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World mission

13 July 2012

A REPORT "exploring new frameworks for the Church of England in world mission" was the basis of a debate by the General Synod on Saturday morning.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, commended the report World-shaped Mission to the Synod. The motion focused "on the four priorities that I believe will assist us to re-imagine the Church of England's realistic contribution to the global mission", he said. These were: "the necessity for co-ordination in a field of increasing diversity"; "the importance of a sense of common Anglican identity"; "the need for continuing relationships within the National Church Institutions"; and "the need to be seen to be working out principles of mutuality among Church of England links and agencies as well as with our partners in the global Church".

The heart of the report was "a call to the Church of England to move towards a greater mutuality in world mission relationships". The C of E had once understood missionaries as those "who went with the mission agencies to another part of the world to take the gospel". Over the past 20 years, the understanding of mission had changed: "we now see ourselves here at home to be in mission in our local communities and in national life. England is a mission field." There needed to be "attitudinal change at all levels of the Church". The motion "specifically affirms the work of the mission agencies and the companion links, but calls for partnerships between all engaged in world mission relationships".

Jennifer Humphreys (Bath & Wells) reported that, since the last Lambeth Conference, the diocese had been raising awareness of the Millennium Development Goals. It had recently invited people from Zambia and Brazil to talk about environmental sustainability in their contexts. The report would "resonate" with what the diocese was trying to do in bringing about "behavioural change" in parishes.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said the report was an "exceptionally coherent and powerful document". He drew attention to paragraph 119, suggesting that the Church needed to listen to migrant residents in England: "If we are to take this document seriously, we need to reflect on how we invest, collaborate with, and learn from the global Church on our doorstep."

This would include interaction with diaspora communities, and ongoing liaison with the black-majority Churches in this country. He also referred to the "growing concurrence between mission agencies and aid agencies", and welcomed the "excellent stories of liaison" between Christian Aid and local agencies.

The Church, he said, had been able to work more and more closely with the Department for International Development to "overcome innate suspicion" in Westminster towards faith-based agencies in this context - "no small task".

The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) welcomed the "superb" report, its theological setting, appeal to ecumenical partnership, plea for cross-cultural Christianity, and "sensitive exploration of what partnership means - giving and receiving on both sides". He went on to ask how churches could make partnerships with agencies outside the Church, including relief work organised by Muslim groups. It would need to develop a theology for such partnerships which did not "sell short the Christian gospel", but took seriously "the mission and presence of God which overflows the Church".

The Revd Mark Ireland (Lichfield) said that he was excited by the report's emphasis on mutuality and interdependence in mission; but there was a missing chapter dealing with mission and evangelism. While mission was more than evangelism, evangelism was a key component; and overseas partners, he said, had much to teach about evangelism.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said: "I did a bit of dramatic improvisation in my youth, and learned that it works quite well if you can be inspired by those you're acting with." In partnership links, he said, the best was drawn out of the partnership as "we improvise together in God's service."

Penny Allen (Lichfield) said that she was disappointed that the report did not contain "reference to seeking to transform unjust structures of society". She would have liked to see "reference to the Church of England in partnership with the Government making our country into a Fairtrade country", or "taking more ethical stances about the economy and banking".

The Revd Dr John Perumbalath (Rochester), a trustee of USPG, said that he had observed "an unhealthy competition in world mission"; he had found Anglican mission societies and Anglican development agencies "working unconnected", and often asking the same people for financial support.

Clive Scowen (London) said that his amendment sought "to add another strand" to the motion "by stressing the potential of every parish church and individual members of churches to participate in mission in other parts of the Anglican Communion . . . by taking direct missional initiatives themselves". He gave the example of a mission project set up by a priest, and supported by his two parishes. This had resulted in "many . . . becoming Christians when they see the life-transforming power of the gospel around them".

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, encouraged the Synod not to vote in favour of the amendment. The point made by Mr Scowen was covered by the "generic reference" to "all involved in Church of England world mission" in paragraph (d) of the motion. The danger would be ending up with "lots of things simply duplicating what is going on through diocesan links and mission agencies".

The amendment was carried by 195 to 120, with 15 recorded abstentions.

Canon Celia Thomson (Gloucester) moved an amendment to add "the world Church" to the motion. She said that companion links with ecumenical partners, particularly in Europe, could be fruitful. The diocese of Gloucester had links with a branch of the Lutheran Church in Sweden. More people were able to benefit from that link than from links to Africa and India; and there was the shared context of European Churches.

Her amendment was supported by the Bishop of Bristol, and was carried without debate.

Mr Scowen sought to introduce a further amendment to encourage parishes and individual members of the C of E to engage in world mission.

Speaking in support of it, Canon Chris Sugden (Oxford) said that the agency CMS had originated in Holy Trinity, Clapham. "The work of parishes feature in no diocesan reports or agency budgets," he said. "The way members of our churches understand the world Church is through personal connections." Such links were messy and untidy, but should be left to flower".

Canon Simon Butler (South-wark), opposing the amendment, said that they shouldn't tell all parishes to be involved in world mission. "Some will see it as yet another thing to add to their to-do lists."

The amendment was lost.

The amended motion was carried. It said:

That this Synod, recognising the Church of England's historic and continuing participation in world mission as essential to our identity as members of the universal Church:

(a) welcome the report entitled World-shaped Mission and commend it to the dioceses and parishes of the Church of England for further study;

(b) affirm the ongoing role of Mission Agencies in resourcing the mission of the Church of England at home and overseas;

(c) affirm the continuing growth, whether through the Diocesan Companion Links, initiatives by parishes or otherwise, in the relationships between the Church of England, the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, and the world Church; and

(d) encourage the building of continuing partnership between all involved in the Church of England world mission and development relationships.

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