Missionaries from America and their partners in mission brought unique perspectives to the current process of reconciliation at the conference of the Global Episcopal Mission (GEM) Network, which met June 16-18 at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest (ETSS) in Austin, Texas.
"The quality of presence we must have in the current turmoil must be that of companions" who listen, ask questions, and listen some more. "We need to honor the missional concerns of those on all sides of the controversy," said the Very Rev. Titus Presler, dean of ETSS, during his keynote address.
Many people "have been caught by surprise" by the feelings in other parts of the Communion, Presler added. "Many Episcopalians are global in their professional lives but parochial in their Christian lives ... They often know little about Christians, let alone Anglicans" throughout the world.
Presler urged the conference attendees to continue to "initiate and nourish" companion diocese relationships that have done much to bring Anglicans around the world together in the past 30 years. Twenty dioceses across the United States were represented among the 50 people who gathered at the seminary for the GEM conference.
Heart of mission
"Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference," Presler asserted. As the world struggles with difference and "people are dying over difference, reaching out and embracing difference is still the heart of mission," said Presler, former chair of the church's standing commission on mission.
"God created some kinds of difference as an expression of the rich diversity of existence" but "the human family has constructed differences of wealth, privilege, status and power that are maintained by oppressive structures of wealth, privilege, status and power," he said during the conference's keynote address entitled "One Hope in God's Call: Mission is Ministry in the Dimension of Difference."
The full text of Presler's address, more information about the GEM and the conference, and photos are available at http://ssw.edu/
"The people of the Episcopal Church who participated in the GEM conference are genuinely concerned about the life and ministry of the church," said Bishop Ikechi Nwachukwu Nwosu of Umuahia in Nigeria, who led Bible study through the three-day conference. "We came together and studied together; prayed together and reflected together."
"People in Nigeria don't hate the Episcopal Church. My coming here to the conference shows that we still want to hold all hands because we are all pilgrims seeking the common good. We can't do it alone," he added.
"It's 'We' not 'I,'" Nwosu emphasized. "The Episcopal Church is 'I,' the Anglican Church in Nigeria is 'I,' the Church of England is 'I,' but the Anglican Communion is 'We.' This is also true for Roman Catholics, Methodists and all other faiths--we all are inquiring about what God wants of us. We must be patient, listen and be open-minded because God is always taking us to new territory if only we are open to it."
Echoing Nwosu's call for unity, Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida pointed out how mission can unify the church, during a GEM conference talk.
Volunteers flocked to Honduras in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch killed thousands and destroyed nearly 80 percent of its buildings and crops when Frade was bishop of that country. He recalled that four separate groups of volunteers with widely differing perspectives arrived by plane and were assigned to build two houses next to each other.
Members of the South American Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church (SAMS), Integrity USA, a charismatic church in America and church center staff from the then Presiding Bishop's Relief Fund (now ERD) made up the four groups. "No matter what their differences were, they mixed cement and worked together for a single mission," Frade said.
Reflecting on the current turmoil within the Anglican Communion, Frade spun a tale of Jesus and his brother ("let's call him James," the bishop said) during their youth. James caught a lizard and in boyish bravado killed it. Jesus picked it up, blew a breath into it and the lizard returned to life. After this, death and resurrection was repeated twice more, James asked Jesus "how can I do this?" "What?" Jesus replied. "Beat up the lizard or bring it back to life?"
"Three billion people--half of the world's population--live on less than $2 a day. One third of those people live on less than $1 a day," Frade said. "Do we have time to deal with what we're dealing with while we're waiting for September and the Eames Commission report? Let's stop beating the lizard and learn how to breathe life into the mission of the church."
"It's up to us to make a difference in the world," he added. "The Episcopal Church is a small church but so what? Don't be deterred when some say 'We can't do that.'" Recalling what it's like when a mosquito hovers around you, Frade urged the mission advocates to be "mosquitoes for mission" by persistently saying to God "Yes, I will serve you" again and again and again.
"The antidote to cynicism isn't optimism; it's action," he concluded. "Action is born of hope and obeying the Great Commission. When you hoist your sail of faith, what counts isn't you; it's the wind."