A New Vision for New Challenges
Our contemporary conception of faith is intertwined with the assumption of modernity, an individualist perspective with roots in the Enlightenment rejection of the central role of God as the source of truth and knowledge. It is not possible to pursue nostalgic efforts to recreate an earlier era, whether 1950s America or Victorian England: the assumption and worldview of our mission field have changed, and thus our approach must change as well.
Some Christian leaders believe the answer is to focus on rational ideas and argumentation. However, intellectual assent does not necessarily lead to personal transformation. People can give intellectual assent to the faith — while this newfound intellectual clarity about God remains mixed in with the same old manner of life.
Instead, the experience of faith comes first. The theology and doctrine of the church are the right explanation of that experience. The church began with the experience of Pentecost, and then spent the next 350 years explaining the experience, culminating in the Nicene Creed. Thus, mission must begin with the experience of God’s presence, not merely with teaching.
The Mission Community
Many churches have sought to create local or affinity communities by having existing members leverage their relationships to attract new members. However, our vision of Mission Community is significantly different.
A Mission Community is structured around a shared Rule of life, and its spiritual life and mission are based on a monastic model. Aimed initially at the spiritual formation of its members, it calls those members to spiritual maturity and holiness. It is this holiness that allows members to spread the message of the faith backed by an experiential reality. If others can see Christ in us, then we can bear witness to His transforming presence.
These ascetical practices are based on the concepts of Martin Thornton (1915-1986) in his book Pastoral Theology, A Reorientation. In the 16th century, the Book of Common Prayer offered a form of spirituality that was a successor to the monasteries in England. Today Anglicans in the U.S. and the rest of the world use the Daily Office of that prayer book as simplified framework for a community or parish to live by a common Rule of prayer and spiritual discipline. According to Thorton, this core group forms a “parochial remnant” that provides vicarious spiritual power that flows to the rest of the church.
Jesus himself followed a remnant model. He spoke to the crowds, but focused his energy on training a particular group of mature leaders, the twelve, to carry on his work. Jesus’ life had a vicarious impact. He lived and died for the sins of the whole world, yet he never traveled outside of Israel and only met a tiny fraction of the world’s population.
For more information, please read “The Idea of a Mission Community” a white paper written by Rt. Rev Stephen Scarlett, Bishop to the Ordinary for the Diocese of the Holy Trinity.
Spiritual Formation in an Era of Global Crisis
In 2020, we have found that the pandemic-era societal changes have not only created stresses on Anglican churches, but also unique opportunities for spiritual formation. Since mid-March, we have been conducting virtual Daily Office twice daily, seven days a week, as a way to use online technologies to form a 21st century Remnant. For a summary of our experience, see “Virtual Daily Office in a Time of Viral Pandemic,” published on North American Anglican in April 2020.
We welcome your questions, suggestions or other thoughts on this vision: please email Joel W. West email@example.com .