World Mission Sunday: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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World Mission Sunday is celebrated each year on the second to last Sunday of Epiphany. This day has specifically been set aside to remind us of our membership in the global church, and our call to make disciples of all nations. As ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach wrote in a recent letter, “This day offers us, as a Province, a chance to consider what each of us can do to advance the Kingdom of Christ around the world.”

The Collect for World Mission Sunday

Almighty God, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for World Mission Sunday, BCP 2019)

Epiphany and World Mission

The season of Epiphany begins with far-off visitors, the magi, coming to worship the king of the Jews. This illuminating story is paired with scripture readings full of light and glory for all of the nations. In Isaiah 60 we read, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Paul puts it more bluntly in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes, “…the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Salvation is offered not only to a small group of people, but to the ends of the earth. The magi were just the first to follow the light, and respond with gifts, worship and great rejoicing.

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This reminder that Jesus is a gift to the whole world continues throughout the Epiphany season, in both the readings and in the liturgy.  We see it in the seasonal greeting for Epiphany, from Isaiah 49:6:

Celebrant I will make you as a light for the nations,
People That my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

And we see it in several of the Epiphany collects:

“..our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world…that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth…” (Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany, BCP 2019)

“Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…” (Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, BCP 2019).

The Anglican Tradition of World Mission

Anglicanism has always been a worldwide missionary movement, going back to the Celtic and Roman missionary monks who evangelized the pagan Angles and Saxons (we could also mention the earlier St. Patrick, a British Christian, and his evangelization of Ireland!). Even during the medieval period, Anglicanism had a missionary spirit, expressed for example in the mission work of Boniface and the evangelization of the German people.

After the Reformation, Anglican missions expanded to a much larger portion of the globe, including the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Asia. These efforts proceeded alongside English colonization and imperialism, and were often unhelpfully mixed with political and economic motives. But this period also saw the formation of dedicated mission societies, including the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, founded in 1701 (SPG), the Church Missionary Society founded in 1799 (CMS), and the Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews in 1809 (CMJ).

The greatest successes in global Anglican missions came from dedicated missionaries building up the indigenous church. Following the three-self formula of Henry Venn, the leader of CMS in the mid 19th century, Anglican missionaries supported the indigenous people of many nations to form self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating churches. Such churches would survive and even thrive after the decline of the British Empire. Today, the large majority of Anglicans worldwide are part of such churches in the Global South, with an especially high concentration in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Reverse Mission Movement

The remarkable twist in the story of Anglican World Mission, is that the churches of the Global South have largely retained the Anglican faith, even as the Church of England is following secular culture and giving up on the authority of Holy Scripture. This is most obvious in the recent decision of the Church of England to bless same-sex unions and thereby depart from scriptural teaching on marriage and sexual ethics.

In other words, the new mission field of the 21st century is not only in the Global South, but increasingly also in the secularizing Western countries.  Thus the call to world mission of the 21st century, is not only for the English to evangelize Africa, but also for the Africans to evangelize England!

We have already seen the beginning of this movement of reverse mission in America. When the American Episcopal Church began to depart from the Biblical teaching on marriage, the orthodox Anglican Bishops of the Global South provided episcopal oversight for dissenting congregations, sent missionary bishops to form new dioceses, and ultimately commissioned a new Anglican province, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

Ways to Celebrate World Mission Sunday

Pray: Pray for individuals and families that are engaged in mission work. Consistent with an understanding of the reverse mission movement, we can pray for those doing mission work, both overseas and closer to home.

Give: Take a collection, and send financial support to a missionary that your church supports, or to a global development project coordinated by ARDF.

Go: Consider how you might get involved, whether across the street or across the ocean. Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim his gospel to all people.

Eat: Prepare food from different cultures, and eat it! Eating from around the world is not only tasty; it also disciples us in the importance of the global church.

Festival: Some churches hold an annual missions festival, transforming their gym or parish hall into an array of colorful booths, each with a flag from a different nation and an introduction to its language, clothing, and culture. Each other practice can be incorporated, with prayer requests, opportunities to give, opportunities to go, and of course, food to eat!

A Concluding Prayer for Mission

In the normal course of congregational life, it can be easy to forget the universal church. That is why we have World Mission Sunday, to bring special focus to fellow Christians around the world. And on a daily basis, our liturgy of Morning Prayer offers this Collect for Mission, to remind us of God’s constant call, that we believers would go and preach the gospel to all peoples:

O God, you made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From Daily Morning Prayer, BCP 2019)

Published on

February 11, 2023

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Anglican Compass

Anglican Compass is your guide to Anglican life. We're here to help you navigate the Anglican tradition with clarity and charity.

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