I SO much wanted to like this book, and for the first five chapters I did.
In this first section, Hodgson provides exemplary ethnography, i.e. an in-depth description of everyday life and customs of a particular group. She furnishes a detailed description of the experience, beginning in 1986, of two Loreto Sisters (members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary) as they become rooted in the Clarences — a hard-bitten estate in north Teesside. This includes a rarely available description of the spirituality of many who have endured multiple disadvantages.
In our highly fragmented society, ethnography is important for mission, requiring the commitment and skill to linger alongside the group to discern the web of meanings that pertain to it. Mission from Below provides a case study for pioneers, but with a caution: this is a historical rather than contemporary account, and our rapidly changing contexts undermine its usefulness.
Hodgson changes tack for the second half of her book, harnessing arguments informed by liberation theology to chastise the growing emphasis on church growth rather than Kingdom growth. It is difficult, however, to escape the implicit and sometimes explicit message: poor people good, the Loreto Sisters even better, and all things associated with an institution — Church, priests, local authority, and Government — bad, careless, and oppressive.
The final section fast-forwards to 2015, when Hodgson revisits the Clarences and is entertained by schoolchildren, laments the decline of the health centre, and is impressed by the use of gardening as a force for transformation on the estate.
In the epilogue, Hodgson continues to bewail the Church of England’s wrong-footed expression of mission because of failing to see mission as community growth, becoming too religious, and, as a result, losing touch with the very material world that Jesus came to love and save.
Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian and lecturer.
Mission from Below: Growing a Kingdom community
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