Back at the beginning of the year I wrote a piece for the Informer about an assignment I had to do for one of my classes for KCML. The assignment required me to gather a group of people who would undertake to engage in some physical exercise (walking around the neighbourhood), some mental exercise (exploring some new concepts around mission) and some spiritual exercise (encountering the scriptures as a living text). The small group of brave and courageous women who joined me for this experiment has done its dash, and we held our final meeting this month. While it was certainly challenging dodging the showers while taking our walks around the neighbourhood, and it was challenging to learn to listen to scripture with the ear of the heart, and to listen to each other with our full attention, I think that on reflection the new concepts around mission are the biggest challenge we faced.
Mission is such a loaded word, and it immediately causes various images to come to mind: Billy Graham rallies; fundraising for people in far off countries; photos of groups of dark faced people surrounding one white face; pioneers dressed in full suit and frock coat sweating in the tropical sun; care packages of Western essentials being sent into unfamiliar cultures; evangelists shouting on street corners preaching damnation and hell fire. Even if we are able to successfully separate mission from the colonial approach of the 19th Century, we are still left with some pretty unsavoury images and ideas. Mission suggests a kind of arrogance in our pluralist society where multi-cultural traditions and values are recognised and must live side by side. Mission suggests an attempt at coercion, persuading others of a system of belief and a set of doctrines that are truer than any others and that require a certain set of responses. Let’s be honest, mission sounds distasteful to many of us, and this picture I just painted is certainly unappealing to me.
Before we can think differently about mission, we have to acknowledge what we already think about it; what we already think it means. I wonder what you would say mission means to you? Whose mission is it that the church is called to? What is that mission? How is that mission carried out? And what is the end purpose of engaging in mission? These questions are worth pondering, since the church as a whole, and St Aidans as a particular, are in a place that requires some clear thinking on these matters.
We all know that church attendance is on the decline but that interest in exploring spirituality is on the rise.
We know that church is not central to our society, but that the desire to belong somewhere is still a central human longing.
And we know that churches are no longer attracting people as a place to belong or to fulfil spiritual yearning.
So what is our mission? Is it to keep our church going, or is it something else? Something bigger and broader than just our church?
What’s the purpose of mission? Is it to grow the church, or is it something else? Is growing the church just a happy consequence of the true purpose of mission? Is our mission actually the same as God’s mission for the whole of creation?
The Genesis story of creation suggests that God’s intention for the created world is a vision of inter-related flourishing. The humans take care of the planet and the planet provides the humans with the resources to take care of each other; everything is interwoven with gratitude, joy and delight in the Creator as every part of the creation speaks of its origin. Human flourishing happens in the context of caring for creation, for each other and God. I think that at its core, this is God’s mission, God’s longing for all that is. And this is the mission we are called to be part of, to engage with, to add our energy and our longings to. It may sound like mission impossible, but Jesus told us nothing is impossible for God – dry bones can live again, the barren and virgin can conceive, the dead can be raised to life, the fallen restored. God can use even the most unlikely of people to bring light into darkness, to bring peace into conflict, hope into despair and comfort to those in distress. Even people like you and me.