Activating Congregation into Mission Partnering through Interim Rectorship

Activating Congregation into Mission Partnering through Interim Rectorship

By The Rev. Cn. Dr. David Wilson

I retired as rector of Christ the Redeemer Canonsburg in July 2018, dreaming of travel to warm climates, lolling on sandy beaches, and gorging on seafood extravaganzas while sipping exotic tropical beverages. What I got was a brief break and a three-month sabbatical coverage, followed by two interim rectorships. I have found it to be an exhilarating couple of years and something I would not change at all. The interim-ships have given me a chance to preach God’s word to God’s people, to provide leadership and direction to the lay people charged with leading the congregations, to help in their search processes, and the chance to (I hope) influence their embrace of the future.

At one of the first vestry meetings I attended at All Saints Anglican Church in Cranberry Township, PA, the treasurer informed the assembled group that the parish had a surplus in the mission line item of the budget. The vestry wanted to give the money away but did not know what or whom to give it to. Having worked as a lay professional for two parachurch organizations in Ambridge many years ago, I knew the mission and ministry landscape and how to engage with it. I proposed that we invite some of the Anglican mission groups headquartered in our area to make presentations during the Sunday Adult Education Hour so the vestry could then discern how to expend the surplus funds. We also had a presentation from Wycliffe Bible Translators.

More than one of the presenters stressed the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8, where he instructed the apostles before he ascended: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” They stressed that this Acts text gives us a template for a comprehensive missional strategy. In terms of concentric circles, Jerusalem is the closest in, equivalent to Cranberry Twp.; Judea, next out, is our region and our diocese. Samaria would be domestic ministry in the United States and, to the ends of the earth is global missions that are world-wide and international in scope and reach. One vestry member, Emily Tilden, commented: ;

I am excited to find a way to partner with some of these groups. We've worked with Shepherd's Heart in the past, and that is important to continue, so is there also something we can do with Church Army locally or at Uncommon Grounds? Can we get the children involved in that, too? I want my two young sons to have a desire to serve, and it is a focus of their school. The ARDF (Anglican Relief And Development Fund) talk also brought forward an angle to missions that I had not previously thought much about. How do we prepare ourselves and our church to be a community partner in the event of a local disaster?

As I looked back on the assembled group of presenters and ministries, I realized this has been a true highlight of my time at All Saints Church. The vestry has commissioned a newly formed Missions Committee to propose a template to discern the scope of the relationship it has with the many groups. Another vestry member, Kirk Haberman, wrote, “I appreciated the opportunity to get a better sense for the missions within our diocese, region, and province. It is encouraging to know this is happening in our own backyard, and the opportunities to get involved, both personally and as a parish. I am curious to hear how our Missions Team works out how to create fruitful partnerships moving forward.”

Vestry member Dr. David Smith, the son of missionaries to Southeast Asia, shared that through his research of Anglican missions, he discovered Anglican Global Mission Partners (AGMP) and was impressed by the worldwide reach and varieties of mission and ministry of the 31 groups that belong to AGMP. David commented, “Thanks for the opportunity to consider a number of worthy mission efforts. Though I came in with lots of experience on both sides of mission giving, I learned so much more in the process!”

In summary, many parishioners learned for the first time of our call to be on mission, all the time. Anglican missiologist and theologian Christopher Wright stated it this way:

Mission is not ours; mission is God's. Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in. Or, as has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission - God's mission.”1

This effort will have a lasting effect on the parish, and I hope will be a key factor in the calling of their next rector. It was exhilarating to see how readily the fire for mission can be ignited in a parish. If you would like to know about the groups that we invited to present, contact me at ddavidwilson@gmail.com . Videos of all the presentations are on the All Saints Church Facebook page.

1Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 17.