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How NOT to do mission

5 August 2008

I came across this textbook example about how not to do mission on the Elizaphanian blog recently. If you want to see a compendium of missiological errors, it’s almost all here — arrogance, condescension, cultural insensitivity and rank injustice.

What saddened me especially was that this particular example, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, claims to be linked with the Orthodox Church.

The SSG Trust is apparently buying redundant churches in Britain and turning them into Orthodox Churches. But this has apparently caused problems for some Orthodox congregations, as reported by the OrthodoxWiki site:

St Osmund’s Church in Poole, acquired by the SSG in 2005, became mired in controversy in August 2007, when the Orthodox congregation there, led by Fr Chrysostom MacDonnell, walked out of the Church and decamped over to St Edmund Campion Roman Catholic Church in Bournemouth. Fr MacDonnell stated “We parted company with Mr Brewer and his organisation, as we found that the way in which they operated was contrary to our deanery statutes regarding the control of parishes.”

Even worse, however, was their takeover of the SPCK bookshops in England, and then attempting to foist employment contracts on the staff that would have made Mr Gradgrind look like a saint. Many of the staff were fired, and the bookshops were allowed to run down and many of them were closed.

British bloggers started to comment on the situation, and the head honcho of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, J. Mark Brewer of Texas, in a fine display of imperialist arrogance, started issuing threatening “cease and desist” notices against them — including Elizaphanian.

One Anglican commentator put the situation in a nutshell:

What I am surprised about is that the powers that be apparently can’t see that the approach taken is counterproductive. As a missionary organisation, what they do represents Orthodoxy to those they encounter and they’re making the Orthodox look like a bunch of fundamentalist – in the modern sense of the word – control freaks. It’s undermining the work they do restoring redundant churches to (Orthodox) worship too, I’ll bet. If I was a Bishop with jurisdiction over them, I’d be inclined to have a quiet word involving urgent courses in the pastoral care of staff and effective management of publicity. Using a big stick if necessary.

To avoid doing any further damage to the good name of the Orthodox Church, Orthodox mission, and the Orthodox Christian faith, I suggest that J. Mark Brewer cease and desist from claiming any connection with them, as well as from his immoral and illegal employment practices.


For more informatrion on the legal aspect of this, see Ministry of Truth.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 August 2008 10:17 am

    It is a very counter-productive situation, isn’t it ?

    How to bring Orthodoxy into the public eye and into disrepute simultaneously ……….

  2. 5 August 2008 11:07 pm

    “arrogance, condescension, cultural insensitivity and rank injustice”…

    I am not in the position to judge anyone who starts or runs a mission, because I have not made such a commitment myself, and have no experience.

    But with an attitude like that (arrogance, condescension, cultural insensitivity and rank injustice), almost any venture will have a high chance of failing, whether it is a mission or a business.

    I suppose the key is to always walk in humility.

  3. sol permalink
    6 August 2008 6:53 am

    I’ve left an extensive reply to your comment about this on my blog.

  4. 6 August 2008 6:56 am

    It begins to look as though it’s more than just high-handed bullying, but a scam as well — see St Aidan to Abbey Manor here. It seems that St Stephen the Great Charity Trust has filed for bankruptcy, and the management of the SPCK bookshops has been taken over by another group, run by the same people.

  5. Martin permalink
    6 August 2008 2:26 pm

    “arrogance, condescension, cultural insensitivity and rank injustice….”

    This sounds rather familiar? Exactly what has caused the downfall and decline of so many churches (claiming to be ‘Christian churches’) during the last few centuries.

    Who or what will take their place I wonder… not some corporate business, that’s for sure.

  6. 29 September 2008 10:58 am

    “How to bring Orthodoxy into the public eye and into disrepute simultaneously ……….” Could not have thought of a better summary…

  7. Ulsterman permalink
    30 September 2008 3:28 pm

    I just wanted to say that I like the reference to Gradgrind from Hard Times – in case you were feeling unappreciated – and you have my sympathy for finding your faith associated in people’s minds with the unpleasant Mr Brewer


  1. Avoiding mistakes in mission « Khanya
  2. Third Space Books: Buyer Beware « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog
  3. J. Mark Brewer: you are an embarrassment to the Orthodox Church « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info
  4. Benedikt Benedikz: librarian, scholar, raconteur « Khanya

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