When Robert Kereopa starts telling people about missions conferences – we’re in the middle of the 2015 one now – he reaches for an unusual phrase: he talks about a “banquet” of mission.
But Canon Robert, who is the Executive officer of the Anglican Missions Board and who, more than anyone, has pulled this Auckland conference together, could be on to something there.
Because, like a banquet, the courses here at this Kings College conference keep coming – and if you’ve got bread-and-butter ideas of what mission is about – then at times the fare is unexpected. Exotic, even.
But if the engagement of the conference-goers here is any indication, that fare is nourishing.
The Gospel priority of... birth registration?
Take the workshops, for example.
There, on Tuesday, was John Rea from Scotland – John is one of the founders of the International Anglican Family Network – leading a well-attended workshop on… wait for it… the importance of birth registration.
And if you are struggling to see how that subject fits within the ambit of The Great Commission well, John is a firm believer that registration is a Gospel priority – because it’s part of God’s concern for justice and the wellbeing of the marginalised.
Here’s the problem: 51 million Third World children come into the world each year (that’s a UN figure) with no formal documentation of their names, their dates of birth, their place of birth or their parentage.
In Papua New Guinea for example, where John has served, only 2% of children are born in hospitals or health care centres and therefore have their births registered.
In Tuvalu, less than 10% of kids have their births registered.
OK. But exactly why is that a problem?
Well, says John, there is irrefutable evidence that unregistered girls are more vulnerable to being forced into early marriage, or trafficked into prostitution.
And that unregistered third world boys are often drafted as child soldiers, or imprisoned as adults or denied access to healthcare or immunisation.
He posed the question: when Tuvalu, Kiribas and the Marshall Islands become uninhabitable because of rising sea levels, where will their citizens go?
Which countries will roll out the welcome mat for undocumented, passport-less climate change refugees?
John offered ideas for how Anglican churches can help solve that problem – and invited his audience to supply new ideas for tackling it.
"The bonfire of the boards"
Then, there was the workshop led by American priest the Rev Dr Jason Fout – who was reflecting on the growth of the Anglican Church in London.
While stats show The Episcopal Church (TEC) is in serious decline – church going plummeted 24% from 2002 to 2012 – the Diocese of London grew by 16% in the same period.
Dr Fout can see at least three reasons for that: the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, has lit the “bonfire of the boards”. He’s done away with unnecessary, energy-sapping committees; he’s removed obstacles (especially financial ones) to resurgence – and he’s backed and blessed church growth, wherever he’s detected that.
An Anglo-Catholic himself, the only distinction he’s drawn is between “dead church and living church.”
So Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha movement has flourished under his watch – but so too has faithful churchmanship in a range of other London Anglican contexts.
The fare in the Bible Studies and in the worship sessions has been unexpected, too.
Bishop Dr Dickson Chilongani, who is leading the studies, yesterday offered an African reading of the Parable of the Talents, which drew on Ubuntu, the African idea that “I am because we are.”
He acknowledged that the servants to whom five and two talents had been given had prospered – but they’d have done better if they’d reached out to their brother, and offered to teach him how to invest his one talent.
Prepare ye the way: Luke the Baptist
On the music side, the worship on the first two evenings was led by Luke Kaa-Morgan.
Luke brought his worship team from Franklin Baptist along at the invitation of his long-time friend, the Rev Pane Kawhia – who is, without a shadow of a doubt, the finest soloist in the Anglican Communion…
Luke and Pane wrote a waiata for the conference – and when Luke hopped on the grand piano and accompanied Pane in a Mahalia Jackson-type spiritual, that had to be the musical high point, right there, of the whole conference.
Those offerings were supported by the addresses given in the plenary sessions.
Dr Rosemary Dewerse, the new Mission Educator at St John’s College, delivered the first of two guest addresses yesterday – and devoted a significant portion of her address (available here) to telling the stories of three Ngati Haua saints who, by their courage, perseverance, love, vision and trust in Jesus Christ changed the course of New Zealand history.
And finally, last evening, Dr Chris Wright delivered the third of his keynote addresses. This was an exposition of the first six verses of Exodus 19 which he called: Who are we? And what are we here for?”
The notes that Dr Wright spoke from are available here.