[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] The following is the sermon preached June 8 by President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings at the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, currently meeting through June 10 at the Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska, Minnesota.
June 8, 2016
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
In the Name of God. Amen.
Today we commemorate Roland Allen, the son of an Anglican priest who was orphaned at an early age. Allen followed in his father’s footsteps and was ordained a priest in 1893 and sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to its mission in North China in 1895. I wonder if he went to Fresh Start before going halfway around the world just two years after he was ordained!
Allen had a difficult time of it by all accounts. Five years into his missionary service, he was preparing to lead a newly formed seminary in Peking for Chinese catechists when he was trapped by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Many foreigners were killed and their property seized. Allen, along with others, was rescued after which he returned to England. Allen returned to north China in 1902 and soon fell ill, forcing him to return, once again, to England. He became a parish priest but he resigned in 1907 as a protest against the requirement that a priest had to baptize any child whether or not the parents had any connection or commitment to the Church. He never held another official position in the Church of England.
Charles Henry Long, former editor of Forward Movement, wrote that Allen, as a result of the crises of his early experience, was led to a radical reassessment of his own vocation as well as the theology and missionary methods of Western churches.
His critique of missionary methods formed the core of his teaching and writing until his death in Kenya in 1947. (Charles Henry Long, “Allen, Roland,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 12-13.))
Roland Allen was rediscovered in the 1960s and his work was heralded as ahead of his time. Dr. Andrew R. H. Thompson, a young Anglican theologian at Sewanee, wrote that “Christians need an understanding of mission that integrates the Great Commission with respectful pluralism, and evangelism with concern for material well-being.” That is going to be my new mantra.
Thompson writes that Roland Allen pointed the Anglican Church in that very direction by promoting a theology of mission that is contextual and recognizes that God is already present in every location – that missionaries do not bring God to anyone – God is already there. (Andrew R. H. Thompson, “Communities of the Spirit: The Missiology of Roland Allen in the Twenty-First Century,” in Edinburgh 2010: Mission Today and Tomorrow, ed. Kirsteen Kim and Andrew Anderson (London: Regnum Books International, 2011)
Allen called the church to put its trust in the Holy Spirit – that the Spirit will guide and direct new believers and new churches in ways that will glorify God and serve the local community. This requires missionaries – now more often called mission personnel – to avoid creating dependency and to trust that each local community inherently has what it needs in its own people, leadership, and resources to grow into the full stature of Christ.
This is a message for us today – we do not own the church or God. We do not know better than the people we serve – we may have more money, but that doesn’t make us smarter, or better, or holier, or wiser. The Spirit blows where it will and how it will. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way.
I want to close with a story Roland Allen told about a veteran missionary who came up to him one day after he had delivered his sermon.
The missionary introduced himself and said, “I was a medical missionary for many years in India. And I served in a region where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured.”
But this missionary had developed a process which would arrest progressive blindness. So people came to him, and he performed his operation. They would leave realizing that they had been spared a life of blindness because of this missionary.
He said that they never said, “Thank you,” because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, “I will tell your name.” Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they never forgot to eagerly proclaim it wherever they went.
I will tell your name. Whose name will you tell?
- Whose name will you tell as a result of generosity, kindness, and mercy?
- Whose name will you tell out of gratitude?
- Whose name will you tell because you have been provided blessing in abundance?
- Whose name will you tell because justice has been served?
- Whose name will you tell because you have been brought out of darkness into light?
- Whose name will you tell because you have experienced forgiveness and reconciliation?
- Whose name will you tell because your life has been transformed and your very spirit resurrected?
Whose name will you tell?
I hope the name you tell is the name of Jesus and that his name is engraved in your heart, just as your name is engraved in the heart of God who loved you at the moment of your creation and loves you still. Now go change the world!