In the second chapter of People of the Way, Dwight Zscheile outlines a brief history of mission in the Episcopal Church. He notes that the “established” church in England became the church of the establishment in the American colonies (page 22). From the outset, we were seen – and have seen ourselves, as a church of privilege. Yet, alongside this historical reality is a deep commitment to mission.
In 1835, largely through the initiative of New Jersey bishop George Washington Doane (which then encompassed the entire state; the Newark diocese wasn’t formed until 1874), we became the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society, a name which we retain today. It was expected then – and we are re-emphasizing this now – that every member of the church was invited to be a missionary. “What would it mean for us to live fully into this name, where all church members are missionaries sent into whatever neighborhood or relationship network God places them in in order to share in God’s work of healing all creation, according to their unique gifts?” (Page 23.)
There are competing tensions here. As much as we are oriented to bring people to church, we are challenged to bring the church to the world. The primary emphasis throughout my life in the Episcopal Church (which is approaching 63 years) has been the attractional model – bringing people into church. That is an enterprise that we can hold onto – but Dwight suggests, and I agree, that we also need to dare to bring the church into the world. That is the cultural change that Dwight is advocating, which will require us to continually remind ourselves through prayer and study, of who and whose we are. And that we are sent to join with God in doing God’s work in the world.