MRI’s Spiritual Diagnosis

Catholic Voices

Golden Anniversary of the Anglican Congress, Toronto

By David Cox

The Most Rev. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York, stepped to the podium of Toronto’s Maple Leaf Stadium to address the second — and last — Pan-Anglican Congress on August 17, 1963. He read a document with the unwieldy title “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ” that concluded by calling for “the rebirth of the Anglican Communion.” Its concepts captured the imagination of the Congress and, as word spread, of the Communion, as nothing else has since.

“MRI,” as it became known, aimed to change relationships within the Communion. The old gentlemen’s club that was the British Empire at prayer, plus some Americans, was rapidly welcoming independent provinces in newly independent nations with increasingly indigenous leadership. No one saw better that old ways were not working than the Communion’s first executive officer, Stephen Bayne. Holding a position created by the 1958 Lambeth Conference, this former Bishop of Olympia traveled the world, listened, and wrote of what he saw.

As a result, Bayne gathered missionaries from across the Communion to meet before the Congress and discuss needs of these emerging churches. The needs were many, especially for personnel and money. A delegate representing Japan asked whether the conference was “a group of older churches inviting younger churches to listen in or whether we were a group of the whole church thinking together.” Beneath his question lay the nature of the Anglican Communion: Did it consist of mothers and daughters, of senders and receivers, or of partners and equals in the Church’s mission?

MRI emerged from that question, basing its precepts on Paul’s statement at 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” To be in Christ transcends givers and receivers; rather, God gives each something to offer and something to receive. We are interdependent.

MRI called for the entire Communion to enter anew into mission, on every level. It asked for a worldwide effort to learn of new possibilities, and new dedication to global mission. It challenged Anglicans to give an ambitious $15 million and for men and women to go forth to support myriad opportunities around the world. Most basically, it called Anglicans to a different way of relating to each other.

When the Primate of Japan explained MRI to his clergy, an American priest in Okinawa named Edmond Browning found his report “one of the most moving things I ever heard,” especially these two sentences: “We are no longer a receiving Church. We have something to contribute to the whole Communion.” Congregations and dioceses around the world held educational programs, the likes of which the Communion had never seen and has not since. Dioceses created or energized companion relationships, exchanges, and projects.

It was soon over. American attention turned to civil rights and Vietnam: Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed his dream in Washington barely a week after the congress. The General Convention Special Program of 1967 took the idea of funding projects from MRI, as did the more successful Venture in Mission in 1976, which raised as much as $150 million, but both were from the Episcopal Church only and neither tried to foster mutual partnerships. Meanwhile, various institutions were created to foster conversation between provinces, notably the Anglican Consultative Council, but controversies over women’s ordination and sexuality increasingly led to division.

If the Communion was reborn 50 years ago, how fares it now? If nothing else, MRI made average parishioners vastly more aware of a worldwide Communion of which each was a part. In fostering such now-familiar practices as mission trips and parish giving, its success continues. By encouraging awareness and relationships overseas, it helped open eyes to missionary needs at home. Congregations became more involved in mission than ever. So it remains, even if in partial consequence the dollars that once flowed to dioceses and the Episcopal Church Center have diminished in favor of local efforts.

In so doing, MRI may have anticipated the growing emphasis on ministry by all the baptized. Decades of controversy have not been kind to relationships from province to province. As well, given vast discrepancies in the wealth of nations and churches, “giver-receiver” roles often remain as entrenched as before. But once MRI broadly introduced the idea of partners and companions in mission, each with something to give, each with something to receive, the Communion changed. Anyone who does mission today, anywhere in the Communion, does so in its reflected light. We do know better.

If we’re still working on MRI-like relationships, it’s because we’re still working on Christlike relationships as Paul and others tried to explain them. In each case, the effort continues.

The Rev. David Cox, rector of St. Luke’s Church in Hot Springs, Virginia, wrote his STM thesis on MRI, and represents the president of the House of Deputies on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on World Mission.


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