Missionary Witness and Action in the Episcopal Church in Delaware

Missionary Witness and Action in the Episcopal Church in Delaware

by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris

Note: This article is written using results of an informal survey. Please forgive the writer if notable work by your parish is missing or under-reported. The real work of mission and outreach is often done without fanfare or even notice. The writer believes that is in some ways as it should be.

The beginning of the traditional rendering of the Eucharistic Prayer says, “It is our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee.” When I was a kid, I thought the prayer said it was our bounding duty, and I had this image of leaping and bounding around, doing a kind of joyful dance.

Maybe I was right. Maybe bounden duty is not a task, but a leap for joy. And if so, duty is not onerous, but a delight. Then when the catechism says, “The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God,” it is really speaking of what is our delight. I think that duty/delight is the mission of the church.

So, how are we doing here in the Episcopal Church in Delaware? How are we fulfilling our bounden duties, and are they a source of delight and energy for mission?

Week by week throughout the diocese we pray, and from prayer come giving and action. Recently 25 of the 34 parishes in our diocese responded to an informal survey of their mission and outreach activities. Their responses tell us a good bit about how we work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom.

By far the most often responses included

  • engaging in and contributing to Episcopal Church Women (ECW) and United Thank Offering (UTO) (13)
  • sponsoring 12-step programs (16)
  • engaging in meal ministries and food banks (16)
  • supporting students (everything from scholarships to Camp Arrowhead to back packs and tutoring) (14)
  • providing ecumenical service ministries (15)

Most parishes were clear about their outreach activities — efforts to fund, provide services for, and initiate or sponsor programs that serve people in the communities where they are located. Ecumenical and interfaith ties strengthen the ability to do this outreach.

Several churches located near other institutions had clear ministries engaging with those institutions, often supported by the diocese as well. The Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Delaware is a great example. Parishes have initiated and remain engaged with ministries to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and halfway houses. Several diocesan or parish programs have grown into long-lasting initiatives, including Delaware Hospice (the first hospice program in the state) and The Way Home, an innovative program for prisoners upon release.

The survey also asked about outreach ministries and mission work/trips that they supported. Although the responses concerning local outreach were many and varied, mission and ministry that was not local was reported much less frequently. Only five parishes reported international mission trips or work, and an equal number reported local or national trips.

In the past, the diocese has been in companion relationships with dioceses elsewhere, including Haiti, South Africa, Scotland, and most recently Mexico; however, we currently do not have a companion diocese relationship. Two parishes have initiatives with churches elsewhere in the Anglican Communion: Christ Church, Christiana Hundred, with churches in the Dominican Republic, and St. Peter’s, Lewes, with the parish in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Through the Asset Based Community Development project of the Episcopal Church, St. Peter’s, Lewes, and St. Peter’s, Mirabalais, Haiti, have completed common training to foster a new understanding of development. In addition, several parishes have taken part in pilgrimage journeys and choir trips as means of mission engagement.

In the 1980s, several missionaries from parishes in Delaware served in Africa and the Caribbean. Although, we currently do not have any missionaries who call Delaware home, there is international mission activity. Two of our clergy, the Rev. James M. Bimbi and the Very Rev. William B. Lane, have been heavily involved with St. George’s College, Jerusalem, and with Palestinian Anglicans, and until this year, the Rev. Canon Mark Harris was an advisor to the late bishop of Haiti. The Rev. Canon Joseph Tucker, priest in Sierra Leone now resident in Delaware, returned to Sierra Leone with parish and diocesan support to continue his mission work. He has also served on the national board of the Global Episcopal Mission Network.

In summary, the picture is this. From the consciousness that we find in worship about our own need to care for others, the community, and the world, local outreach flourishes in Delaware. Much of our work takes the form of funding local outreach projects, many of them ecumenical, and other efforts involve on-the-ground work in thrift shops, food programs, tutoring, prison and hospital ministries, and social services.

A large majority of parishes are engaged with and give to national mission organizations — particularly the UTO and Episcopal Relief and Development. Some funding goes to international agencies such as Doctors Without Borders, while some goes to support schools and churches in Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

There is very little on-the-ground involvement in mission trips within the United States (e.g., reservations in South Dakota and New Mexico; relief efforts in Louisiana, New Jersey, Appalachia, and Puerto Rico) or outside the country (e.g., Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Palestine, Israel, Scotland, England).

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility in mission and outreach is the increase in spiritual direction, training, and spiritually grounded action. A number of clergy and lay members of the diocese have taken part in retreats, training courses, and small group work to develop greater depth and grounding from which action that reflects the presence of Christ arises. This is mission that digs deeper in order to go further.

In terms of our bounden duty, we in the Episcopal Church in Delaware have made a good beginning, grounded in strong worship traditions. There is still much to be done. In particular we are always challenged to make mission and outreach incarnational by saying, “Here I am, send me.”  Mission by personal presence is vitally important in an age in which individuals are increasingly isolated. The work of inviting, welcoming, connecting is always personal, and so is mission and outreach. We know to pray and give to spread the Good News; the question is how to increase that work.

The Rev. Canon Mark Harris is a regular contributor to the Delaware Communion and priest associate at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lewes. poetmark@comcast.net

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