Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Edinburgh Missionary Conference: a teachable moment

A turning point in the Edinburgh Conference took place when a young Indian Christian, V.S. Azariah, a thrity six year old convert from Madras, took the podium. This was Azariah's first time in the Western World, and what he said left a lasting impression on the delegates. What Azariah said was prophetic and has lessons for us in the Church today.

Azariah first commented on how much he had learned from Western culture, and from the missionaries in India. They had after all, introduced him to the message of the Gospel. Azariah then said a startling thing. And that was "Give us friends".  Azariah could have said "give us education, give us money, give us training, give us power" but he did not. Instead, Azariah focused on friendship, on the common work of the church, where folks worked side by side. Three more powerful words could hardly have been spoken at the Conference. Some delegates grumbled, while other applauded. It marked a significant moment, and was a deliberate swipe at the paternalistic way missionary activities were conducted not just in India, but probably throughout the world. Little brother was standing up to Big Brother! The Young Churches were standing up to the Older Churches, and now the Older Churches needed to listed. A new missionary era had dawned.

The more I read about the Conference, the more I began to reflect on my own inner city church work at St. Aidans. For those of us involved in parishes where we are working with diverse populations, the Edinburgh Conference offers some valuable lessons. For instance, in what manner do we approach diverse groups, and what efforts are we making to include them in all aspects of the life of the Church? More to the point, what is the quality of our relationships with these groups, and how are we befriending them? This is a very important question in the Celtic tradition, as the Celtic spiritual tradition seeks to win over people through soul friendship. It seems to me, the Conference offers some valuable guidelines for outreach and inclusion. Befriend others, and invite them to get involved.
In so doing, we can also develop new leaders, who can then lead the community. And perhaps some might even be called to full or part time ministry in the future. And recall the Celtic notion of fosterage? If you can, bring outsiders in, and welcome them, teach them, and love them.

One last note. Events are planned at New College, Edinburgh, to mark the centenial of the Edinburgh Conference. There are many ways to get involved. I myself am, and I will keep you posted as to what I am doing. A slate of lectures, papers, and events throughout the world and virtual world are taking place as we speak. You can even linkup on Facebook and Twitter. And just like the first conference, there are mahor themes being discussed. These include:
  • Foundations of Christian Mission
  • Christian Mission and Other Faiths
  • Missioin and Post-Modernity
  • Mission and Power
  • Forms of Missionary Engagement
  • Theological Education and Formation
  • Christian Communities in Contemporary Contexts
  • Mission and Unity, Ecclesilogy and Mission
  • Mission spirituality and authentic discipleship
For more information click here

No comments:

Post a Comment