of what you do reflects who you are.

Our diversity is more than just a ministry calling. We are diverse in our theology, aren’t we? We are diverse in our cultures and the contexts in which we live and minister. We are diverse in every way, and the good news is that we haven’t come here to look at all our differences. We have come together to look for connections. That is good networking.

Good networking is looking at your brother and your sister and saying: “Your calling is different from mine; your ministry is different; your context is different; but I love you. How can I help you? How can we walk together?”

The work of God’s mission in the world, the call on the church in the world, is so incredibly great that all of us need to respond. Is there anyone in this room that we do not need? No. Isn’t it more important that we lay down our differences and not shoot our brother and sister because they are different -- their calling is different, their theology is different, their context is different? That is what I believe good networking is.

1 Cor. 12:21- 25 reads:
The eye cannot say to the hand, I do not need you”, and the head cannot say to the feet, “I do not need you”. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

This describes our task. This is what we must be about. When Dr. Christopher Duraisingh addressed this group on the first night, he told us that it takes the whole world to proclaim the whole gospel. That touched my heart because that is my journey. God gives me inspiration from His word which always informs what I say.

I was invited to come to speak to you because I have been intimately involved on a journey of networking within the United States that has made an incredible difference in our church. I want to share some of that journey with you.

I am describing the Episcopal Council for Global Mission (ECGM) and some of the lessons we learned along the way. I can only tell this story from my point of view, my personal story. As I look at the roster of this meeting, every American attending has been vitally involved with this network and its formation.

Back in the 1980s in the United States, several independent mission agencies, our national church headquarters, and one seminary came together and said, “We think we should have an annual missions conference.” I attended my first mission conference with that group in 1988.

In one plenary session, a lady sitting on the back row stood up and screamed at people who worked in the mission department of our national church office, persons who had addressed the meeting and were fielding questions. Had they been in closer proximity this woman might have punched one of them. She modelled the anger, mistrust and miscommunication that permeated our interactions. I’m sorry to tell you about our dirty laundry but this vignette captures, for me, the situation in our missions community in the 1980’s. Many independent agencies had sprung up during the 1960’s and 1970’s because they did not think that the world mission arm of our national church was doing what they ought to be doing. Mission personnel accused each other of all sorts of things. Working relationships almost did not exist between independent agencies and the national church.

Because of who I am, my response was to say, “This is terrible. I don’t think I want to be part of this.” A young woman who was preparing to go to the mission field, a retired priest, and I gathered that night in a lounge in the seminary. We repented of what had happened. We repented of our mistrust of each other. We asked for God’s mercy upon us. We asked for His direction, for His way forward.

Prayer matters! Prayer is not something we have heard much about in this conference. We need to be people of prayer. We need to be people who know that “Prayer changes things.” We cannot talk about mission endeavour without talking about prayer. God really wants us to speak to Him about the issues that we engage in, the decisions that we make so that He can show us the way forward.

The wise directors of this mission conference held in the United States in 1988 decided to make one last attempt to bring the mission community together in 1989. They said, “Come. We will have a facilitator, someone from the outside who will help us look at the issues; we will pray, get in small groups, talk through our differences. We will see if we can make our life together work.” Those attending promised to stay four days in meetings and to participate in discussion groups. However, experience would show that working with a facilitator did not remove personal animosity.

As we tried to organise a way forward, we had to come to grips with the fact that we were theologically diverse. We had to talk with each other and agree on areas of compromise. One of the covenants, a statement we all agreed to, was: “Desiring to avoid untested assumptions about one another, we will seek to understand our various mission theologies by committing time and resources to listen and talk together with honesty and mutual respect."

Recently I talked with a seminary professor from the University of the South, the co-sponsoring seminary. He reflected on this ’89 meeting and said, “I went and stood with someone very unlike me and we hammered some stuff out. Out of that came the inclusion of two of the covenants: one that was non-negotiable to him (unreached people, see below) and one that was important to me (ecclesiastical oversight, see below).” Every person in the room agreed to these four covenants.

Among us were people who were radical evangelicals. They insisted on the covenant about unreached peoples, “We want to promote a vision throughout the Anglican Communion to work for the extension of the Church among groups where the Gospel of Christ is not known, both within the Anglican dioceses and beyond Anglican dioceses.” Whenever we meet as ECGM we affirm this covenant and do not forget those who have never heard the gospel.

Leaders from our national church had been struggling over issues with partnership. They faced difficulties because some of the independent agencies offended our overseas partners by working in a diocese without being under the authority of the local Bishop. Good missiological practice was written and agreed to in this way: “In a spirit of respect and coordination within the Body of Christ, we covenant to accept as a norm the receiving of appropriate invitation/permission from the relevant Anglican eccesiastical authority, before engaging in a program or sending persons into an area where an Anglican body exists.”

We agreed to a principle of sharing with each other as we attempted to be Christ-like in our generosity: “We covenant to share mission information on projects and procedures relative to recruiting, screening, selecting, training and placing missionaries. We further covenant to explore ways of coordinating our activities in order to encourage cooperation and discourage unhealthy competitive attitudes in the world mission field.”

God spoke to us at the end of the 1989 meeting and said something like, “I want you to stop shooting each other; just lay it down. Stop being adversaries one to another. Be respectful of the ways of your brothers and sisters who are different from you. Walk together shoulder to shoulder with others whose purpose is to accomplish that which I have sent them to do.”

This call to reconciliation spoke to our spirits. Although we had written the four covenants, God knew we needed to repent from our hearts. We prayed. We cancelled the rest of that morning’s program and had some very frank talk. People stood up and spoke of their own personal feelings. One person, for example, spoke of the pain when people thought the national church had a lot of power and yet this national church employee felt rather powerless. People spoke words of repentance and forgiveness to one another. This is “walking in the light.” We did some walking in the light. Reconciliation happened that day.

One year later we gathered again after a small body of convenors had worked on the formation of a network. We all signed these covenants -- the four of them.

This sounds wonderful. Let me tell you from my point of view why it’s extraordinary. It is a network, which means that anyone involved in global mission can sit at our table. The organisation that I represent, SOMA USA, Sharing of Ministries Abroad, is small. If you measure in terms of budget, number of employees, or whatever, we’re teeny tiny. Yet we come to the table, sit with everyone else and have voice and influence. That’s what networking is. It means that the information-sharing and decisions are not made through levels of hierarchy. The decisions are made by us. We are the network.

The leadership of this organisation, originally called ECGM, is designed after a model that is from our indigenous peoples in the United States, a circular model of leadership. We don’t have a president, we have a convenor. We have a steering committee. Do you know how we chose the steering committee? If you are at the meeting, we ask you to pray and ask if working on the steering committee is what God wants you to do. If you would like to offer yourself for this service, then you put your name in a hat. We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us as we draw the names out of the hat. Those chosen are the steering committee for the next year. It works. We all see the Holy Spirit in this. When we come together, we also share leadership of the meeting: One person is never up front doing it all. We rotate the leadership of every session, of every gathering. We model the fact that we all have a part in our network. We all have ownership; we all have valuable ideas to share.

Members include independent agencies, ones who send; organizations who raise mission awareness; organizations who fund or produce training/teaching materials to be used abroad; churches, and dioceses. Our financial support comes from dues, which are pro-rated according to the size of the organization's budget.

Now, having said all that, I want to tell you that this group makes decisions by consensus. Isn’t that amazing? I am amazed every year we meet that God brings us to agreement. It means that we keep talking together until we agree. That’s pretty awesome to say about a gathering of people of vastly different theological positions.

What kind of work does ECGM, renamed Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission (EPGM), do and how has it been effective? A conference sponsored by this group and one of its members led to the formation of Anglican Frontier Missions in 1990. This new agency serves the least evangelised people groups in the world.

EPGM always has international partners join us when we meet. In 1996 we had the Rt. Rev. Daniel Deng Bul from the Diocese of Renk, Sudan, with us. As we began to listen to his story of persecution and suffering, we were moved. Those who had energy, interest, and wanted to work together on the issue of the persecuted church, asked: “What can we do together?” We represented a wide and broad spectrum of agencies, churches, and parishes. Some of us came together at our own expense to design and administer the first conference on the persecuted church ever held by the Episcopal church in the United States. The Rt. Rev. Mano Rumelshah of Pakistan, the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu el-Assal of Jerusalem, and Rt. Rev. Peter El Bersh of Sudan were our speakers.

Out of this conference has come a lobbying effort for Sudan issues in our government in Washington. Out of that have come individuals who have taken up the cause of the persecuted church for our General Convention. Out of that have come ombudsmen for Sudan and a whole network of prayer support and mission trips

The next thing that we agreed to tackle, a subject we don’t know much about, is “Children at Risk,” children in crisis. The world is full of street kids, abandoned kids, abused children, AIDS orphans -- and almost none of our agencies’ efforts or money are focused on this issue. We in EPGM are investing our energy here and will hold a conference on “Children at Risk” in conjunction with our annual meeting in 2004. We will learn about this crisis in the world and seek how God wants us to respond to it.

To work in the EPGM network means that each of the agencies, each person there, has to lay down a measure of control. This is not easy. We have to trust one another. We have to walk side by side with others unlike ourselves. We have to walk in humility and submission.

In the 1990’s the Episcopal Church in America was going through a financial crisis. The National Church’s response to the funding crisis was to remove a large portion of the budget supporting Anglican and Global Relations, or overseas mission. It was through the efforts of this group, Episcopal Council for Global Mission, that we rallied together and began a journey of another kind. We asked, “How can mission happen in our Episcopal Church in the USA in a healthy way?” One of my most favorite photographs was from 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia when about 40 individuals representing 40 agencies, parishes, the National Church, and dioceses gathered in the lobby of the convention center before the hearing on our proposal. We were all on our knees or standing as we prayed together for God’s favour on mission within our church, for the committee hearing on our proposal.

Our proposal statement begins: “The Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission is a working partnership among the executive council, congregations, diocese, voluntary agencies, network, that enables all Episcopalians to participate in God’s global missions through their membership in the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church.” (DFMS is the formal name under which the Episcopal Church in the USA is incorporated.)

EPGM has other future plans. We can do together what we cannot do separately. We are gathering together groups of interested folks to work on problems that we all have. For example, persons sent out as missioners under the auspices of the smaller mission agencies, although Episcopalians, had not been considered “official.” In our new structure, we have invited all those sending bodies, anyone who is involved in sending long-term missionaries, to come and sit together and discuss, in order to accomplish mission with excellence. These interested parties prayed, discussed and agreed on standards for mission sending qualifications, screening, orientation, development of mission assignments, pastoral care, home ministry assignments, re-entry, mutual accountability, financial support and insurance. These are hard issues, and not every agency is doing every one of those with excellence right now. By sharing standards, we are sharing encouragement and resources. Through mutual accountability we can influence each other toward excellence. Authority and compliance are not imposed from the top: We are encouraged through sharing resources, creative problem solving and “speaking the truth in love.”

Not all networks operate the way I have described; yet I trust you can be encouraged on your journey of trust toward more effective networks. By drawing the net and bringing many players to the table, networks give voice to all as we work together on mutual problems.

The Scripture 1 Cor. 12:26a, gives me courage to speak about the further need for interconnectedness in the Anglican Communion: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." There are parts of our Communion that are suffering, and people are dying because they are Christians. In another way many of those same people are dying because they are cut off from the body. They feel isolated. There are many times people say to me, or my colleagues, simple things like, “God must really love us if He sent you from half way around the world to come and see us.” What an indictment that we have allowed parts of our Communion to be isolated! Our challenge is to love “with skin on,” with presence.

The truth of the matter is that we in the West are suffering too. We have a different disease. We haven’t spoken about it in this conference, but many of the seams of our Anglican Communion are coming apart. I speak as an Episcopalian from the United States: We have big fissures, big gaps. Think of a great iceberg with fissures: one big chunk falls off and floats away. We have big chunks of Anglican Communion falling off and floating away. Our differences are driving us apart in many places in our Communion, and I am grieved about that. What do you think? I propose that we are desperate. We need each other. We need each other's prayers. We in the West need the presence and prayers of those of you who work and live and have your being in another part of the Communion. We need you to come and be with us. We need you; we need your faces, we need your passion, we need your zeal, and we need your experience. And I invite you to come. We’re desperate and very sick. Don’t leave us isolated. Don’t think that we’re all powerful because we are wealthy, materially endowed and are always the “givers.” No, that’s not a good picture right now. We are desperately needy for you. We are desperately needy for persons of great faith to come and minister spiritually to us.

Lastly I want to speak boldly about the fact that God’s Holy Spirit is moving powerfully all over the world today.

We in SOMA have had opportunities to move around the Anglican Communion, visiting most of the continents. We are just there for a short time but we observed a phenomenon happening in the last few years. The Spirit is doing something new in this age and the Anglican Church needs to take notice. Christians from many denominations have begun to come together in unity and prayer to change their own communities. This looks radical to my eyes.

Because we exist in our own denominational mode and mindset, we look at God’s mission in the world as it relates to our own Anglican brothers and sisters. Yet, everywhere we live in the world there are many other Christians. We speak of ecumenism which in my mind reminds me of dialogues and committees and perhaps some joint projects that bring us together. These are wonderful.

However, the Spirit is doing something that is beyond ecumenism. The pressures of this world are pushing people together. For example, I had dinner with Archbishop Nzimbi, and he talked about the pressures of Islam within Kenya which are causing leaders of all denominations to come together to pray, to seek God’s face and to seek wisdom. Is that happening where you live? Christians in Pakistan cannot afford to be parochial. They can no longer afford to be denominational because the pressures are so hard. The truth is that even if you live in a place where pressures from a clash in religions are not so overt, our communities are filled with violence and drugs and with children who move in directions that are not healthy. What about injustice? What about disease? AIDS? HIV? We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that evil is increasing in our world. It is going to take all of the church, all denominations working in concert to address these issues.

Mr. George Otis, Jr., travelled around the world researching several books he authored. He noticed something very different happening in some of the communities that he visited and documented what he found in video interviews. The subject of his videos are “Transformed Communities.”
Here is what Mr. Otis says:

Transformed communities do not materialise spontaneously. Community transformation is the product of a cause and effect process. God’s Word makes clear that divine revelation and power are called forth by sanctified hearts, by right relationships and by united, fervent and selfless intercession. There are definitive steps that we can and should take to position our communities for a visitation of the Holy Spirit. Recent evidence shows that God’s people are acting on this proposition with great success. I know this because I have spent the last several years analyzing more than a dozen newly transformed communities.

Identifying Common Threads
Transformation case studies are best considered collectively. A solitary story, however remarkable or inspiring, inevitably comes with a nagging question: Is it reproducible? When you bump into this same story ten or twelve times, you find an established pattern. Patterns transform inspirational stories into potent models.

My investigation into the factors responsible for transformed communities has yielded the following five stimuli:
  • Persevering leadership (see Nehemiah 6:1-16)
  • Fervent, united prayer (See Jonah 3:5-10)
  • Social reconciliation (see Matthew 5:23, 24; 18:15-20)
  • Public power encounters (see Acts 9:32-35)
  • Diagnostic research/spiritual mapping (see Joshua 18:8-10)

Although each of these factors recurs often enough to be considered common, two of them – persevering leadership and fervent united prayer – are present in all of our transformation case studies. These are core factors, which appear to signal divine involvement. Community transformation simply does not occur unless they are present. These are to be distinguished from contextual factors, measures commended by God on the basis of local history, habits and ideology. The core factors are the unique and added touch that turns potential into victory.ı

When SOMA encountered the story of Otis’ research, we launched a two-year process of discovery to check out whether it was really true. We were startled with what we found. God the Holy Spirit is on the move in city after city, in almost every community, bringing together leaders and intercessors who are praying and planning for ways that gospel truths can impact their needy communities.

We Anglicans often have blinders on because we are so well networked with each other. We are hierarchical in structure and therefore our connections stretch around the globe. The Mother’s Union networks the women within a diocese and beyond. Clergy are integrated into a peer network. Anglicans can be self-contained in a way of friendship and fellowship that does not need the Baptists, the Lutherans, the Roman Catholics, the Pentecostals. This learning that Otis reports speaks to Anglicans in particular ways:

The teaching will challenge many of our traditional patterns of Episcopal leadership, particularly in those areas where bishops have the authority to move their clergy from one parish to another without consultation.

It will challenge clergy and lay leaders who are not willing to get involved in sacrificial pastoral care of their people and stay in a parish long enough to face the pain that this will bring.
The stress in the teaching on the fact that the Gospel is not just for individuals and congregations, but for whole communities, will challenge the view of many clergy whose focus is too much on what takes place in the church building.

What we in SOMA have entitled “The Internal Logic of Renewal” – that the renewing work of the Holy Spirit only has meaning if it reaches out beyond individuals, beyond congregations, to the whole of society – will challenge those of us who have allowed the charismatic experience to become privatised, and our view of the Holy Spirit to become too comfortable.
My last question for you is, “Who is the body of Christ, anyway?”

We need to humble ourselves and acknowledge that the answer has to include the Pentecostals. We can no longer push them aside and not consider them. They might have offended us, stolen our sheep, and embraced theological positions which make us uncomfortable. They might have hurt us deeply, but you know what? God says “forgive.” God says we are one, we need each other. We must build bridges of love between all parts of the body of Christ.

Transformations Videos I and II paint a pretty bright picture. SOMA has worked in several of the very places that are documented on these videos. Please know there are still problems in every one of the featured communities – serious problems. There is not a perfect transformed community. What is the measure of transforming community? It’s like our own lives: “Are we better off today than we were before?” Are these communities, with this great move of the Spirit, better off today than they were before? Yes.

Are we, as Anglicans, willing to engage in what the Holy Spirit is doing in our time?

Lord, we do come before You as needy people--needy to know how we can lay down any of our thoughts or practices that are ungodly, any of our prejudices, any of our pain that leads us to shut off another part of the body of Christ. Teach us, Lord. In Your mercy let us drink from Your river of grace. Help us draw the net widely around those with whom we are uncomfortable. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Mission Organisations Conference
Cyprus February 2003