Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to Vicar School, Dr. Bob and the Sikh Chip shop and Mission

Some people have a Spiritual Home: perhaps York Minster or St. Paul's; maybe a local parish church or some special place they happened on once abroad on a significant holiday.

Mine is the Wakefield Police College.

It was there, during my training for ordination that much of my ministerial formation took place and where I had some wonderful social and significant spiritual experiences.

The Wakefield Police College.

That might sound a bit sad, a bit naff to some people I suppose but I was back there on Saturday morning, slipping under the Anglican radar - never on a delegate's list but always welcomed - to experience the latest in my ongoing training. My Anglican friends call it IME (Initial Ministerial Education) but I invariably get it wrong and call it EMI. (I seem to be fixated on the possibility of our cutting a disc at the end of the process.) They also call it Potty Training or Post Ordination Training. They may say that: I couldn't possibly comment.

I have a strong sense of coming home when I arrive here: a familiar environment and the company of good friends - friendships forged in the intimacy of training for the priesthood.

"Just watch my stuff as I pop to the Loo." Dr. Bob asked vaguely of Stuart, Hilda and I.

What are the chances? WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? A group of clergy in the middle of a Police College. I ask you!

Looking for our tutorial room we passed a sign directing police recruits to the Diversity Awareness Unit. Was it, I mused, purely a coincidence that the Diversity Awareness Unit is an a black corner on the margins of the college?

Our topic for the morning was mission and in our small group we discussed a variety of related issues. What I noted in particular was the difference in approach to the theme between those in full time paid ministry and those in secular employment. Monica works for the NHS, Dr. Bob is a University Reader in Science Education and I am a teacher. We found the models up for discussion fascinating (more of which later) but the conclusion was largely that different models influenced our approach to our secular work than the models that pertained to parish ministry.

"Life is live." noted Monica in response to Dr. Bob's concerns on presenting on Radio Sheffield's "Ask the Boffins." (Not Hip-Hop F.M. then?) Dr Bob is one of three scientists, one physicist, one chemist and one biologist who are the boffins. He is, of course, also a priest.

"Last week, someone phoned in and asked Is there a God? I replied Yes, one of the others No and the third I don't know. I'm not sure where that left anyone. Anyway" he went on. "No one really listens. I think we have a radio audience of about 10 - probably housebound and arthritic so they can't change the station. I suspect half of them have to turn up their hearing aids and the half have gone out and left the radio on as a deterrent to burglars.

And then on the way home I went into the Sikh chippy. Are you a Christian? they asked me looking at my dog collar. You know, God and church and all that. We got into conversation and they talked a bit about having lost touch with their spirituality and I said You need to get back to the Gurdwara then. Was that rubbish mission?"

I didn't think so.

Anyway, back to the Key note presentation. (Those with a low boredom threshold with all things theological, look away now.)

The Rev'd Dr. Gavin Wakefield was our speaker and I was fascinated from the start as he walked us through a number of models of mission. He was using the book Constants in context: A Theology of Mission for Today by Roman Catholic authors Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder. Now I remember sitting in lectures hearing about Missio Dei and I felt sufficiently familiar with the topic to feel comfortable just sitting back and listening. One of the things that struck me straight away was the authors' remarks one of the most important things Christians need to know about the church is that the church is not of ultimate importance ... the point of the church is not the church itself. And these guys are Catholics? I must buy this book. I am hooked already. Bevans and Schroeder identify six constants which they see as defining Christianity wherever it is found: Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Salvation, Theological Anthropology and Culture which they apply to the following models of mission.

(Still with me? Oh good. I know some of you are getting on and have a limited concentration span.)

  • A Trinitarian model:
The clear image for this model was a church without walls. The church "... is itself the result of the overflowing love of God, expressed in the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit. Ad Gentes 2

Like Jesus the church is sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, to spend itself for the life of the world. (Jn 6.33, 10.10 and 20.21) The gifts of the Spirit are not given for personal edification but for building up the whole laos. It is a pilgrim community called by God. In eschatological terms Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience and experience a foretaste of the world's destiny of full communion with God through baptism and the eucharist. We live in expectation of parousia. Salvation in this model, consists in participation in God's triune communal life and mission. Salvation is holistic in its commitment to to justice and reconciliation with other people and the world we live in and on. The Spirit of God is available in all creation.

  • A Liberation Model: seeking God's reign or the liberating service of the reign of God. (Evangelii Nuntiandi)
We witness by the lives we lead, remembering that Jesus was the first and greatest evangeliser. Our proclamation brings others into the church who in turn become witnesses. The World Council of Churches notes the link between the reign of God and the church's mission of of liberation and its commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

In this model Christology is seen as the historical witness of Jesus which is present but not yet fully realised. In terms of Ecclesiology, such an understanding of the church points to its radical missionary nature, for it is only in mission that the church continues to be what it is. Jesus' Kingdom ministry of healing, forgiveness and inclusion is at the centre of its life. Salvation is victory over institutional and structural sin and evil but injustice is always lurking and there will need to be prophetic correction.

  • A Salvationist model: with its proclamation of Christ as universal saviour.
Redemptoris Missio asks "Why mission?" and concludes it is an obligation to proclaim the truth of the newness of life found in Jesus Christ. " .. this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3.8)  The Lausanne Covenant states " To evangelise is to spread the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the scriptures..." Ironically this model reveals an exclusivism amongst Evangelicals an Pentecostalists and inclusivism amongst Roman Catholics. in Christological terms,  we are only reconciled to God by faith in Christ Jesus and there is no salvation outside the church. The Ecclesiology is therefore urgent and future orientated. Sacrificial atonement and penal substitution become significant in this model: human beings, though created in the image of God, are sinful and guilty and lost without Christ. Mankind needs freedom from death and for eternal glory.

The Lausanne Covenant again: "We believe that the interim period between Christ's ascension and his return is to be filled with mission of the people of God, who have no liberty to stop before the end." In Theological Anthropological terms, all people have the right, in their equality, to hear the gospel but not to have it imposed.

Culture must be challenged and enriched if necessary.

  • Mission as prophetic dialogue
Mission has to be dialogical and this must be constant. It must also be prophetic as it challenges each new generation. "Only by preaching, serving and witnessing to the reign of God in bold and humble prophetic dialogue will the missionary church be constant in today's context." (Bevans and Schroeder)

The challenge here is that witness must be authentic and there is, therefore, emphasis on justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Mission must include interreligious dialogue because the prophetic demands honesty, conviction, courage and faith. There is a big emphasis on reconciliation including within and between churches.

In this model mission must engage in inculturation because there is a tension between being at home in a culture and challenging its negative aspects.

(O.K. Got that? Welcome back)

In my secular life it is quite clear to me that although I once espoused a Salvationist worldview I have moved well to the left. I know my starting point is Trinitarian - seeing where God is at work and joining in in the best tradition of Missio Dei - but with significant overlays of Liberationism and Prophetic Dialogue.

Isn't it great to discover ones way of doing things has labels? I feel quite reassured: a bit like a patient getting a diagnosis. What I have has a name. Whoopee!