By Zachary Guiliano
USPG, the oldest mission society in the Anglican Communion, has unveiled a new strategy developed under its recently commissioned general secretary, the Rev. Duncan Dormor. The 44-page document, Open to Encounter: Mission in the 21st Century, came together after several months of consultation between USPG’s Communion-Wide Advisory Group, a council of 160 representatives, and other stakeholders.
“For old hands, you can kind of say, Hey, it’s back to the future,” Dormor told TLC. “It’s a reassertion of an identity, hopefully with some clarity and all the rest of it. It’s signaling a clear move … an attempt to articulate a presence as a global mission agency.”
The document appeared on Bray Day, Feb. 15, when the society’s founder, the Rev. Thomas Bray, is commemorated in the calendars of the Church of England and other Anglican churches worldwide. It names three new strategic priorities for the society: Rethinking Mission, Energizing Church and Community, and Championing Justice.
When Bray founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1701 under a charter from King William, there was no Anglican Communion. Church of England parishes in the colonies of North America were relatively new, and global missionary work was undertaken primarily by Roman Catholic religious orders. SPG was a High Church effort for most of its history, preceding the Church Missionary Society, an evangelical Anglican organization, by nearly 100 years.
In its early days, SPG initially focused its work on helping set the Church of England in the North American colonies on better footing. It also supported pioneering missionary work among Native Americans and enslaved Africans. The Rev. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was one of many SPG missionaries sent to the United States.
The scope of SPG efforts would gradually expand to many other places around the world, as the new strategy document outlines and as Daniel O’Connor and many others detailed several years ago in a celebratory volume, Three Centuries of Mission: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel 1701-2000 (Continuum).
The society adopted its current name, USPG, in the 1960s, after uniting with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa. With the gradual strengthening of the Anglican Communion, particularly in the mid-20th century, its efforts shifted.
Although it combined educational, social, and development work with traditional missionary work, many of its notable efforts in recent years have focused particularly on issues of justice, such as supporting the Church in South Africa during apartheid or playing a part in the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which aimed to cancel debt held by the world’s poorest countries.
Dormor has been in the post since last year, but the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned him during a Eucharist at Lambeth Palace on Feb. 12, attended by various international colleagues and guests of USPG. Abp. Naudal Alves Gomes of Brazil read Genesis 1:20-2:4 and Abp. Moses Nag Jun Yoo of South Korea read Mark 7:1-13.
Archbishop Justin Welby’s homily focused on the passage from Genesis, speaking of the need for the Church to “be overflowing with creativity,” in harmony with God.
“We should be seeing what is not and seeing it come to be by working in partnership through grace with God himself. That is our call and our mission — and Duncan, in USPG that is your call and mission around the world: to be a place that catalyses creativity, imagination and a new sense of what the Church is to be in our rapidly changing and deeply fractured world.”
USPG’s new strategic emphases focus heavily on connecting Anglicans around the globe with each other and with their neighbors, in what Dormor describes in the document as “genuinely mutual exchange” with “the other.” The society recently began hosting a series of well-attended Rethinking Mission conferences and study days across the Church of England.
The priority of Energizing Church and Community “centers on two things,” Dormor says in an interview within Open to Encounter. “The first is making connections between dioceses and church communities in Britain and Ireland and those overseas. Those British and Irish churches that are most open to encounter, open to global Christianity, are also better at reaching out to people from different backgrounds in their own communities. We also need to help people understand a way of being Anglican that goes beyond Englishness.
“The second is working with churches across the world in ways that genuinely strengthen the bonds of affection and capacity of the Anglican Church. We work alongside Provinces on their priorities.”
The society also focuses on creating new opportunities for global exchanges, including South to South exchanges of clergy and others, rather than the traditional flow of people between North and South. Current exchanges exist “between Cape Coast and the Gambia and Ghana and Morocco,” but Dormor hopes to include further countries, particularly in the next five years.
“One of the things USPG has historically done a lot of is theological education and leadership, and that’s been really influential,” Dormor told TLC. “And that involved a lot of people coming to the U.K. to study. … You absolutely need people to come together: for a kind of theological exchange, and also for friendship and fellowship and just exchanging their experiences in a situation where you have some mutual and real participation, and a spirit of vulnerability and spirituality.”
He mentioned in particular the Asian Theological Academy, a “peripatetic” meeting that offers Anglican Christians in Asia, “who are all in minority situations, but quite different cultural contexts,” a chance to share their experiences and think through theological challenges and opportunities.
Dormor also sees important work for USPG in preventing an undue focus on Canterbury and the Church of England as the locus for the Anglican Communion.
“Without being critical, it’s very, very difficult to move beyond Canterbury as mother and power base. The subtle dynamics around that are so pervasive … particularly at the moment with the Lambeth Conference coming up.”
Championing Justice, meanwhile, is about seeking to “stand in solidarity” with various “communities of hope and resistance,” connecting them with broader conversations, and “amplifying their voices and taking the faith agenda to the U.N., to the World Bank and the other big players.”
Open to Encounter names a series of such projects around the globe, including support for work on climate change, the refugee crises in various countries, human rights, women’s empowerment, modern slavery, and other causes.
One project highlights the work of CAPA, the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, and its wide-ranging work in building up African society. “A new social order is possible for Africa,” said the Rt. Rev. Zac Niringiye, formerly Assistant Bishop in Kampala, Uganda, and now a civil activist, at a recent meeting of CAPA. “It can be done, it must be done, because if it is not done, we shall be done.”
As part of its renewed efforts for global mission, USPG will hire a new fundraising manager to increase current giving from churches and dioceses and especially to train and deploy volunteers for new fundraising efforts around the U.K. Dormor is insistent, however, that USPG is looking at “relationships first, resource second.”
“I’ve taken a lot of our fundraising into our mission engagement team,” he told TLC. “We’ve got to build and strengthen and deepen our relationship with churches. … Quite often I think people use money and giving as a way not to have an ongoing relationship. The relationship is the fundamental thing.”