Colin Marsh and Jim Currin, Grove Books Ev103, £3.95
There are different ways of being Church and there are different ways of being Churches Together. If your local Churches Together group struggles with ‘calendar ecumenism’, the annual round of the Week of Prayer, Lent, Good Friday procession, Christian Aid week and so on, then I strongly recommend you explore this accessible Grove booklet together.
Written by Colin Marsh, the Ecumenical Development Officer for Birmingham Churches Together, with a concluding response from Jim Currin, Churches Together in England’s Secretary for Evangelization, this short volume is underpinned by huge experience of practical ecumenical mission.
We start with some mission history, colonial, paternalistic, divided, from the churches, for the churches. Mid-20th century a new concept emerges, Missio Dei, reminding us that God is the agent of mission, and it is God’s mission that we are all invited to share; a simple concept, perhaps, but one with profound implications for the ways in which local Christian communities work together.
If our starting point is God, rather than our denominational institutions, then our reaching out is a shared activity. Mission and unity really do inhabit the same sentence, in Currin’s words they are one ‘in a new way’. Kirsteen Kim is cited arguing that the movement for unity has shifted from a ‘fellowship based on agreement’ to a ‘fellowship of those who are unlike and not necessarily agreed’ but who come together for a missionary purpose. Relationship, partnership and fellowship are key words. Key, too, is the sense of equality in Christ, not least across cultures and ethnicities, an important dimension in neighbourhoods where there is a strong presence of international churches; can we all be ‘co-partners in God’s mission’? Prayerful discernment of the Spirit, and discernment of local needs and contexts, inform and inspire mission. Missio Dei is likely to reflect the ‘responses of Christians who are being led by God to walk alongside the most disadvantaged in our communities through partnership’. (Currin would also want to ensure ‘word’ is included in ‘word and deed’.) Denominational institutions are to enable rather than instruct, as with the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission which are introduced by the assertion that ‘God’s mission is holistic, concerned for all human beings and the totality of a human person: body, mind and spirit. It is concerned for the totality of God’s creation.’
As an example of the practical working out of Missio Dei in a Churches Together context, we are given an insight into Revive Rugby. Monthly prayer breakfasts for church leaders in the town have built relationships, led to conferences, partnerships and an array of shared initiatives involving Street Pastors, Hope, a food bank, Healing on the Streets, Christians Against Poverty…
It is a strength of Marsh’s writing that it leaves the reader asking a host of questions, especially if one is involved in a local Churches Together group. Is our group like the one Marsh describes? Could we become like that? How are we called to share in Missio Dei together in our community? What would that mean for our community and our churches? How is God speaking to us through this? I think I would want to add questions for those already on this road: how do we reflect on what we do together? How does it help us understand our different theologies, beliefs and practices? How does it build unity and what kind of unity is that?
I guess part of the answer to that is in the title: it’s God’s ‘mission-shaped unity’.
Book Review by Rev Dr Clive Barrett, County Ecumenical and Development Officer and Execultive Secretary, West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council.