One of the more thoughtful critiques of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishop Stacy Sauls’ plan for restructuring the Episcopal Church in ways that would vest more authority in the offices they currently hold, was written by Tobias Haller. He is particularly good on the two bishops’ faulty understanding of mission, a word they use as a weapon against those who think it is worth spending money to include clergy and lay people in the decision making bodies of the church.
First and foremost, the idea of organizing the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was not to found a centrally based or governed mission agency, but on the contrary precisely to empower every member of the church as a missionary in person. I have never thought of General Convention as “missionary” — any more than I would think of Congress as “military” — General Convention is there to govern the church, and to direct and serve the mission; as is the staff at 815 (what PB John Maury Allin called and modeled as a “service center”); and all those interim bodies are there to do the same. But the mission is primarily carried out by the members of the church working as individuals and in coordination with others in their parishes and dioceses. (Just as the army carries out the policies of the government but is distinct from the government.)
Second, we need to be very clear about what we mean by mission. The BCP has a definition of mission is summed up in three questions and answers on page 855.
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
These answers do a number of things. The first places mission in a theological as well as a human context. That is, it is about people, but it is also about God. The second prevents us thinking that worship and proclamation are not just as much mission as the soup kitchen is. The third makes it clear that all of the members of the church are called and equipped to carry forward this mission.
It seems, therefore, odd to talk, as the presentation does, primarily about the national budget, while ignoring the billions of dollars raised and spent by the parishes — only alluded to in the presentation — when talking about the proportion of money spent on mission. The proportion of our “Gross Episcopal Product” spent on mission is substantial — as we have to include the salaries of the missioners, the maintenance of the places in which we worship, and so on. It is deadly dangerous, and verges on a kind of missionary gnosticism, to forget that the cost of running a parish is a crucial part of its mission. Seek economies, by all means, but let us not say to the foot, I have no need of you!