THE MARKS OF A MISSION-CENTERED
PARISH Fr. Bill Crockett, December 1, 2013
In a recent interview Pope Francis said that his hope is that the Roman Catholic Church will become a mission-centric church rather than a Vatican-centric church, that it will become a church that reaches out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ rather than maintaining the status quo. In the Anglican Communion we have The Five Marks of Mission which were developed by the Anglican Consultative Council. When Fr. Mark invited me to preach today he asked if I would talk about what it would mean for St. James’ Church to become a more mission-centered parish and to relate this to the review process in which you have been engaged as a parish. Advent is a season of expectation looking toward the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. This morning’s scripture readings issue a wake up call. In the Gospel for today we are exhorted to “be ready.” (Matthew 24:44) In the reading from the Epistle to the Romans we are told that “now [is] the moment for you to wake from sleep . . . the night is far gone, the day is near.” (Romans 13:11-12). Jesus sent his apostles and he sends his church on a mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, the good news of God’s love and God’s promise of justice, peace, and reconciliation for all creation. How is St. James’ called to participate in this mission? Let me begin with a bit of church history. Contemporary church historians commonly divide the history of the church into three periods: Pre-Christendom, Christendom, and Post-Christendom. What does this mean? Pre-Christendom is the period up to the early fourth century when the church existed as a minority community in Roman society, sometimes tolerated, and sometimes persecuted. The Christendom period begins in the early fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, and when for the first time the Christian church was given a legitimate status in Roman society. Eventually this meant that Christianity became the
dominant religion in western society with a privileged position in society, and the great majority of people were Christians. This began to change in the eighteenth century with the beginning of the secularization of western societies and the separation of church and state. The process of secularization has accelerated during the twentieth century, so that now at the beginning of the twenty-first century Christianity no longer holds a dominant position in western societies and the church has again become a minority community in a secular society in the west. We see the evidence for this in the decline in numbers in the churches and the marginalization of the church in society, with many indifferent to or even hostile towards Christianity and the church. Here is where we are issued with the Advent wake-up call. How are we as a Christian community to respond to this change in the position of the church in society and be renewed in our mission? What is the mission of the church in a post-Christendom secular society? To address this question and relate it to the mission of St. James’ I will take the Five Marks of Mission as a guideline and relate them to the review process that you have undertaken as a parish. The first mark of mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom A central insight in the contemporary theology of mission is the recognition that mission is God’s mission, and that the role of the church is to respond to God’s mission in the world. God’s mission in the world is to bring abundant life, justice, peace, and reconciliation to all creation. The 1998 Lambeth Conference says: “Mission goes out from God. Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world . . . So mission is never our invention or choice.” In a post-Christendom society that means paying attention not only to what God is doing in the church, but what God is doing in the wider life of society, since God’s love and God’s desire for justice, peace, and reconciliation is extended to all people. The church, however, as the visible sign of the kingdom in the life of the world is called to bear witness to God’s love manifested in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom in the midst of the world.
One of the initiatives in the parish review process which responds to this first mark of mission is to develop an intentional community in close proximity to St. James’ to provide opportunities to participate in the Mission of God. This mark of mission is also addressed in the review process by reflecting on how St. James’ is engaged in evangelism. The second mark of mission is to teach, baptize and nurture new believers This second mark of mission is of particular importance in a post-Christendom society. The church, as a minority community in a secular society, can no longer expect that people will belong to the church because their parents or grandparents did. The church in a post-Christendom society will become more and more a community of people who have made a personal commitment to Christ and seek ways to grow in their life of discipleship. This means that the church must find new ways of preparing people for baptism and nurturing them in the faith through educational programs and in other ways, because many new converts to Christianity have little or no knowledge of the scriptures, of the meaning of Christian faith, and what it means to live a faithful life of Christian discipleship. This underscores the importance in the parish review process of exploring how members of the parish are growing in faith and discipleship and how they are engaged in the life of the parish. It also highlights the importance of the ministry to new members. The parish review process also identified a number of initiatives to provide a ministry of education in the parish. The third mark of mission is to respond to human need by loving service This is of particular importance in the neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside where St. James’ is situated. What is the vocation of the parish and of members of the parish in responding to human need in this area? The review process identifies two outreach initiatives in this area: the Street Outreach Initiative and the Saint James’ Music Academy. These are rightly regarded as remarkable outreach initiatives with which the parish is in partnership. While St. James Community Service Society (recently re-named the Bloom Group) is now independently run it is important to remember that it grew out of a sense of mission by a group of parishioners led by the feisty May Gutteridge who sought to address the social issues in the neighbourhood. It will be important for the parish and for individual parishioners today to discern what their vocation is in responding in outreach to human need in the neighbourhood. An initiative noted in the parish
review process is to create a Parish Mission Centre with street front access to re-connect to the spiritual and physical needs of the community. The fourth mark of mission is to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation This mark of mission seeks to address the root causes of injustice in society and not just the symptoms. It speaks of transforming society’s unjust structures and not just providing band aids for those who suffer from them. This is much harder, because it calls for social and political engagement to change the policies and structures which cause poverty and injustice. This is more difficult in a post-Christendom society because the voice of the church is often not heard or welcomed in the corridors of power. How is St. James’ engaged in this fourth mark of mission? The fifth mark of mission is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth In the past mission was directed towards people without reference to the environment. More recently we have come to recognize the intimate relationship between humanity and nature and the finite and fragile nature of the earth’s ecosystems. As a church we have also come to recognize that both humanity and nature are part of God’s creation for which we are responsible as stewards rather than exploiters. This recognition is new and has given rise to this new mark of mission. How is St. James’ engaged with this mark of mission? The ongoing discussion of the five marks of mission in the Anglican Communion recognizes that as our church travels further along the road towards being mission-centered, the Five Marks need further development. There are some indications of this on the Anglican Communion website where it is affirmed that mission is also celebration and thanksgiving. I quote: “An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12:1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our
mission calling; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.” This directly affirms St. James’ core vocation in maintaining a catholic liturgical and sacramental tradition. Participation in the mass is foundational for the church in mission and undergirds everything that we do, for it is in the mass that we are renewed in our vision of God’s kingdom both in the proclamation of the scriptures and in the sacramental celebration. At the conclusion of the mass we are then sent out into the world to bear witness to life in the kingdom of God. According to the parish review, attendance at each Sunday Mass is in gradual decline in spite of a stable membership in recent years. An important initiative in the parish review process is to find ways of encouraging and equipping parishioners to understand the vital importance of participation in the mass as foundational for their life in mission. The parish review process has identified a number of initiatives which can enable St. James’ to become a more mission-centered community. However, these initiatives must spring from a community that is rooted in the sacramental life of the church and growing in the life of discipleship. What we do flows from who we are. Being precedes doing, as my spiritual director reminded me recently. It is only as we live out our lives as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, continually nurtured by the sacraments, and continually growing in the spiritual life, that we will find the grace and challenge to do the work of mission. Action and spirituality go hand in hand. Action without spirituality is a recipe for burnout. Mission is not our initiative. Mission is God’s initiative and each parish and person is called to discern their own vocation in responding to God’s call to mission. It is a mistake to think that we can do everything. The parish and each parishioner will need to discern their particular vocation, what you are called to do and what you are not called to do. As you hear the Advent wake up call this morning inviting your response as a parish and as individual parishioners to God’s call to mission, may God give you the gift of discernment and the grace to respond to your calling.