When you hear the word, “mission”, what comes to your mind? For many it conjures up images of colonialism, westernization, and converting “pagan” peoples to win souls for Jesus. Some may think of small parishes supported by a diocese. Others, perhaps, hear the Mission: Impossible theme in their heads. There are many associations with the word “mission” and I wanted to take some time before I leave for Hong Kong to talk about The Episcopal Church and Mission, and what that means for every member of every parish in every diocese and province that is part of our church.
The full legal name of the national church corporate body is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. It is made up of churches from all over the world. We are not just North American; we include in our provinces Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe. Missionaries sent from The Episcopal Church since its founding in the 1780s established churches, hospitals, and schools all over the world, many of which are still in operation today.
“We are all missionaries, or we are nothing,” says the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu. As members of the Church we are all part of God’s mission of reconciliation. I am not going to Hong Kong to become a missionary; I already am one! And so are you. We live out our lives as missionaries by being Christ Incarnate to everyone we meet; by recognizing Christ Incarnate in everyone we meet. This incarnational relationship furthers God’s mission to reconcile us to him, to bring us into relationship with himself and each other. This is the work of the church. We are commissioned in baptism, enabled by the Holy Spirit, and are invited to be not only recipients but also channels of God’s transforming grace.
The word “mission” also conjures up, at least for me, a sense of being sent out. Indeed, at the end of our worship service we ask God to “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” In The Great Commission, Jesus sends out the disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). I will be a representative of those who are sending me: St. Paul’s Murfreesboro, the Diocese of Tennessee, and The Episcopal Church; not only these, but as God’s representative of reconciliation to those who need healing, justice, and hope.