Monday, October 17, 2011

[Updated] EPGM disbands after 21 years of service to the Episcopal mission community

From Episcopal News Service:
Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission (EPGM) has announced that it will officially disband as a mission networking organization serving the Episcopal Church, according to an Oct. 15 news release.

The decision to disband was made at EPGM's annual meeting, held at the Everyone Everywhere 2011 conference in Estes Park, Colorado, and approved by consensus of the attending membership organizations, the release said.

EPGM began in 1990 as the Episcopal Council for Global Mission (ECGM). It was renamed in 1999 when its structural organizing plan was approved by Executive Council. General Convention adopted the plan in 2000.

Financial issues due to loss of funding from the 2009 General Convention and loss of membership contributed to the decision to disband, according to the release.

Read it all.

The Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission was once a fine organization--an umbrella group where all of the agencies and mission organizations that served the Episcopal Church could come together and work on goals and strategies and engage in cooperative efforts. As with so many other signs of TEC's implosion, it saddens me to see it die.

However, as Paul Harvey was famous for saying, we need to know "the rest of the story." The sentence mentioning the loss of membership is the key.

Following the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, the Diocese of New Hampshire applied for membership in EPGM. Viewed charitably, one could perhaps hope that the application meant there was a group in the Diocese genuinely concerned for world missions. A more skeptical view is that the Diocese was seeking to force recognition and acceptance from one of the few remaining Episcopal organizations where theological conservatives were in the majority. The application, and the debate over issues of sexuality that were racking TEC as a whole, only served to bring to a head longstanding disagreements over theology and the meaning of mission and evangelism.

In any event, New Hampshire's application to join EPGM put the conservative mission organizations in a difficult position. Many of the overseas Anglican provinces where missionaries from the conservative mission organizations served were determined to break fellowship with the Diocese of New Hampshire and even the whole of the Episcopal Church as a consequence of the consecration of a gay bishop. Some of these same Anglican provinces started refusing money from TEC, and they began questioning missionaries and mission organizations that worked in their countries about their participation in TEC and their position on TEC's actions.

Consequently, conservative mission agencies that had been a part of EPGM were faced with a choice of either losing their ability to send missionaries to various countries or else withdrawing from EPGM. The withdrawals did not happen quickly or without much prayer and discussion. New Hampshire's application to join EPGM was put on hold while these conversations occurred. But, in the end, EPGM willingness to admit the Diocese of New Hampshire caused the conservative mission agencies to leave. Titus Presler encapsulates this episode very well in his history of EPGM, published on the EPGM website (while it is still online). (See especially the section entitled, "EPGM Fractured by Sexuality Turmoil," pages 6-7.) As Presler notes, the agencies that left EPGM were the ones responsible for sending nearly all of the actual, long term missionaries from the Episcopal Church. These organizations have since formed a new umbrella network, the Anglican Global Mission Partners.

Interestingly, while the split in EPGM began over an application for membership from the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, the list of current members on the EPGM website shows no listing for the Diocese of New Hampshire nor any organization from that diocese.

[Update 10/18/11]: For those who may be interested in what has happened to the organizations that left since the split, the Anglican Global Mission Partners continue to meet twice annually, usually hosting a missions conference at the church or seminary where they meet. Their meeting, two weeks ago, at St. James Anglican Church, in Newport Beach, CA, was in conjunction with the SALT Missions Conference. Their Spring 2012 meeting will be at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, and they are planning a Re:Mix Youth Missions Conference at the same time.

The agencies that are a part of Anglican Global Mission Partners (AGMP) have continued to grow. For instance, SAMS (formerly the South American Missionary Society) has changed its name to the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders. The number of missionaries being sent from SAMS has nearly doubled in the past decade, and they are now a worldwide organization, with missionaries on every continent.

The Anglican Global Mission Partners (AGMP) itself has grown through the number of new organizations that have joined since the split from EPGM. A personal observation: One would think that the contrast in the histories of the two entities since the split—even the contrast in sheer vitality between the two organizations—might be enough to convince TEC that they made a wrong turn somewhere.


David Wilson+ said...

Thanks Robert for this. A well reasoned explanation for the demise. I think the idea for ECGM came out of the early gatherings of the Stanway Institute and the PEWSAction Fellowship if my mind serves me right -- not always a sure thing these days.

I hope you won't mind if I repost this on my blog

Robert S. Munday said...

David, my over-50 memory agrees with yours. PEWSAction led to many good things, including Trinity School for Ministry and the Episcopal Church Missionary Community (ECMC). ECMC partnered with Trinity in forming the Stanway Institute. SAMS, SOMA and several other mission agencies were born during this time period. And the desire for all of these folks to get together and to influence the Episcopal Church's mission initiatives led to EPGM.

Remember, too, that this was after TEC declared a moratorium on sending missionaries in 1973. The independent agencies were formed to fill in the gaping hole left in TEC's mission efforts by this terrible decision. After the independent agencies were formed, TEC was shamed into returning to some sort of missionary endeavors, and this continued up until the present. Now, with the departure of the independent agencies from EPGM, TEC is reverting to its previous inclination, which is to do away with missions as we know it.