Over the last few days, I have visited a couple of dozen websites for churches, mostly Anglican/Episcopalian. Most of the websites have been helpful and informative, which in turn raises a huge question for me. Why are missions missing from our websites?
One parish mentioned “sensitive work” in another country. I can appreciate their concern for appropriate security. Often such work is known to the local authorities and yet it remains wise to limit discussion of it on the internet. On the one hand, many cultures value tact, discretion and etiquette. In fact, if an organisation from outside the United States were to start advertising on their website that they were sending agents to the United States to establish a presence in this country for the purpose of extolling their own principles which in due time will change America forever–if an organisation did so, the American government as well as the neighbors of said entity would be alarmed and would take preventative action. All peoples expect newcomers to show respect when visiting or moving into their community.
On the other hand, it may be wise not to publicize sensitive work when there may be resistance to such work not only from the authorities in a specific location but also from third parties. I think of one community in Southeast Asia which was known for its harmonious relationships among Christians and Muslims. A few years ago, outsiders came to the area and stirred up tensions leading to violence. The religious leaders as well as the civic authorities were dismayed.
So it may be that Churches do not publicize their missions on their websites out of concern for the work, the workers, and indeed the new believers. But one can speak of missions without revealing details of persons and places. Parishes express their commitments to the safety of children, to the support of strong marriages, and to the welfare of the needy in their communities. To do so is one way of attracting and connecting with newcomers–as well as providing a resource for members of the parish. In short, such statements on a website can be identity markers: this is what we stand for.
Could it be then that missions do not find a prominent place on most parish websites because missions is not part of our identity? Could it be that Anglican Churches are trying to be “apostolic” without being committed to sending out missionaries and mission partners, even though the word apostle (e.g. apostolos in Greek and sheliach in Hebrew) means “one who is sent out”?
Several of the websites did in fact have a reference to a youth mission trip or a companion diocese. Those references suggested those missions efforts were similar to the other good ministries and activities of the parish. That missions is on par with the altar guild, the flower guild, and the nursery. This appears to be quite satisfactory for many parishes, to see missions as one more program, a good and worthy program within the whole of the Church.
Jesus said, “Going, make disciples…” The “go” was not a command, but a basic assumption. “As you are going along your way, make disciples…” “As the Father sent me so I send you.” The disciples were commanded to stay in Jerusalem only until the Holy Spirit came upon them, and then they were to spread the Gospel everywhere. It has been noted that when Jesus told different ones not to tell others who he was before the Resurrection, they did so–and that when he told them to tell it on the mountains, the plains and the valleys after the Resurrection, they chose to stay in Jerusalem and we choose to stay at home too.
As Christmas draws near, I hope we can look at the DNA of our own lives, our parishes and our dioceses. I pray that the wonder of Jesus’ birth is so great that we will want to go and tell it on the mountain and beyond. I want to knit that desire into the fabric of my own parish.
We were recently considering support of two agencies in our city that assist the poor. The first and much larger agency, although it was started by a church in the city, makes no public expression of faith and no programmatic effort to connect “clients” with Churches. They do have individuals who do so in their own personal context as volunteers. The second agency, also started by a church in the city, expresses their Christian commitments openly. They offer each person who contacts them for help the opportunity to have a partner work with them, encourage them, and coach them through the time of their need. We will continue to work with both groups, but the second has become our first point of reference when helping those in need. Why? Because it fits in more closely with our DNA, with our desire to connect people not only with temporal help but also with the person of Jesus Christ and his people, the Church.