I went to a mission conference yesterday with John Burnett, who has been in South Africa for three months from the USA, to do teaching ministry. I had hoped that John would be able to get a lift with Fr Athanasius, but Fr Athanasius had to be in Kenya, so John came from Johannesburg by taxi, and underestimated the time it would take to get through the traffic, and he was dropped at Jerusalem (Marabastad) instead of in the centre of town, so by the time we got to the NG Kerk in Doornpoort where it was being held, it was too late for registration, and Roger Schroeder, the first speaker, was just starting.
I posted my review of Roger Schroeder’s book Constants in context in the previous post, and his first paper was a kind of résumé of the first chapter, on mission in the Acts of the Apostles, where he said that the church was missionary by its very nature. The main thrust of it was that whereas people have tended to see mission as a task of the church, and one task among many, mission is not so much something the church does, it is something the church is.
The next speaker was Nico Botha, who spoke about the lack of mission consciousness in the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. He said the tried various programmes, such as EE III and Alpha Courses, but there was no mission consciousness, and instead an attitude of neocolonial dependence. Many of their congregations were still financially supported by the “mother” church, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK, Dutch Reformed Chutrch). Perhaps postcolonial theory could help them to deal with that situation.
And perhaps that was also reflected in the composition of the conference, which was overwhelmingly pale and male. Nico’s was the only dark face there. Out of about 40 people present only four were female, including Annemie Bosch and a couple of hoodies (were they Jedi Knights, I wonder?)
After lunch Marius Nel spoke about the Southern African Partnership of Missional Churches, mostly Dutch Reformed. They have three key spiritual practices:
- Dwelling in the World where people focus on their interactions with strangers and acquaintances for seven days.
- Plunging where they try to enter the world of people they don’t normally interact with.
- Dwelling in the Word where they read the Bible together, but not in an intellectual and exegetical way of the experts, trying to analyse the word, but rather listening to it and trying to hear what it is saying to them and to those with whom they have been interacting.
He concentrated mainly on the last point.
Roger Schroeder spoke again on mission and table fellowship, making the link between the dining table and the table of eucharistic fellowship.
There were several people I knew there, including some fellow bloggers, though I didn’t get a chance to chat with them all, but it will be interesting to see if any of them also blog about it, and what their take on it will be.