21st Century Missionary Societies

After several years of hard-knocks, the term “Missionary” and “Missionary Society” are becoming all the rage again. At least in the dorky-Episcopal circles that I run in. The official corporate name of The Episcopal Church is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  Over the years, the Church has taken on various nicknames and acronyms for herself.  She’s been the Protestant Episcopal Church (and I attended the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia).  She’s been The Episcopal Church USA or ECUSA.  Currently, she likes to be called The Episcopal Church or TEC, but the insiders, those who work to keep this giant multimillion dollar machine running and writing them paychecks have taken to calling her “The Missionary Society.”  I, for one, applaud their chutzpah.  It is a welcome change from the corporate minded church that we’ve seen over the last several decades.

Less than a year before the internal name change in TEC, a group of wild-eyed General Convention deputies gathered in a random ballroom in Indianapolis to inaugurate the Acts 8 Moment.  I’ll save you the long historical discourse and invite you to see the links below for more information.  As the movement grew legs and became a living, breathing organism, with things like a board (Core Team, of which I am a part) and even an Executive Committee, it was clear that a tagline would be required for the hundreds of times we’d hear the question, “What is the Acts 8 Moment anyway?”

The Acts 8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to “Proclaim resurrection in [T]he Episcopal Church.”  There’s that phrase again.  As one who is sloppy in my own use of language, but annoyingly exacting when others use particular words, I’ve given a lot of thought to this idea of a 21st century Missionary Society.  Thanks be to God, I didn’t have to take the GOEs this year, which means I can look up, rather than having to know by heart, what the Catechism says about the mission of the Church.  On page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, we read, “The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ… The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love… The Church carries outs its mission through the ministry of all its members.”

Putting those catechetical answers into a practical form, it seems to me that to be a Missionary Society means to be an example of the Kingdom of God on earth; where the perfect relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the MO for all of our relationships.  It means that everything we do is cloaked in prayer and corporate worship.  It requires us to preach the Gospel, sharing the saving love of God through Jesus Christ.  And then, we go out into the world, promoting the Gospel imperatives of justice, peace, and love.

I applaud the effort of the 815 staff and the brains behind Acts 8 (I may be a member of the Core Team, but I wasn’t on the retreat when they came up with all the good ideas) to call the Church to be a Missionary Society in the 21st century.  I think it begins the work of putting the cart back behind the horse.  For too long, we’ve been about the justice, peace, and love stuff without giving much thought to the prayer, worship, and proclamation components.  We’ve been, as I’ve said before, the Rotary Club in vestments.  Subtly, I think this move invites us to put things back in the right order.  I’m ready to be a 21st century Missionary.  How about you?


This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on “What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?”

Other BLOGFORCE member posts on this topic (Link active on the Friday following this post)

The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.

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One thought on “21st Century Missionary Societies

  1. “For too long, we’ve been about the justice, peace, and love stuff without giving much thought to the prayer, worship, and proclamation components.”

    Preach it!

    You are so right that moving beyond being the Rotary Club in vestments (a great line btw) “means that everything we do is cloaked in prayer and corporate worship.”

    I am reminded of Clarence Jordan’s translation of 1 John 3:18, in The Cotton Patch Version: “My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”

    For Jordan and his Koinonia Farms community that action came in response to their Bible study, prayer and worship. These acts are what grounded them and what ground all of us so that when we go out into the world we are doing so fueled by that prayer, worship, and proclamation which give focus and meaning to our actions.

    Thanks for this!

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