this is the eleventh of a series celebrating twenty years at cms
see 1. gold | 2. emerging church | 3. blah | 4. new forms | 5. worship tricks | 6. mission shaped church and fresh expressions | 7. pioneer ministry | 8. church planting | 9. red tape | 10. doing the imaginative work
in 2005 I went to india with some youth workers. i posted a series of 15 blogs called india talkie which are fun to look back at - if you click on the india category and scroll down you'll find them. one of the things that interested me doing this reflection on the last twenty years at cms is that whilst it feels like the conversation about decolonising mission is very current, when i joined i was aware of the problem of western mission and its relationship to empire and colonisation. that colonisation is of people and land but also imagination. in that series I reflected on the disappointment of encountering what felt like overly western expressions of church and worship - either in a traditional anglican set up or in a hillsong church. i had never been to asia and expected to find something more different. part of the complexity is that english is aspirational in the culture - if you learn english you can advance. so i remember distinctly the push back when i raised this question which was along the lines of ‘who do you think you are?!’. it’s a fair enough question. of course I was also looking in the wrong places no doubt.
i came back to this question again when I first met harvey kwiyani and discussed mission in relation to african christians in the diaspora(s). this has been such a good friendship and journey for me (and I hope harvey!). my simple take on mission to that point had been to present two stories in mission - the first being contextualisation where mission is done to share faith that then grows on the inside of a culture with indigenous leadership and the other of imperialism imposing ways of being and doing theology and church and at its worst overrunning a culture and a way of life. i always appealed to the former and i would go to the likes of john taylor and max warren and draw on the inspiring sense of mission that called for and claim that tradition. but i think i probably had an overly positive view. what harvey helped me see is that colonialism is much more deeply embedded than that. the former tale can still carry a lot of privilege, power which have subtle (and of course not so subtle ways) of expressing themselves. so the quest for decolonising mission is a very real one and i am sure that will be an ongoing conversation over the next few years.
i was fascinated by the history of mission in new zealand when I visited in 2020 just before lockdown and blogged a series of reflections then - see the new zealand category and scroll down. if you look at the last post i say that will write one more post with some reflections on post colonial mission. here’s a confession which I don’t think anyone else noticed. i never finished the series. i have never written that post. on the plane on the way back i read a book on post colonial theology by robert heaney to go alongside the history i had been reading and always intended to conclude that series with a blog on post colonial mission. i haven’t yet been able to write it! i now wonder if I ever will. i think on reflection it’s probably not mine to write. i have come to the conclusion that can only be written by those who have been on the receiving end of colonialism or i could only write what they said post colonial mission is or could be. i guess i could write a post imperial rome one on britain and the need for us to recover our own indigeneity? or am I just copping out?
various things have really helped me in this quest or conversation.
- one is the significance of border crossing friendships. i try to work out of friendship. my own way of working across cultures has always been to share what we are doing and learning in england about mission in that context and hear the same about another context and see where there is synergy. i have particularly enjoyed that way of working with friends in s korea where a pioneer hub has grown that is entirely korean in its organising and leading and everything else.
- another is reading voices from the margins - i have loved the exposure to theologies and practice from the majority world and the realisation that whatever western theology is or isn’t it is just one local theology that has sadly universalised its take far too often. my favourite book i read last year was rescuing the gospel from the cowboys by richard twiss. it is the story of what first nations/native american christians have had to do to generate a genuine movement of contextual practice in indigenous spirituality following in the way of jesus. as an aside it is a great case study on a movement - it shows that movements need champions, new practice, gatherings, to do their own theological work, connection with others on a similar journey and so forth. it is a good read alongside braiding sweet grass by robin wall kimmerer which I read this summer - a delightful book that made me want to learn from indigenous spirituality, community, practices, relationship with the land and so on. when i read richard twiss' book i pondered that there are multiple versions of cowboys and a lot of rescuing needed! there is so much listening and reflecting to be done in this area.
- as well as thinking and reflecting and learning you need new practice. we have to find ways to act into new thinking rather than the other way round. practice has always been my passion. and we need plenty of grace on the way, permission to get it wrong as we seek new paths. the african diaspora route through the masters degree has been a small adventure in practice we are making together with others at cms led by harvey and I hope it can grow (and something similar be done in other diasporas). it already feels like something very special is taking place. another piece of practice i have loved observing is asia cms and the growth of their co-mission partner programme. they recently had a ten year anniversary and the accompanying report is full of stories of asian mission practice led by these co-mission partners who are asian leaders. it’s not that we don’t need exchange and intercultural work - we do, but a massive pendulum swing is needed and happening at least to some degree i think.
in the book I read on post colonial theology on the plane robert heaney muses that perhaps it is too much even to use the word mission given the s**t that has gone down. it probably depends where you are what it has meant and i completely get that. i am less sure of that move. i would rather continue the quest to refound it in ways that are good for the earth and all peoples. i hope that is possible.