Missions Organisations Conference, Cyprus 12-18 February 2003
Mission leaders experience 'beautiful solidarity in diversity' By Margaret S Larom
In six intense days bracketed by 2000 years of Christian history, Anglicans from throughout the world explored the interlocking nature of continuity, change and context during a mission conference set in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The aim of the conference, entitled 'Transformation and Tradition in Global Mission,' was 'to explore new dimensions of our common mission.' By the end of their time together, approximately 110 men and women from 40 countries had recognised anew that the mission is God's, and that the Anglican Communion is uniquely qualified to serve that mission, if it uses the gifts God has given every member.
In the view of the Rt. Rev. Jubal Neves, bishop of Southwestern Brazil, the event demonstrated a new incarnational approach to mission -- a 'beautiful solidarity in diversity.'
Representing mission agencies, boards, and movements in most of the provinces of the Anglican Communion, they also represented every order in the church (bishop, clergy, laity, and religious). There were seminary deans and professors, provincial or diocesan staff members, voluntary agency executive directors and area secretaries, heads of special ministries and members of religious orders. There were members of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism, and various official Anglican networks. There were church leaders who work essentially alone, among indigenous people or different faith groups, and others who function in complicated bureaucracies. More than half the group was ordained. Although women represented only one quarter of the total group, their credentials were no less remarkable than those of their male counterparts. Likewise, younger voices were in the minority -- by one count, there were 28 participants under the age of 45 -- and their intelligence, clarity, experience and energy made them dynamic leaders in the mix.
The days were filled with plenary speakers and small group discussions, Bible study and worship, workshops and special interest sessions, field trips and late night conversations.
Although they attempted to capture the sense of the conference in a joint statement entitled 'Communion in Mission,' the shimmering threads of the fabric that was woven during their life together cannot really be described.
The missionary journey of St. Paul came alive as they walked through Roman ruins in Paphos and visited the tomb of St. Barnabas in the northern part of Cyprus now occupied by Turkey. In fact, they even 'ran the race set before them', on an ancient weed-strewn track high above the sea. Professor John Barclay, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, led them in challenging daily Bible studies (using selections from Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians), geared to help them understand Paul's missionary challenge.
The exposure visits to historic sites gave sobering evidence of the rise and fall of great civilisations, levelled by periodic earthquakes and subject to frequent invasions. The imagery of the fault line, first introduced by Prof. Barclay as he described the cataclysmic nature of Paul's conversion, took hold of their imaginations and cropped up in discussions of the state of the Communion and the nature of Church. For example, 'How wide can the fault line be, for people standing with one leg on each side?' Or, 'Has the Church planted well laid-out gardens on a bed of volcanic lava?'
Most participants agreed that we do not have to agree on everything to be Anglican - that indeed, our strength comes because of, not in spite of, our differences. But within that affirmation came some important warnings, and pleas, especially from Asia:
Out of these challenges, that emerged during the course of an encounter blessed by a sense of love, respect, and enjoyment of each other, came a sense of renewed vision and call. There was a recognition that Anglicans are indeed 'companions on a journey,' separated by distance but understanding that everything connects, pointing the way to Jesus Christ, making sure that the church exists for mission.mission is not just another program of the church.
As they experienced themselves in a continuum of time (viewing artefacts from 7000 BC, contemplating contemporary mission issues, and joining their prayers to the saints who had gone before), so the Anglicans also found themselves understanding that every community, no matter how temporary, is impacted by its context. They had created a vital, worshipping community of their own, but were very conscious that they were located not only within the Anglican context of the Diocese of the Cyprus and the Gulf (which includes a church in Baghdad), but also within a very ancient Greek Orthodox environment, and within the geo-political reality of the nation of Cyprus, where a new president was elected on the Sunday they were there.
They empathised with Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike as they walked from one side of Nicosia to the other, along a road made ominous with rolls of barbed wire and representing the division of the country since 1974. They could not help but wonder at the boundaries human beings create, the walls they build, in contrast to the unity that God wills for us all. Boundaries must be crossed for God's mission to be carried out.
In the joyous fellowship of worship, the conference participants recognised the precious gift of the multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural community that is theirs, and responded with feeling to music led with vigor and grace by Geoffrey Weaver (author of Lambeth Praise, the worship book of the 1998 conference of bishops). "We're going to continue singing each other's songs," he would say, as he prepared the group for participating in the next Eucharist or Compline, successively led by persons from different countries or regions.
Four plenary sessions involved presentations and responses on key sub-themes, as follows:
Setting the theme on opening night was the Rev. Dr. Christopher Duraisingh, organiser of the World Council of Churches' Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Salvador Bahia, Brasil, in 1996, who is now teaching at Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts, USA. He emphasised that 'tradition-ing' (handing over) is essential to the transformation that occurs in the mission endeavour. The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, described diverse and dramatic aspects of ministry and witness in disparate parts of the world. The Most Rev. Benjamin Nzimbi, Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, preached at the closing Eucharist and commissioning service. He emphasised that the church and its organisations must be strengthened and transformed to carry out the mission of God, 'serving, healing, and reconciling a divided and wounded humanity,' in the words of David Bosch.
A total of 16 workshops were offered on four tracks (theological education, leadership and management challenges, contemporary mission issues, and partnership models), led by a distinguished array of missiologists and practitioners. Nearly 40 people listened to the Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, at the workshop on 'Peace, Reconciliation and Justice,' then proceeded to lift up many other parts of the world in need of healing. The Rev. Enock Tombe Stephen, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, engaged his group in a spirited discussion on organisational development and change. Dr. Eleanor Johnson, director of partnerships for the Anglican Church of Canada, moderated a reflection on leadership in times of crisis or stress. The subject of Christian-Muslim relations prompted stark anecdotes of very dangerous times and places for an increasing number of places in the Communion. Activists in arenas as diverse as HIV/AIDS and contextual theology pressed on with their work, engaging others in their passion.
Not content with all of this, more than a dozen participants rallied their colleagues into attending special interest groups on Saturday night, to share more in areas not covered by workshops, such as the global refugee and migrant crisis.
Not surprisingly, the topics, the participants, and even the key motivation for having such a gathering were quite different from the last time such an event was staged. In December 1986 in Brisbane, Australia, persons representing mission agencies in nine provinces (Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Melanesia, New Zealand, Scotland, Southern Africa and the United States of America), met with 'partner church representatives' from a dozen other regions in the two-thirds world. There were 60 participants in all, only 7 of whom were women.
Two persons who attended Brisbane 1986, Bishop Neves of Brasil and Bishop Chiwanga of Tanzania, were present for the Cyprus event. As Bishop Neves noted, the present conference drew nearly twice as many people, with a significantly higher proportion of laity and of women and a much clearer sense that all in attendance were invited on an equal basis. 'The world has changed and so has the Anglican Communion,' Bishop Neves said.
Margaret S. Larom is the World Mission Interpretation and Networks Officer at the Episcopal Church Center in New York. She represented her province on MISSIO, the Communion's first commission on mission and evangelism, from 1994 to 1999.
The Planning Team responsible for organising the conference was appointed by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism and included:
Invaluable assistance with a thousand logistical details was given by the diocesan office in Cyprus, especially Ms. Georgia Katsantonis, personal assistant to Bishop Clive Handford.