August 3, 2010, The Episcopal Church
What are you doing right now to make the world a better place? The answer to that question could change how you live your life.
At least that is what the Rev. Wayne Schwab, coordinator of the Member Mission Network, would like to see happen. With the help of a grant from Trinity Wall Street, Schwab launched Member Mission in 2008 to “lead in teaching the baptized to see themselves as missionaries” in the world.
“It’s about living your faith and talking it, and in each area of daily life; the seven daily mission fields, that is so critical,” said Schwab.
The seven daily mission fields are: home, work, community, the wider world (including political life and social action), leisure or recreation, and church — both individual spiritual health and sharing in church life and its outreach.
“You might say ‘my mission is running a good company,’ but it goes beyond that,” said Schwab. “It’s about how you vote, how you talk at cocktail parties when a controversial issue comes up.”
As Schwab, the Episcopal Church’s evangelism officer from 1975-93, tells it, the concept behind Member Mission was decades in the making.
In retrospect, he said, “I was always trying to put evangelism inside mission.”
Since 2008, Member Mission has trained more than 165 people to be leaders in forming everyday missioners, including an ecumenical group this past June in Tanzania. In September, Member Mission will offer its first training in Chinese at St. George’s Episcopal/Anglican Church in Flushing, New York, and in October its first Spanish training at Igelsia San Andres in Yonkers.
“What Member Mission aims to do is give congregation leaders the tools to support their members in mission,” said Anne Watkins, who was part Member Mission’s pilot training group and who also serves as the Province I lay representative on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council. “If we think of the church as we are the church wherever we gather, we are still equally church when we disperse into our ordinary lives.”
The emphasis, Watkins added, is often centered on congregational mission. What Member Mission does is recognize the congregation’s members’ ability to carry out God’s mission.
“The emphasis is on supporting the members as they scatter, notice and participate in the mission of God,” she said. “Providing tools for people to delve more deeply into what it means to live as disciples.”
The training begins with a set of worksheets that invite people into prayerful discernment. The first begins by asking the person to list the things he or she is already doing to make the world a better place. From there, the worksheets invite people to look closely at the seven mission fields to discern what message God is sending.
For example, worksheet 3 focuses on daily mission in community and begins with the questions: “What has God been doing in my community (my neighborhood, town, or city)? What message am I getting about it?”
It then encourages the person to complete the sentence, “I believe God is …” to determine what messages God is sending. After determining the message, each person can then determine how to act on that message.
Think about it in terms of the middle manager; the person serving on the board of directors or the school board, working in the classroom or setting up a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, Watkins urges.
Approaching the work through “seeking and serving all people with dignity” has tremendous power, she said, offering the example of moving from simple involvement with an organization or cause to serving on a board.
“A community that gathers food for the food shelter is extraordinary helpful; the people who sit on those boards can guide practices to be more loving and just, and look systemically at what hunger and poverty mean and shape work to do even more,” Watkins said.
Before providing Member Mission training to others, the trainers themselves must be trained. For Watkins, Member Mission meshed with her own definition of discipleship.
“The primary place for lay ministry is in the world. In the church, we may have emphasized lay ministry as things that lay ministers are permitted to do under the canons,” such as administer chalices, “and I think that that short changes what lay ministry is,” she said. “Our primary call as lay ministers is to be in the world; not necessarily as caretakers of the church — we are the church that scatters.”
Working in government and teaching leadership skills to public servants and officials in California led Gloria Young to Member Mission. Young worked with a David Jones founder of the nonprofit organization Continuing Education for Public Officials.
Jones, a former Episcopal priest, and Schwab followed similar, but different paths after receiving Church and Group Life Laboratory training in how groups work and how to work with groups in the 1960s.
Working with Jones inspired Young to leave government work and found her own consulting firm, Young & Lamay Associates, to spend more time working in her community and more time with family.
Young works to get homeless women aged 55 and older off the streets of San Francisco and into permanent housing. Member Mission, Young said, helped her move from professing to be a child of God to carrying out God’s mission in action.
After serving as a Member Mission trainer in California in the fall of 2009, a training that included an Evangelical pastor from Tanzania who had read about Member Mission on the Internet, Young and Christopher Jones, David Jones’s son, traveled to Tanzania to train 13 leaders. The leaders then trained 87 people, including some 32 pastors and other church leaders, from 10-15 different religions. The training, in English and Swahili, happened over seven days.
Many of those in attendance had traveled long distances, on foot or by bus, some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Young said.
“The pastors had been preaching for years and years and [through the training] realized they needed to be preaching about society, women’s rights, … that their work affects family, home and community, not just Sunday in church,” she said.