Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bishop Smith on Mission

I am grateful to my Bishop, Wayne Smith, for his leadership, his vision, and who he is. I have spent many pixels trying to explain why our relationship with the Diocese of Lui (Sudan) matters. But Bishop Smith nails it here!

He published an article in the November/December issue of Seek, which I commend to all of you. I'm reprinting it here. But go to Seek for all the photos that accompany his essay.

This Practice of Mission

This November, two missioners from the Blackmore Vale Deanery in Salisbury, U.K., will join nine missioners from Missouri as we travel to Lui Diocese. We depart St. Louis the day after Diocesan Convention, and I am trying to remain calm in the face of countless details that a convention and a mission trip both require.

The Diocese of Salisbury, in the Church of England, has been in relationship with the entire Episcopal Church of Sudan for thirty-six years. In fact, when Salisbury began a partnership with Sudan, there was a single diocese encompassing the whole country. Now there are twenty-eight dioceses in a rapidly growing Sudanese Church. Salisbury’s long experience with Sudan will no doubt enrich Missouri’s own partnership with Lui. There are nineteen deaneries in the Diocese of Salisbury; Blackmore Vale seeks to focus its own mission with Lui, where there is certainly enough work for everybody who wants to join in. Would that more of God’s people would join in! It is obvious to me that a third Anglican partner could strengthen the bonds of communion during a season when these bonds are under a lot of stress.

It has been said that mission is to the life of the Church as flame is to the life of a fire. Without the flame, there is no fire. We cannot dissect one from the other. How would we describe a fire without a flame? So it is with Church and mission.

The very practice of mission produces more energy than it consumes. This seems counter-intuitive but data show that churches engaged in mission have a more robust spirituality, are more engaged in worship, are more adept in welcoming new people, and are more likely to be in good health. This formula works for large churches and small, and it is quantifiable. Mission enhances spirituality and learning, which in turn enhance worship, which in turn makes the community both more authentic and inviting, which in turn gives the community the courage to engage in mission.

Lui Diocese cannot be the only venue for the work of mission in our own Diocese. And let me be clear that only a few handfuls of Missourians will ever have the privilege—and the challenge—of journeying to Sudan. It is a long and expensive journey and living conditions there are physically demanding on Westerners. But it is well worth doing.

Our friends and colleagues in Lui cherish the time we spend there with them, so much so that it is humbling. They had felt very much alone, forgotten, and cut off from Christian friendship during twenty-one years of war (ending in 2005). They never fail to express gratitude to God that we have come to stand with them.

Whatever little bit of material aid we can contribute to development leverages great change for good. The wells we have helped to drill in Lui Diocese have increased the quality of life, increased it beyond my own ability to imagine. The Moru people (the name of the tribe living in Lui) are more than eager to learn—education having been nearly impossible during the war—and any expertise we might share is gratefully received. It needs not be profound expertise to make a difference, and education is a focus for our November trip.

The exchange of Christian faith between two vastly different cultures helps both to hear the gospel more clearly. It always seems to me that Missourians are the greater beneficiaries in this economy of grace.

It is clear to me that no one can go to Sudan without being changed. Every missioner I have known makes this clear. But mission of any sort works the same way with us. Herein lies the great grace for the missioner, and for the church who engages in mission, it changes us. It transforms us. It converts us. And for this reason I yearn for every believer to have the chance for hands-on mission, far off or near—or both.

The greater missional value for our partnership with Lui and, potentially, with Blackmore Vale, does not end with whatever good we might accomplish in Sudan. Such practice in mission will open our eyes to what is perhaps more difficult to see, the need and possibility for engaging in mission right here in Missouri. Are we so accustomed to what we see in our own neighborhoods that we fail to take notice?

The work of mission for Missouri Episcopalians is not just in Lui. It is in Lui and St. Louis City. Or it is in Lui and in the Bootheel. Or it is in Lui and in the Ozarks. Or it is in Lui and in the locale of wherever you live and worship.

Work that is far off and stark, but full of joy, can open our eyes to see possibilities at home—possibilities which may be stark but also brimming over with the likelihood of joy.

The Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith
Tenth Bishop of Missouri

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