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Healing the world, if not the Church

by
28 March 2013

Bridget Nichols reads a good book from the US with a hole in it

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Gathering at God's Table: The five marks of mission in the feast of faith
Katharine Jefferts Schori
SPCK £12.99
(978-0-281-06946-0)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT602 )

BETWEEN 1984 and 1990, the Anglican Consultative Council established a set of imperatives for the part the Church should play in the world. These Five Marks of Mission are now widely discussed: to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; to teach, baptise, and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation; to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

In this attractively written book, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States offers a large and diverse set of illustrations of the Five Marks of Mission as they are lived out in the local situation. Each of the five sections (one for each Mark) combines vignettes from the communities that Katharine Jefferts Schori has visited, with reflections on international and global responsibility for political stability, food security, stewardship of the environment, health, education, and the eradication of poverty.

Although most of the stories describe Episcopal parishes in the US, readers elsewhere will not struggle to identify with the grass-roots responses to homelessness, unemployment, racial injustice, and natural disasters which they depict. Each short chapter ends with a challenge headed "Making Your Mark". These take the form of deceptively simple single questions, but they do not leave many hiding places for individuals or communities who take them to heart.

What differentiates the book from celebrations of the local is its insistence on a larger theological vision of a healed and restored world. This is encapsulated in the image of the banquet that runs through the canon of scripture, carrying with it the confidence that there can, in all senses, be enough for all. It is that over-arching determination to see the eschatological connection between Church and world that would make it an excellent addition to a study programme, or even a confirmation course.

There is one puzzling silence. In a work by the Primate of a Church of the Anglican Communion riddled by high-profile divisions, no clues are offered to how the Church is to address its own fractures and failures in relation to its desire to serve the world. The Church of England could ask itself the same questions. As there are five blank pages at the end of the book, perhaps that is an invitation. 

Dr Bridget Nichols is Lay Chaplain to the Bishop of Ely.

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