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.





Communion Matters 3: What Does Communion Mean?

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The place is begin is with what the word means, and the answer is ‘lots of things,’ and in lots of different spheres.  Communion, in Greek koinonia, means ‘the shared.’ But this can be referred to the sacrament, or to having goods held in common, or to a quality of relationship between friends, or to the inner life of the divine Trinity, or to a state of mutual recognition of different churches (especially our fellow Anglicans), and, by extension, other groups, and doubtless others as well.  Communion’s power is its span and its flexibility. 

Whether we are looking at the religious or economic or inter-personal, or divine, or diplomatic, (or others), what is common to their sense of commonality?  Being in communion means we are together, really and deeply, without being identical. In philosophical jargon, to be is to be with. For the opposite of blending all into one, is to stand apart and be separate. To be I is not to be you. And this too is what ‘communion’ is not saying.  By nature a family is communal, while a business organization is not, though it may strive toward such a state on occasion.  Needless, to say we resist communion as much as we want it, we who are made to be related to God even as we are prohibited from identifying ourselves with Him.

Christian being is indeed communion, undergirded by the divine communion, constituted in the communion of the Church, displayed in the act of communion, instructive for humanity made for a being as communion, etc.  There is indeed a kind of ladder, an interlocking chain, which helps us to understand, as we look from one to another, what life in the Spirit as life in communion is.  In other words, ‘who God is’ leads to ‘who we are’ leads to ‘what we do together Sunday’ leads to ‘how we conduct ourselves in the world.’      


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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.