Caribbean conference explores mission issues in a new century

March 19, 2003

An ecumenical conference on the theme of 'Christian Mission in the 21st Century Caribbean' was held in Barbados in response to a statement from the House of Bishops of the Province of the West Indies that called on dioceses to emphasize mission as the key to development.

Dr. Noel Titus, principal of Codrington College--a sponsor of the conference, surveyed the colonial history of the region and the 'culture of suspicion' it created, as well as the divisions created by the influx of immigrants since the abolition of slavery that created geographical and political divisions. He also described the religious pluralism of the region, the persistent problem of poverty, and the erosion of Caribbean cultures by outside influences.

Church of England Bishop Stephen Sykes of Durham explored the concept of power in the mission and theology of the church. Christian theology holds a nuanced view of power, he said, and rather than rejecting the exercise of power Christians should undertake mission through the power received from God.

Dr. Titus Presler, dean-president of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Texas, addressed 'the church's global engagement in a new century,' arguing that global engagement is a central element of our identity as Christians. He said that 'companionship' is the central paradigm for mission because it emphasizes listening to one another and being open to discovering Christ and the Gospel in new ways in the experience of other pilgrims. Companionship also stresses solidarity rather than the solving of problems.

According to Presler, the incarnational church is called to be a witness, a pilgrim, a servant, a prophet, and a sacrament, as well as hospitable. He concluded by stressing that God is calling us to be outward and visible signs of his love, justice and transformation.

Papers and discussions highlighted a number of issues unique to the region, including a proper understanding and use of power; the future of the ecumenical movement; how the churches should deal with Rastafarianism; attitudes toward women and the use of masculine language and imagery; the emphasis on mission in theological education; and how to reach out in mission both at home and abroad.