Mission at the heart of the church, conference finds

Mission is at the heart of the life and calling of the Church. God?s mission of love and life is universal in scope – to all people in all situations (John 3:16)

This was the central affirmation of the recent, first-ever consultation of co-ordinators of mission and evangelism within the Anglican Communion meeting in Nairobi.

Representatives from Anglican provinces in Asia, the Pacific, Australasia, the Middle East, Central, East, West and Southern Africa, North America, the Caribbean and Britain and Ireland met for the first major gathering on mission and evangelism in the Anglican Communion since the end of the Decade of Evangelism. Included among the participants was Rev. Sandy Copland, the Anglican Church of Canada’s representative.

The representatives were joined by representatives from the world mission agencies – the Mothers Union, Church Army (Africa), CMS and USPG.

John Clark, chief secretary for mission of the Church of England and chair of the consultation commented, “This has been an invigorating and spiritually refreshing experience. I sense a great energy and vitality amongst those present and within the Communion, and a renewed commitment to make evangelism and mission a priority within the life of our church. The consultation has helped us appreciate the rich variety of the Communion and to be deeply challenged by those amongst us who are seeking to forward the gospel in situations of great suffering and hardship.”

The majority of those attending had never participated in an international Anglican Communion gathering before. So there was much sharing of accounts about how the churches from which they had come were carrying out God?s call to mission. Churches are growing often in situations of conflict and poverty, among displaced people, in many cases threatened by HIV/AIDS. The challenge of life and witness in Islamic contexts and under Shariah law was identified as a major concern. Co-ordinators also shared from experience on how best to carry out their jobs and began to prepare a list of guidelines for new co-ordinators.

There was a particular focus on church planting, evangelism in the context of affluent nations, like the United States, co-operation between provincial structures and mission agencies and work with other denominations. Carlos Ham, executive secretary for evangelism in the World Council of Churches challenged the consultation with insights drawn from beyond the world of Anglicanism.

Archbishop David Gitari, primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, spoke about the role of a bishop in mission and evangelism, drawing from his years of experience in Kenya and emphasizing the bishop?s role as a missionary, called to lead in the work of evangelism.

Particular attention was given to the importance of the witness of lay people and the provision of training for evangelism. Clergy and bishops in particular were challenged to exercise their role of leadership and encouragement in mission and evangelism.

Co-ordinators exchanged details of how they carried out their work and agreed to form an e-mail network as an initial step in continuing to support, challenge and stimulate each other.

Daily worship beginning with a eucharist and including mid-day, evening and night prayers drawn from liturgies across the world, enriched the meeting and provided a framework for discussion. A half night prayer vigil was held during which all churches within the Communion were prayed for.

Bishop Mano Rumalshah, former bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan, and now general secretary of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel presented daily Bible studies on encounters that Jesus had with people during his ministry and the lessons they provided for mission and evangelism today.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, of Rochester (England), provided a theological and historical framework for the conference with a presentation on evangelism and the wholeness of mission.

Much of the work of the consultation took place in group discussion. Conclusions stressed the importance of prayer and worship and the Christian community in mission and evangelism. The importance of local contexts leading to a diversity of approaches to mission and evangelism was emphasized but attention was also drawn to the influence of global trends such as globalization, urbanization, HIV/AIDS and the growth of Islam.

Training in mission and evangelism was identified as a priority. The role of bishops and clergy, not just in setting a lead but also in encouraging others, was stressed. There was a call for greater sharing of ideas, experiences, people and finance across the Communion and for all provinces and dioceses to appoint a mission and evangelism co-ordinator.

The conference, hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya, concluded with Sunday visits to parishes and congregations in and around Nairobi to give participants an inspiring experience of the Church in Kenya at worship.

The consultation was an initiative of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism, which will hold its second meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland from June 16- 25. There is to be a similar consultation for mission agencies of the Communion in Cyprus in February 2003.


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