PRIVATE MEMBER’S MISSION
If the General Synod were to pass a resolution calling on all PCCs to do something, I wonder what your PCC would do? A lot of PCCs that I hear about are blissfully ignorant of anything the General Synod resolves and seem to take a very detached stance. They tend to the view that General Synod can say what it likes, but at the sharp end, what is needed is for PCCs to address the problems of the day, and come up with pragmatic solutions that will work in the parish. I suppose you could say that congregationalism lies just beneath the surface in an average Anglican parish.
Well, General Synod is likely to say something about mission in July. Not the usual bland stuff about what a good thing it is and how wonderfully the Decade of Evangelism is going and how worthy the Anglican mission agencies are, but something fairly simple, intensely practical and for action in every parish. Before you assume that this is the House of Bishops or one of the Boards or Councils steamrollering some hare-brained scheme, with 55 detailed recommendations, for everybody except themselves to implement, let me declare an interest and say that the proposal in Synod stems from a Private Member’s motion (mine), which attracted 167 signatures (about 30% of the Synod).
I’d better declare another interest too. I work for one of the Anglican mission agencies, and looking through the financial figures for all the Partnership for World Mission (PWM) mission agencies over the last eight years, I was appalled to discover that giving to the mission agencies overall was barely keeping pace with inflation. Mission costs money and it seems that the Decade of Evangelism, as far as mission is concerned, is turning into a decade of maintenance rather than expansion. While parish expenditure has risen faster than inflation, the proportion of that expenditure given to the PWM mission agencies is steadily falling.
I have pondered the problem for some time, and it seems to me that if we analyse how the church’s mission activity comes to be supported the thread runs something like this. First of all, we are informed of a situation and a need. Secondly, of all the myriad needs, a handful impinge on our attention and we take a greater interest in these. Thirdly concern grows and we start to pray. Fourthly, when our concern crosses a threshold, we start to give. Fifthly, if the situation really matters to us, we pray and give a lot more.
What is it then that links these five stages? It’s an information flow – and it’s this information flow that the General Synod debate in July will be asking all parishes to turn on by the simple expedient of encouraging everybody on an electoral roll to get their name on the mailing list of one of the PWM Mission Agencies.
Now I hope we’ll all be open-hearted about this process. I know that we’d all like everybody in our Church to support our favourite mission agency, but life’s not like that. I’d be surprised if you could get 15% to take a serious interest in any one agency. We’re going to have to escape from the beggarly mind-set of resenting someone else’s favourite agency getting a bigger slice of the cake, on the grounds that their bigger slice must be at the expense of another agency (perhaps our favourite one). We really have got to think in terms of making the cake a lot bigger.
Getting it wrong
We’ll also have to learn to stop trying to impose our own prejudices in mission giving. I can recall one parish who found that their new vicar was determined to run down all their existing commitments to mission agencies and replace them with new commitments to agencies where his friends were involved. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try and direct lay prayers and lay money in such a feudal kind of way.
Think of the situation where a parish has been supporting the ‘Mission to Antarctica’ for years. Along come Victor and Verity, a new couple. “We all support the ‘Mission to Antarctica’ here,” says the Vicar. So they fall in line, without enthusiasm, and reluctantly put their £5 in the envelope on Mission Sunday. It just so happens that Victor ran a missionary prayer group in his last parish. He and Verity have been supporting two other missionary societies for years, and it just so happens that Vernon, a friend of theirs from college days, is now helping to set up a Bible Training School for local pastors in Whereveritis. Frankly Antarctica leaves them cold, and they can’t work up any interest for it at all. Better for the vicar to invite them to enthuse some of the congregation about Whereveritis, because Victor and Verity may not be the only non-enthusiasts he’s got. I’m fairly certain that the parish’s aggregate giving to mission would rise. You might even find that the activity to promote Whereveritis would rub off and reinvigorate parish interest in Antarctica.
Getting it right
What the General Synod motion could achieve, with the enthusiastic endorsement of your PCC, is to make being on a mission agency’s mailing list the norm, rather than the exception.
My vision is that mission will be something we’re all informed about, excited about, concerned about and praying about. That way, our prayers will be more focused, and as we all know, if you get really enthusiastic about something, and you start praying in a meaningful way, the Lord does tend to open your wallet so that you can enjoy the blessing of being part of the means by which your prayers are answered.
I was encouraged by the way the debate got started in General Synod in February. In my opening speech I said it was a great day for the General Synod since mission and evangelism had come to the top of the agenda. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave his support, saying the opening speech had inspired him – and then we ran out of time.
If in some small way my motion, and your PCC’s response to it, provides a way for latent interest to be aroused and the glowing embers of concern for mission to be fanned into flame, it will have fulfilled my hopes for it. Just think – if our prayerful concern for mission was translated into giving to the mission agencies, all it would take to double the income of the PWM mission agencies would be a covenant from everyone on our electoral rolls of 35p per week net. It doesn’t sound a lot, does it? But it would put mission on a firmer footing than its been for fifty years.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of General Synod. He is also on the staff of the Intercontinental Church Society.
The Partnership in World Mission (PWM) Mission Agencies:
Church Army, CMJ (Church’s Ministry among Jewish people), CMS (Church Mission Society), Crosslinks, ICS (Intercontinental Church Society), Mid-Africa Ministry, Missions to Seamen, Mothers Union Overseas Fund, SAMS (South American Missionary Society), SPCK Worldwide, USPG