This month at the Patheos Book Club, we are delighted to be featuring a new book by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, called Gathering At God’s Table: The Meaning of Mission in the Feast of Faith. The book is a beautiful and passionate exploration of the meaning of mission in the context of contemporary life, and offers a profound reminder of our role in God’s vision for a restored and reconciled world. Click here to read an excerpt from the book.
Why did you write this book and who did you write it for?
This book was developed from sermons and addresses I’ve given in the last couple of years. It addresses mission in its broad sense, because this is a season in which the Church is remembering that its task is to turn outward to do the work to which God has called it. Most of that work is “in the world” rather than “in the Church.” I put those phrases in quotation marks because there is not nearly so much distinction as most people think. The work of mission means what we are sent to do. It cannot have its primary focus on those who are already members of the Church.
In the Christian tradition, mission has often been understood in terms of proselytizing. How does your definition differ – or resonate – with that?
Mission work is not so much about proselytization, but about transformation. Counting conversions is not the point – changing the world is – and it often happens one person at a time.
Do you expect this book to change anyone’s mind? About what?
I do hope this book expands how people understand mission. The fault line between at least a couple of Christian “camps” is whether mission means evangelism or mission means social justice work. I don’t think you can separate the two, and I think mission is actually broader than both together. I also see signs that the wider Church is beginning to heal those divisions, in the hope that together we can do far more than any one of us alone.
What is the biggest challenge to the Church for living a more mission-focused faith? And what’s at stake if we fail to embrace our role in this work?
Part of the difficulty in most western parts of the Church today is the intense self-focus. Mission invites, encourages, and prods Christians to recognize that they don’t exist for themselves but for the world. To many people it feels safer to stay inside and focus on people who are already “in” the church, but that is not the way of life. Education, formation, and worship are essential parts of the inward work, but they rot if they don’t put all of that to work in serving, ministering to the people beyond the in-group. Missionaries put their gifts to work in God’s mission to heal and transform the world – and we have countless missionaries doing that in their daily lives, without leaving home.