Member Mission: a Way into a New Future

By The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab

[Trinity Church, Milford, MA; March 2, 2007; Mark 1:14-15.]

A talk to open a Friday night, all day Saturday workshop.

Trinity had written into its parish profile their desire for a rector who would continue their development of member mission. Their new rector arrived in November 2006 and quickly set the dates for the workshop.

Let’s see, Member Mission as a way for the church to move into a new future. The whole world is moving into a new future. We want you to see Member Mission as helping us move into this new future. Our future can look scary. Member Mission can help us to cope with everything from coping with environmental warming to the perilous state of family life. Member Mission understands each of us is called by our baptism to be part of God’s mission in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ mission is to make this world a better place – a more loving and more just place. We seek to discern what Jesus is doing and to join him. We seek to live the answer that works, and can make that new future a future not of threat, but of hope and promise.

I am in Member Mission at age 78 because, at last, I have gotten to what I have been working at all along. Let me tell you a parable. Shortly after moving to Essex, New York in retirement, Betty and I were astounded to read that the school superintendent was suing the school board. He said, his contract had been ended unfairly. At the time I was serving as the interim priest in our congregation in Essex. The retired vice president of General Electric came to me saying, “Wayne, you should get all the clergy together to confront the school board and the superintendent to demand they work out their differences.”

Can you imagine that working? It might work at General Electric; it would not work with the Willsboro Central School. The church does not have that kind of influence in today’s world. The dispute was settled by the Christians on the school board. They were the church. They were members on mission. They were the agents of God’s mission of justice – to bring a just and equitable solution to a conflict.

In the uncertain future ahead of us it is Christians living as part of God’s mission in Jesus Christ who will make the difference. That’s why Liz and I are excited to be working on Member Mission.

This is serious stuff we are about in the weekend. Yes, the future does look scary. God will help us to move into the future. How? Through us, God’s coworkers! The church is waking up. It is rediscovering that how we live Monday to Saturday is the test to what we do on Sunday. Member Mission helps us to do just that – to wake up! Member Mission helps us to find our missions; to do them; and help each other to do them.

Spirituality is getting a lot of attention these days. Member Mission can lead us into the deepest spirituality of all. What could be deeper than sensing where Jesus is at work in each area of your daily life; then discerning where you will join his work; then being empowered by his gift of the Holy Spirit to carry out your share in Jesus’ work; then learning how to draw anyone – church or non-church – into helping you; then to learn how to share – in just a few words – what Jesus and Jesus’ people mean to you and might mean for them, and you both can find with Jesus’ people around Jesus’ table. That’s the kind of spirituality all of us want – the deepest of relationship with God in Jesus Christ lived out in caring and fairness with everyone around us!

Put this all in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'” (Mark 1:14-15). Today, we’d hear this as “God’s rule, God’s power is here, now, working among us.” The kingdom of God is dynamic. It is not a social utopia we are working for that is just around the corner. We will always be coping with evil, sin and death. What counts is that God is coping with evil, sin, and death and overcoming them. We are God’s coworkers. Member Mission helps us to discern where God is present. We discover God in God’s characteristic works are love and justice. We hear Jesus calling us to join in God’s works of love and justice where we are – in our homes, our daily work, our local community, the wider world (everything from social norms to business and governmental policies), in our leisure, as well as our own spiritual growth and our participation in our church’s life and its outreach.

Each congregation is a “monastic” community with a rule and a discipline. Its common rule is to discern and to live our daily missions in each area of daily life. New members are brought into this common rule by discerning their present daily missions. Its common discipline is weekly Eucharist; and participation in a small group to support our daily missions through Bible reflection and prayer for one another in our daily missions. That’s the future open to Trinity, Milford, its members, and the world!

[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation for the United Church of Hinesburg,  VT, Author, Speaker, and Workshop Leader.]