By Zachary Guiliano
USPG gathered speakers with backgrounds in Barbados, India, Pakistan, and South Africa for a one-day conference March 18 under the theme “Global Perspectives on Contextual Mission.”
“Rethinking mission is not a call to come up with something new,” but to “rediscover what has already been there,” said the Rev. John Rogers.
Rogers, rector of St. George’s Parish Church and rural dean of St. John in Barbados, was one of four speakers at the conference. The other speakers were:
- The Rev. Evelyn Bhajan, one of the Church of Pakistan’s few women deacons, now studying for a PhD at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, England
- The Rev. Vicentia Kgabe, rector of the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa
- The Ven. John Perumbalath, Archdeacon of Barking, formerly a theological educator and parish priest in Calcutta
The conference, which met at Southwark Cathedral, aimed at informing contemporary discussions of mission with more robust theological reflection.
“Our vision is a global community that is learning from each other, sharing and growing together — perhaps most especially during those difficult times when there is tension, conflict, and disagreement,” said Janette O’Neill, USPG’s chief executive, in conference materials. “It is in such times that theology can present itself as one of our primary tools for making sense of what God might be doing in the world — and the answers are often extremely surprising.”
During her welcoming speech, she asked participants to “listen to what you hear” and “challenge yourself as to what it might mean in your context.”
She suggested three questions: What is God’s mission? What is my role in God’s mission? and What can we do as USPG?
The speakers mentioned diverse aspects of Christian mission, such as proclamation and personal evangelism, practical service, and fellowship, and highlighted unique aspects of, or challenges to, mission in their respective locales.
Bhajan’s presentation focused on challenges in the Church of Pakistan, some brought on by the significant marginalization of the Christian community, due to the nation’s history and the growing presence of radical Islamists.
Kgabe’s talk ranged widely, reviewing South Africa mission history and drawing most explicitly on missiological reflection by John Stott, Michael Doe, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner, among others. More than once she returned to Brunner’s remark that the Church “exists by mission, as a fire by burning.”
Perumbalath described three shifts in missional thinking: from the universal to the contextual, from the imperial to the postcolonial, and from modernism to postmodernism. He urged participants to move from multiculturalism to being “intercultural — one Body, interdependent, and blurring the boundaries” between divided communities by focusing on unity in Jesus.
Rogers stressed the need for the Church to serve as a “voice in the wilderness,” identifying injustice, even in areas involving its past complicity. (He addressed the legacy of plantations owned by missionary societies at a past USPG conference.)
The Caribbean retains “dark memories” of slavery and imperialism, and continuing challenges related to post-war American influence — consumerism, prosperity teachers, and now a creeping nationalism that is “seeping into other places.”
“True Christian mission is predicated on justice,” he said. “If justice is absent, you may have mission, but it certainly is not Christian mission.”
(Interested readers can watch the talks on Vimeo.)
The day also marked the relaunch of USPG’s theological journal, Rethinking Mission, now wholly online. Its first issue includes contributions from Carlton Turner, Petra Kuivala, Stephen Skuce, Bishop Michael Doe, and Bishop Graham Kings.
The journal’s online presence is meant to be a fertile site of “new thinking about the theology of mission, enlightened by perspectives of Christians from around the world.” Along with new submissions, the site offers an archive of past issues and theological forums. Full texts of the conference presentations will be available in the next edition, and the editors welcome new submissions.