In response to the upcoming General convention and a letter sent out by David Coppley, one of the great individuals who works in Mission Personel in the Episcopal Church Office in New York (aka 815); and imparticularly to those voting in the General Convention.
The subject is the word/term "missionary". This term is could perhaps be changed to 'partners in mission', by a vote in the General Convention. It has been a subject of discussion for at least the past two or three years I believe. It was discused in the July New York mission training before last, and again it was discused in the training I attended this past July.
At the time I was still wrapping my mind around the fact that I was really about to go off to me a "missionary". I have been in the Episcopal church since I was about seven years old. My father and I have developed a deep and rich relationship with the church through these many years.
I have been greatly served by amazing people within the church and spiritually nurtured in this Episcopal home. I mean "home" in a very real and concrete since. That although I am so far from my dear loved ones, family and friends, I am here in Colombia, South America, at home in the Episcopal diocese. It is a sensation that is the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Having said this I now must turn to the issues that surround the term 'missionary' within the Episcopal church.
First WE JUST DON'T USE IT! Really! For the many years that I have been in the church I had not once heard that we had missonaries or supported missiones, that is untill my dear friend Deacon Gerrie sugested that the Spirit was calling me to be a missionary and my dear friends Bob and Kay Blackwell shared their misson experience with me. I then began to hound mission personel trying to figure out what this missionary thing was all about in the Episcopal church.
So my great frustration comes from the fact that I had been strugling with the idea to become a priest since I was in ninth grade. However as the years passed and I entered into college and disscutions with Father Marc the pieces just weren't comming together. I knew God was calling me to something but the only option I saw before me was priesthood. Yet I wanted to travel, to meet and know different cultures. I knew I had the energy to go out and take on difficult challenges, physically and emotionally. It wasn't untill I was in an event at my church with guest speakers from Haita, a priest and his wife Carmel that while they were speaking the Holy Spirit practically hit me up-side the head and I heard clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, - "Go and be a Missionary"
The relief of hearing that word brought me to tears! (and I am not the crying type folks) It was like I was taken out of chaos into peace. I said to myself and God - Oh, that's what you've been trying to tell me all these years!
Moments latter though I was absolutly befuddled. I was thinking, but I'm in the Episcopal church, do we do that?
I had very few thoughts for what a missonary is or of the word missionary, but it still brought me great peace at that moment I heard it. The strangest thing is that the little thought I had given to what it was to be a missionary was anything but holy. I had vissions of the Crusades; of pompus holier-than-thou Europeans and Americans hitting natives over the head with the bible, taking away thier culture and communities. I don't know if I had one positive thought towards missionaries.
So if you can imagine this put me in a very wierd state. I mean, well, if God is calling me to be a missionary, it has to be a good thing filled with love, but on the other hand I had no idea how to reconcile these two oposing natures of the word missionary.
I believe that it could be argued that language is the nursemaid of culture. Language cultivates communication and community. This, just to say that to determine the validity of -a word- is a very sinsitive matter that has very real and lasting consequences.
My disconect with the word missionary began to be healed a couple of years ago and I now, as of recent, have come to an opinion. I have now been working in Colombia for 63 days. In these past few weeks I have found myself in conversations that only the word "Missionary" could have lead me, for instance at a climbing gym or riding in a taxi. They have all been rich and productive conversations. As Audra and I introduce ourselves as missionaries to everyone we meet we have shared our lives within the Episcopal Church and our lives as missionaries. As we share our intrests, passions and talent, the people we encounter get to see a new incarnation of the word missionary. The Cathedral, our parrish lifts Audra and I up in celebration that we are their Missionaries. As we visit the parishes around the diocese we are introduced as and we introduce ourselves as Missionaries.
As a missionary I am not working for a church, for a religion, I am working with and through the Episcopal Church. I am called by God to share the blessed Good News and the life I have in Christ.
Yes the biblical relivance of the WORD missionary could be argued whatever way, perhaps. I am not a theologin who can base my opinion in these terms.
My hope and desire is that the Episcopal Church begin to claim and embrace the word missionary as well as those of us who are working in the name of the church and in the name of Christ as Missionaries. We have done a poor job of taking on the resposability of carring on the call to send out disciples, of making it comnon knowledge that - Yeah, we are a Missionary Church! And we are darn proud of it! Otherwise I would have known about Young Adult Service Corp and the other mission possibilities from the time I entered the church.
We as a culture have created this word and we have given it life. It is a word in motion, not static. We can transform its perception. We can take controle over its intent and use it to heal the very wounds it has created. Like an antivenom that uses a bit of the deadly poison to create a cure.
Also I am thinking of our brothers and sisters in different secs of Christianity; our Christian brothers and sisters whom we share the table of sacraments, whether Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelica, Charismatic, Methodist, etc. Although we may not agree with them on all points we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (to mentions that we don't even agree amongst ourselves). They are going out in great number with great faith to serve a life of strife and joy in the name of lifting up those who are suffering, and they do so as Missionaries. As a Missionary I am in communion with everyone who leaves his or her home to go out and share his or her life in Christ. We are all to work to spread the same Good News. In changing the name you may also be ailienating us from our Christian community. We seek to bring together servents of Christ not find ways of seperating us.
I humbly but boldly offer my opinion that the word "missionary" should not be changed. As I continue on with my ministry here and where ever God leads me I will introduce myself as a missionary. In this I will pray that the spirit guides my will and action to be a transformative representative of the mission of the christian missionaries at large.
In the name of our Lord Christ Peace