Communion Matters V: Amazing Grace

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We all enjoy this hymn, and hear it at a multitude of settings, public, funereal, etc. But we do well to recall its author, John Newton, was both an Anglican cleric, and in the first generation of evangelicals in our tradition. The emphasis on grace was of course the bass-note of the Reformation. Of course in our time we imagine this to be one kind of Episcopalian, in contrast, say, to an Anglo-Catholic or a Social Gospeller. But what if we think harder about that hymn and its author?

  1. If you haven’t seen the movie ‘Wilberforce’, i recommend it to you: Newton will appear in it. This reminds us that the context of the hymn is his renunciation of the sinful practice of the slave trade, systemic racism and structural sin if there ever were such. He was committed to the imperative of racial reconciliation, which for him bound up with the conversion he underwent. His subsequent ministry was a ‘holistic’ summons to both, and so ought ours to be.

  2. But there is yet more to say. Out of these commitments came the Church Missionary Society, an Anglican body we will have more to say. They felt a burden to evangelize the freed slaves of today’s Sierra Leone. From this came missionizing across the globe, from which came indigenous Anglican. Churches across the globe, and from this, eventually came the Anglican Communion. The last is a profoundly catholic development, Churches bound together in Word, sacrament, and episcopal order across the world.

  3. I am writing this blog on the holiday that commemorates a Baptist pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. We as Anglicans have, in our DNA, a tradition at once evangelical and catholic, with a strong sense of our own call to do what we are given to do to be agents of racial reconciliation.




Communion Matters IV: The Missionary

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We are thinking together, from a variety of angles, about communion, the concrete examples of which, for us Anglicans, is our global fellowship. But this came about as a result of the missionary movement. Since many now point out the relation between this movement and imperialism, should we still hold missionaries in esteem? I do not deny that they, who were after all creatures influenced by their time, were flawed, and on occasion grievously so. Still i offer seven reasons they merit our attention and even our praise.

  1. The relation of missionary to colonizer was complicated. It is true that our Anglican churches were often in places the British ruled, but not always. And equally frequently the colonizers found the missionaries to be a pain in the neck, evangelizing and criticizing things we would criticize too, like suttee or foot-binding. Furthermore the courage of the original bearers of the Gospel was remarkable, some understanding that they would die of malaria or black water fever not long after arrival.
  2. While the missionaries had an important role, others often actually took the lead. Most Africans, for example, first heard the Gospel from local catechist/ evangelists. For this reason the theme of ‘native agency’ has become central to mission studies. God had surprises for all, including the missionaries, as the story unfolded in each region.
  3. We have indeed come to see more clearly that mission is, as the tagline came to be, ‘from everywhere to everywhere,’ and that includes us in the West on both sides of the equation. But, with all their inevitable flaws and gifts, we need some with his distinct calling remind of this wider dimension of vocation we all share. In line with this, some of the prominent movements in the Church in the Global North- church growth, missio Dei, total ministry- began with, or in spite of, the missionaries in the Global South, themselves.





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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.