Neal Presa, moderator of the 2012 General Assembly, has convened a Colloquium on Ecclesiology this week at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – the first of three such gatherings he intends to organize to discuss the purpose of the church.
The discussions, from April 23-25, center around seven papers that were written in advance and posted online. The format for the discussions is this: For each paper, the author presents a 20-minute summary; comments are then offered by members of the Austin seminary community and the event planning team; then in a question-and-answer session from those attending in Austin and submitted online by people watching the live-stream
For each session, the Outlook will provide a snapshot of the paper and a few memorable points of the discussion.
Presentation 5: Right Mission
Written and presented by: Heidi Worthen Gamble, mission advocate for Hunger, Poverty and Peacemaking Concerns, Presbytery of the Pacific, Los Angeles
The idea of Missio Dei – the mission of God – has given fresh hope to the church in the West, becoming our reason for being, the center of our church life. We also need to reshape our framework for doing mission – a sometimes painful shift away from a mindset of helping others out of a sense of cultural and class superiority, towards a vision of redemptive justice and peace for all God’s people. Are short term mission trips effective? What is the impact of long-term partnerships of mutuality, accompaniment and self-determination? “Mission is dangerous and messy.” It’s about being in relationship with those who suffer and being willing to sacrifice on their behalf. How can the church articulate a vision for mission that moves from the donor/recipient approach to a relationship that is mutually transformational?
To build those relationships “is a spiritual and cultural discipline and it is labor-intesnive,” Gamble told the colloquium April 24. “We have so much to learn and to unlearn.”
Ideas from responses:
Paralysis. Ruth Elswood, a student at Austin seminary, spoke of the dangers of the “halo effect,” the self-satisfying feeling of being heroic rescuers, arising from short-term mission trips which may actually increase dependency and do little to help. But she also warned of the danger of paralysis – of well-meaning people who, worried about that dynamic, are “shocked into inaction,” and stand frozen in response to injustice.
Fair food. Elswood also spoke of the powerful witness provided by the involvement of people of faith with the campaign led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, who have been pressuring supermarket and restaurant chains to pay higher prices for the tomatoes that migrant workers pick. These Central American and Haitian immigrants “hold little power and are largely invisible to most of us,” Elswood said, “clinging to the margins so they will not be deported back to lives of even more extreme poverty than they face in the fields of Florida.” They also are advocating for change – effectively, having won commitments from a series of restaurants and grocery stores that will result in higher wages for the migrants laboring in the fields. By standing with them, in marches and peaceful demonstrations, praying in the produce departments of grocery stores, pastors and other people of faith draw the attention of their neighbors. They see that “this must be a God who inspires, strengthens, teaches and, above all, cares for God’s people,” Elswood said. “Worship occurs in many settings, not only in our sanctuaries.”
Prayer. Changing from a benefactor/recipient relationship to one of mutuality can be difficult for all involved and takes time. “It needs to be an ongoing journey,” involving the learning of names, the building of friendships and trust, the willingness to accompany one another, Gamble said. Before she went to serve as co-pastor of a mission church in Alaska, a cousin experienced in international mission work gave her advice that proved invaluable: “Just keep praying.”