Welcome to “The Missionary Society”

by

Warning. What follows is really “inside baseball.” On the whole, it will affect the average Episcopalian, let alone the average any one else, very little. Which is important to remember when one sees all the energy put into this.


Last July an announcement came out that I did not pay attention to; and, as announced, the Episcopal Church is re-branding itself.

You see, the corporate name of the Episcopal Church is the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society” or DFMS. Back in the 19th Century when Missions and Missionaries were hot stuff, someone realized that we, all of us baptized, are missionaries…not just the people we sent to faraway places. Nice idea. Kinda cool, in fact.

Trouble is that over time DFMS more and more tended to refer to people at HQ (aka “815′) and less and less about the rest of us who are mere Episcopalians.

Someone has decided to fix that by re-branding DFMS to “The Missionary Society.” Maybe to get that old 19th Century mojo back and updated for the 21st Century.

To me, though, it rings hollow. Like when Radio Shack a few years back tried to just call itself “The Shack” because they thought it sounded cooler and because few people knew what a radio shack was and even fewer bought radios there. It didn’t work. Who knows why? McDonald’s may be “Mickey D’s” but Wal-Mart is still Wal-Mart and Radio Shack is still Radio Shack, even if what I am buying there is a cell phone (which, by the way, is a radio…think about it).

Let’s look at what people experience when they come to an Episcopal Church.

They experience worship. They experience fellowship and perhaps even companionship. They experience their faith fed and nurtured. They experience Christ in word, sacrament and baptized community. At least that’s my hope.

I doubt that they experience something called a “Missionary Society.”

Even my most faithful core parishioners, the ones who do everything for my parish from altar guild to stuffing envelopes to serving in our soup kitchen, did not join a “Missionary Society.” They are a part of church, a congregation, a community. Our newest members and the seekers who attend worship or help out in our ministries are not looking for a “Missionary Society.” They seek purpose, hope, and meaning that makes a difference in their lives and in the world around them. They struggle with what it means to be faithful and want to differentiate their experience of the church as an institution with their experience of faith in community.

The early church was not a “missionary society.” It was a gathering, an “ekklesia,” of faithful people. Of the hundreds of images of ekklesia in the New Testament, not one was of a missionary society. Most of the images are organic: the vine and the branches, the body with Christ as the head; the people of God; a holy nation. We are described as married to Christ, ambassadors for him, immersed in his death and joined with him in his resurrection. We are a kind of society, yes; and what we do is mission, often in the most mundane ways, but we are not The Missionary Society.

I wonder what this corporate search for identity is all about? Is it insecurity that we in the pews and pulpits don’t “get” and fully appreciate what the folks at DFMS (as they heretofore called themselves) do? Is there some kind of quest for meaning and direction? Is this an attempt to help us all “get on board” and working together?

A few years back, our Bishop along with the Evangelism Commission of our diocese worked with parishes in our diocese to develop simple, easy to remember mission statements. The statements by themselves changed nothing. Parishes that were in survival mode remained in survival mode but with pretty, easy to understand mission statements.

But parishes that were already focused on Christ and intentional about responding as a community to Christ found that their statements (their brand?) aligned very nicely with their lived mission (their product?) and so strengthened their message. So one church proclaims that they are “learning and doing the work of Jesus,” and if you look at them and that’s a pretty good shorthand for how they live. Another arranges the words “Live God’s Love, Tell God’s Story” into a cross with God at the center. Again, if you go to their community you will discover that they are pretty intentional about their living and telling, so it fits.

My parish’s statement of “Discover, Share, Live God’s Love” is something I hope people see and hear about us way before they ever read the text.

The difference between these successful and failed branding campaigns–and that’s what this really is–is that they succeeded in places which were already intentional about their work and their common life. The statements both focused and reflected a present, lived reality. When they failed, they often masked another reality…not just a moribund or failing parish, but worse they gave lip service to hopes when their lived experience focused on their fears in all kinds of subtle ways.

So who are we? For me, we are the ancient and ever new gathering of God’s people who daily follow Jesus under the power of the Holy Spirit. The ekklesia. We are a community grounded in hope and, for all our institutional trappings, we are pretty experimental. When I hear “The Missionary Society,” besides a whole host of other images I don’t want, all I can envision are folks who work in offices, run meetings, and plan programs in some far away place. That may be accurate, but…so?

I know that DFMS is printed on the checks. I guess I am just wondering what problem it is that we are trying to solve.

If we have to re-brand, I suggest this: instead of DFMS or “The Missionary Society,” how about simply “The Episcopal Church?” That at least aligns with the sign out front.

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Juan Oliver
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Juan Oliver

This is yet another example of rearranging deckchairs out of sheer anxiety, because one feels the unknown presence of an iceberg. It utterly fails to deal with the real issues. I'm all for stressing mission (understood as sending, NOT arm twisting people into becoming our customers. But our mission must be the same as Christ's: to announce by deeds and words: "God's Kingdom is very near: turn your hearts and trust the good news." It really doesn't much matter what we call the Church Center. Get real.

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Kara Slade
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Kara Slade

When I worked for the Federal Gov't, my agency got fixated on reorganizing, renaming, and reshuffling. For a while, we went through at least one major upheaval every year. It was distracting, demoralizing, and just plain exhausting. Every time, we were promised that THIS MAGICAL CHANGE or THIS BRILLIANT STRATEGY would solve every problem in the agency. (It never worked. Of course.)

Plus ça change...

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Bill Moorhead
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Wal-Mart, Wal*Mart, Walmart.

Curled red fox, imperceptibly different curled red fox, even more imperceptibly different curled red fox.

DFMS, The Missionary Society.

Hey, it beats actually working for a living.

(How's everyone doing with iOS7?)

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

"...Wal-Mart is still Wal-Mart..."

For whatever it adds to this conversation, no, it's not.

http://corporate.walmart.com/our-story/heritage/logo-timeline

"In 1992, we replaced the hyphen [Wal-Mart] with a star [Wal*Mart]. This logo can still be seen on many of our North American storefronts as we continue to transition hundreds of stores to the newest logo.

In 2008, Walmart underwent the most significant logo change to date, introducing a new font and the iconic spark [Walmart*]."

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

Agree with you Adam. The image in the field of KJS is dynamic and exciting - ask any person in the pew who has experienced her. This stuff just takes all that excitement and turns it to dust. That is the tragedy of TMS and all the other similar actions by 815/DFMS/TMS/CC

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Adam Spencer
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Adam Spencer

Pope Francis is exciting me and many many other people, Christian and non-Christian, by preaching charity and mercy and by living simply and with humility in the public eye. He's a living breathing symbol of Christ and he's making Christianity, the Vatican and the Roman Church look great and appealing. Our leadership is what? Acting like, at best, a big nonprofit and, at worst, a corporation? Rev. Lightcap uses the word "wearying" in the blog linked above and I'm right there too. I'd also add "frustrating", "boring" and "uninspiring." That all might sound harsh but my football team had a rough day yesterday. I'm in a mood. 😉

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Bill Moorhead
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There must be something in the water. I notice this morning that Mozilla is changing the Firefox logo. Making a big deal of it. You can just barely tell the difference, and it's difficult to imagine why anybody would care....

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

At least 25 years ago an astute observed noted that the mission field was no longer overseas, but just outside our front doors. Sometime after that we even added missiology to the list of competencies for clergy. So in fairness to the folks "lost" in NYC pushing us to think mission is not some recent stab at re-branding.

Even with the recent fervor to re-imagine TEC there is little more happening than watching the entrenched institutional scorpion try to pre-empt that committee with mechanical fixes and new titles.

The truth remains that at the local level in many places imaginative work is happening that is touching people's lives. Our "missiology" ought to be ground/grassroots up and not ++Bureaucracy++ down. 815 is about keeping their jobs, beyond some minimal administrative level, and as wonderful as some of them are, they are not getting that they do not have the creds for prescribing at local levels.

My money is still on local genius inspiring duplication and adaptation. Keep at it people in pews!

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Adam Wood
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To the original poster:

YES. EXACTLY!

And to every commenter above:

YES. EXACTLY!

And to DFMS/TMS:

WHAT? REALLY?

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Jody Howard
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If people tinker with names and branding, but no one knows or cares, did it happen?

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janinsanfran
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Plueeze -- do we have to imitate a foundering non-profit afflicted with too many grants for management consultants and too little memory of why it was founded? Is this a joke?

Jan Adams

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

Another good blog on this here.

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Sara Miles
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Sara Miles

Well...as someone who was utterly unchurched until fairly recently (though with missionary ancestors) when I hear the word "missionary" I think of white English and American Christians roaming the world in unholy alliance with empire, telling "native" peoples how to behave and what to believe.

Obviously the foreign missionary heritage is far more complicated, but there's a certain smugness, at best, that adheres to the word..."mission" means one thing to the people in churches, and quite another to the people on the receiving end of the missionary impulse.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
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Elizabeth Kaeton

I don't know much about branding and marketing, but I do know this much to be true: You absolutely, positively can NOT make this stuff up.

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Marcia Schwaigert Powell
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Marcia Schwaigert Powell

Dear Leadership Section. I deal with un-churched, underserved, spiritual but not religious and hurt people. They need to know that I love them in the Name and Image of Christ. I do that through the Episcopal Church, which I have been promoting and learning from since I have joined. They don't trust the Missionaries because it inspires images of some one from the 700 hundred club, they are appalled by the fundamentalism of the Evangelicals, and the reject the prosperity Gospel teachings.

The United Methodists have a great campaign called "Rethink Church." And while I am definitely not a United Methodist, it is much more appealing to me to minister to those who have no home than to have another community acronym thrust upon my work and effort.

Let's get on with the business of living, growing, and becoming more Christlike. Last time I checked, this did not include endless board meetings.

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Susan Kleinwechter
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Susan Kleinwechter

When I look at a nonprofit corporate branding initiative like DFMS and can learn nothing about it from their digital real estate, I realize that it is unimportant to their identity, purpose, or goals because they choose not to utter anything about it. I, too, wonder what this corporate search for identity is all about. I wonder what would happen if the missionaries were to leave NYC and start riding a circuit...

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Father Ron
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A most interesting point of view - and very well put. My theory is that all we have is the "Good News' of the Gospel, which can only be properly promulgated by our living out God's Good News in and to the world around us. We are not licensed to judge the world, but rather to live in it - as welcoming members of the body of Christ.

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Norris Battin
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Norris Battin

Good post. We have a brand: The Episcopal Church. Why do we need *any* supra brand? It's confusing. It's sloppy. It's bad branding. Loose the DFMS and The Missionary Church.

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Bill Moorhead
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" I guess I am just wondering what problem it is that we are trying to solve." Well put, Andrew.

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