Rev Seforosa Carroll
Saturday May 18th 2013
I was asked to reflect and respond to the day’s proceedings through a cross-cultural lens. There are a number of lenses through which I have listened, heard and interpreted today’s keynote speakers and group conversations today. These lenses also demonstrate that there are limitations to my cross-“culturalness”. These are:
- I am a product of Christian missions in the Pacific. I understood the gospel and the call to discipleship as an individualised and personal response to Jesus. This understanding of mission has I believe contributed to the separation between the spiritual and everyday life.
- I am a Pacific Island migrant woman. I grew up in Fiji, a multicultural and multireligious country. Unfortunately for me, I grew up at a time when we were socialised to believe there was a hierarchical order of culture/race and religions. In this context mission was narrowed to mean conversion.
- Although my upbringing was one that led me to believe there could be only one true faith, my journey as a migrant in Australia has led me to appreciate the value and meaning each religious tradition holds. I am currently the Chair of the National Assembly’s Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths where often we find in our encounters and dialogues with people of other faiths, that mission has negative connotations. The question of mission, what it means in definition and practice is at the forefront of what we do.
- Finally, I am a non-Anglo woman ministering in a largely Anglo church located within a growing multicultural and multireligious suburb. I am ministering in a congregation who are at the threshold of asking and rethinking what it means to be church and to be a church in mission. It is an exciting time for this congregation as they now have the opportunity to explore and try new models of church and mission.
There were a number of key themes that came up during the day. One of the phrases I heard Dean Drayton use this morning was “placing God at the center of our mission”. This will mean “letting go” of our old ideas of mission and exploring what it means to be a sent community that bears the mark of the One who sends. For many migrant churches, in my case, Pacific migrant churches, it will mean acknowledging the legacy of Christian missions – its benefits and limitations – in order to rethink what mission means. Often culture and church are conflated into one and the same thing. The process of “letting go” in this sense will mean having the courage to separate the two. The big question or challenge for me for the day is how do churches/congregations with the individualized and personal understanding of mission begin the journey of “letting go” – so that the sending God is at the center of their mission?
I think that forums such as this are important. The model used today to explore the missional church is accessible both for lay people and for those whose first language is not English. It is important to create spaces where people can explore faith in a deep and meaningful way without feeling hindered by academic language and also without the need to “dumb down”. These spaces are essential for finding and exploring the edgy, weird and different models of being a church in mission.
Amelia Koh Butler emphasized the importance of being relational. The God who sends is relational. Catherine Mowry LaCugna says of the Trinity – the trinity is essentially about relationship – with God, with each other and with the world. Amelia also highlighted the difference women’s voices and perspectives bring to the understanding of mission. Often feminists will begin with the question of “Who is the missional church? and “How should we care?”
Both Dean and Amelia touched on the connection between mission and ecclesiology. One cannot be addressed without the other. Dean highlighted some key questions which have to do with who we are as church, why are we here and how are we church. So in terms of Dean’s questions, it is important to name the who, why and how. Who does God send? God sends the church to the world. The church bears witness. What is the message that the church bears? This is tied ito identity – Who are we?
What is the message that the church holds? This has to do with “Why are we here?”
How will we be church? This is related to how will we care in terms of reconciling, renewing and transforming.
Both Dean and Amelia and through conversations during the day emphasized the importance of context and mission. Both have a bearing on the other and therefore shape and influence understanding and practice.
In conclusion perhaps the important insight of the day was there is no one model of the missional church!