Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Domestic and Foreign (and Knitting) Missionary Society

Bishop Gray reminded us in his address at Annual Council that we are, in fact, by name and by calling missionary people.  The Episcopal Church is legally named the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.  We are called in baptism to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.  We have no excuses, then, he said (we laughed, and so did he, but we all knew it wasn't really a joke) - we are to go out into the world, whether we go out one mile or one thousand miles, and take part in the mission work of invitation, transformation, and reconciliation.

Not even the dire news of budget woes could dampen the missionary zeal.  Over and over we heard from women and men who have embraced the name and the call.  Uganda, Honduras, Panama, the Sudan, Congregations for Children, the plight of our public schools, racial reconciliation... All these and more have been the passions of people who not only discovered they could make a difference but who also learned that a difference could be made in themselves.

This, I believe, is the biggest challenge of mission, and one that perhaps was not emphasized enough this weekend.  Far more difficult than setting aside our time and money and energy to go out into our communities and the world is setting aside our conviction that we know what needs to be done.  We have to be willing to be changed by what we encounter when we go out, to acknowledge that we, too, are in need of saving.  Are we not reconciling the world to God?  I fear sometimes that we instead try reconciling the world (and perhaps even God) to ourselves.

We had with us two Anglican bishops from Africa, one of whom we have been asked to support as he builds a new diocese in one of the most desperate regions of the Sudan.  We prayed, we gave him gifts, we saw pictures of his community, we listened to his story.  It was but the beginning of an enduring relationship between two churches.  We pledged to be advocates for the most vulnerable in our own state of Mississippi, to engage in difficult conversations about race and power and privilege.  And yet, despite having an abundance of liturgical resources available, we sang only one song with roots in African or African-American tradition.  We sang no songs in Spanish.  Our prayers were exclusively to a male God.  

I suspect we can do much to help many people with our good intentions and our conviction of God's call to mission.  But will we really be reconciling if we are not willing to become unraveled and re-knit?  

All that said, it was refreshing to have a Council focused not on our fear of fracturing or the minute details of resolutions but rather on how, as Bishop Gray said over and again, "We are all in this together."  We are all in an economic crisis together.  We are all in a world filled with violence and inequity together.  We are all in a state that still suffers from the specter of racism together.  And we are all in this together:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation... (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18)

We are also, it seems, in this together:

Here are many (but not all - there were more than these even!) who were knitting (and perhaps unraveling and re-knitting just a bit) at Council.  There were sweaters, scarves, prayer shawls, baby blankets, and a lovely needlepoint of a Christmas scene.  And one soul, who understands and appreciates what it means to be "all in this together", asked if I would take a picture of him as well, even though he had no knitting of his own to hold.  That's my green palindrome scarf.  Who knows, though...perhaps this is a living example of the courage to be changed by what we encounter!

1 comment:

Julie Nolte Owen said...

Thank you so much for sharing your reflections and thoughts-- and the knitting collages. They are wonderful. What a creative idea!