Training session reveals new look of Episcopal missionaries

February 20, 2003

If the recent training session for new missionaries at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, is any indication, there is a new look to the type of people who are accepting the call to serve abroad.

Among the 19 newly commissioned missionaries who attended the two-week orientation are Bruce and Helen Dolph of California, a retired couple in their 60s who are going to Kenya to apply their management and computer skills, and Samuel Dargon from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, a college student who is taking a break from his studies to help install a computer system and rehabilitate a rural hospital in Rwanda.

Who is called to be a missionary? 'Someone with a capacity to listen and wait, who feels drawn by the simple curiosity about the world, who wonders what God is up to in the world and wishes to experience the reality of God through other people,' said the Rev. Jane Butterfield, mission personnel officer for the Episcopal Church. 'To be a missionary is to be caught up in God's mission.'

Departing from the tradition of training with other Protestant denominations, this year's orientation program focused on 'cultivating a deeper understanding of the roots of Anglicanism and fostering a sense of pride in being part of the Episcopal heritage of mission,' said Butterfield. 'We created a new community identity that's difficult to sustain when you're in a multi-denominational setting,' she said, adding that using a seminary setting signaled that 'the whole church is taking a hand in forming its missionaries.'

The teaching staff included current and former missionaries, seminary faculty and national staff, such as Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, Anglican observer at the United Nations; Prof. Christopher Duraisingh, a priest of the Church of South India who teaches mission at Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts; and Dr. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, an Anglican South African psychologist who was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

'As a church, we want to be more involved with the rest of the world,' said Butterfield, who with her husband Titus Presler, now dean and president of the seminary, served as missionaries in Zimbabwe in the mid-1980s. She said that the new missionaries 'illustrate that mark of Anglican identity--unity in the midst of diversity,' because they were 'energized by the complexity of our faith and the rich diversity of God's creation.'