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Always Room at the Mission Banquet:
Rev. R. Randy Day's Address to Global Ministries Board of Directors
 


General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115

Tel: 212/870-3921
email: info@gbgm-umc.org

Rev. Day speaks from a podium in front of a projected image of a colorful campaign poster.

Rev. R. Randy Day presents "The Face of Today's Missionary" recruitment campaign during Global Ministries' 2007 Spring Board of Directors Meeting.
Image by: Cassandra Heller
Source: GBGM Administration

Stamford, CT, April 26, 2007--Christian mission is a "feast of grace" at which there is unlimited space for newcomers, the Rev. R. Randy Day to the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, meeting in Stamford on April 23-26.

Day, the chief executive of the international agency, challenged the directors to themselves become emissaries distributing convincing invitations to the banquet. He used as his text the Parable of the Great Feast in Luke 14:15-24, a passage about a host who sends into the town and countryside for guests.

"To engage in Christian mission and to be reached through Christian mission are both experiences of God's loving grace," he said.

Day discussed several groups of people he said he would like to see strongly represented in the work of the mission board. These include delegates to the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, pastors, young people, medical personnel who might become missionaries, and the poor.

He also said that the board itself needed to have a broader base in Africa, Asia and Latin America and announced that branch offices for those areas are being planned. (See separate story: Mission Board to Develop "Branch Offices" In Africa, Asia, and Latin America.)

Day asked the 92 directors of the agency to take upon themselves the responsibility of seeing that every delegate elected to the 2008 General Conference be well informed about mission needs and opportunities in a wide range of issues, including evangelism, church development, leadership training, ministry with the poor, and global health.

"Why not think of the General Conference itself as a global mission festival?" he asked in his address entitled "Always Room at the Mission Banquet."

Noting the need for more medical mission personnel, Day suggested that new patterns of mission service might be devised to take advance of short-term service either at the start or the pre-retirement years of medical careers.

He said that his agency needed to do a better job with "inspirational and motivation communication" on mission, especially that directed at pastors and young people. "I am thinking about [accounts] of dramatic human encounters with the love of Christ; of accounts in which prejudices changes into passion for justice, despair blossoms into hope, and uncertainty into vibrant faith."

The church, Day said, has the responsibility to take on the disease of poverty and needs to be deeply involved in communities of the poor.

"Each of us, the mission people," he stated, "needs to know about the poor in our countries, states or provinces, counties, cities, towns and community; know not only the statistics but know poor people themselves. We are called to talk with them about their concerns, relating to them not from a position of 'our' abundance but as children of God relating to other children of God. We are called to take account of the fact that many Methodists and United Methodists around the world are among the poor."

The full text of Day's address follows:

Always Room at the Mission Banquet

Introduction
We were sitting in a conference room a few months back, eight or ten cabinet members and other staff, pouring over the new forms we must use to make requests for 2009-2012 World Service funds. We were asking Roland questions, studying mission program descriptions, and commenting on the constituencies engaged in, and impacted by, our work.

"We have people," someone said, in a very clever application of the phrase used in H&R Block commercials.

"We have lots of people," and in a spontaneous brainstorm we started to name the mission people by groupings:

  • Board directors,

  • Missionaries and other personnel,

  • Relief workers,

  • Annual conference mission officers,

  • Mission volunteers,

  • Staff and directors of community centers and other institutions in the US and around the world,

  • Members of the urban network and the town and country network,

  • United Methodist Women,

  • Members of Covenant congregations,

  • Participants in the mission initiative networks ...

We paused, soaking in the reality of the large number of people engaged in mission to other people through this organization, the General Board of Global Ministries.

"And there's always room for more people in mission, "someone in the group stated with the force of truth.

One of the early publications describing the almost 60-year-old Advance for Christ and His Church was entitled "Endless Lines of Splendor." It concerned in part the vast numbers of people involved in God's mission. "And there's always room for more."

It is "the more" that I want to talk about today. I thank God for those people already committed to God's work through this mission agency. I want to honor them by affirming the joy I know they feel when the mission company increases. My goal is to specify several groups and categories of people within our denomination whom I would like to see among us in greater numbers, and say a few words about how we might better introduce them to the grace of mission participation. Indeed, to engage in Christian mission and to be reached through Christian mission are both experiences of God's loving grace.
The Parable of the Great Banquet

I have chosen as my text a New Testament parable commonly known as one of the "parables of the kingdom," that collection of stories showing the depth and breadth of God's grace. The Parable of the Great Banquet (or Feast) in Luke 14 gives us a Scriptural framework for thinking about "the more" we need in mission today.

The middle chapters of the Gospel of Luke contain a series of parables and incidents describing the nature of God's reign. They use language and symbols taken from everyday life, especially the common actions of eating and drinking. The Parable of the Gracious Parent is in this group; you know the story: the landowner has two sons; one took his inheritance and went to town and wasted it; the other stayed home, and the father held a great feast when the prodigal returned. The parable, of course, is not primarily about a prodigal son, but a gracious, loving parent who throws a party.

Luke 14:15-24 is also about a party ... a banquet ... a feast. The party giver here is an urban householder, a person called simply "someone," who announces a banquet in advance. When the feast is prepared, this someone sends emissaries to the invitees to announce dinner. We all know how the story unfolds: the pre-invited guests all give excuses for not coming to the party. One had bought some land outside of town and wanted to go look at it; a second wanted to try out five new yoke of oxen--five, mind you, not just one yoke. The third had gotten married and ... well, he was preoccupied.

The dinner host was unhappy with the excuses and directed the assistants to go into the town, bringing in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame to dinner. This host specifically said to go into the streets and lanes of the town. This having been done, there is still more room in the banquet hall. The host sends for the people out on the roads so that the house will be filled. I was a little troubled by the use of word "compel" with regard to this group. The emissaries are told to "compel" those on the road to come. I first thought it meant to bring them by force. I was relieved to discover from the commentaries that violence is not indicated here but, rather, a safe conduct for non-town dwellers to enter for an evening. The New Interpreter's Bible explains that "the homeless and landless lived outside the city gates, which would have been closed in the evening to keep them away from the homes and holdings of the well-to-do. Their social ostracism was enforced." The delegates of the dinner host might have needed to "compel"--to convince--the outsiders to come in to a place they were usually not allowed to enter. In effect, those on the road were given safe-conduct passes.

The host wanted a full banquet and was willing to stretch normal expectations to achieve the goal. "There is still room," he kept saying. We can well imagine that there was still room after the third group, those from the roads, arrived, for this was an extremely generous party giver. There are strong hints that the early Gentile church may have read this parable as pointing to a rejection or ignoring of God's invitation to the Jews to come to the table set by Jesus Christ. Maybe so, but that is only one possible reading. Stronger to me is the emphasis on the depth and breadth of God's grace, on the expansive nature of banquet God gives, on the abundant room in God's kingdom.

Mission as a Banquet of Grace
Christian mission is a feast of grace and there is lots of room for all sorts and kinds of people at God's party. We of the General Board of Global Ministries are the emissaries with the responsibility to go forth and make it known the message: there is always room at the mission banquet!

I do not intend this morning to draw parallels between the groups delineated in the Parable of the Great Banquet and contemporary people. I have little interest in identifying those who might today be giving unacceptable excuses for not accepting the invitation to the mission feast. Although--in all honestly--there are such folks.

My focus is on "the more"--those who will, or may, come when the invitation is extended in the knowledge that there is always room at the mission banquet. Before enumerating some of "the more," let me say a word about the attitudes and demeanor of those of us who are the emissaries.

Colossians chapter 4 contains a compelling description of those who are of the household of God and, therefore, servants and assistants of God's mission. These are those renewed in Christ--no longer Greek or Jew or Scythian, slave or free, but, as verse 12 states, "God's chosen ones," called to clothe themselves in "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." We are called to people caring, supporting, nurturing, and forgiving one another and, above all, clothed "with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony;" people with the peace of Christ ruling our hearts, united, joyful, doing everything we do in the name of Jesus Christ, and giving thanks for the opportunity to act--in grace.

Do we, the mission emissaries, see ourselves in this description? Equipped by grace and sustained by love, are we ready to go forth with convincing invitations to God's mission feast? There is still room, there is always more room.

"The More"
Are we ready; are we ready to invite more people, at least to double check whether some new and unexpected groups are there or on their way to the mission feast? You may think of others, but here is my list:

  1. Delegates, lay and clergy, to the 2008 General Conference. Oh, yes, many are at the mission banquet and are themselves mission emissaries. Some, no doubt, are in this room, but it is our responsibility to see that every delegate elected at the forthcoming annual conferences is invited and coming to the mission banquet. Why not think of the General Conference itself as a global mission festival: official and partner-church delegates from around the world gathered to coalesce in doing God's work?

    We in this room bear the responsibility of mission invitation and interpretation to the General Conference delegates, whomever they are. It is our job to keep them informed about what we are doing and hope to accomplish with their support. I hope that you who are directors will make it your pleasure and your duty to reach out in mission to every General Conference delegate from your annual conference. Perhaps you will want to share with them the mission update booklets you receive each time we gather as a board, or communicate with them by email about significant mission measures. Are they aware of the missionary recruitment campaign? Do they know about and are they engaged in our mission initiatives, covenant partnerships, ministries with the poor, and Make Malaria History campaign and other global health ministries? Work with your conference mission officers to organize a mission briefing for General Conference delegates.

    There is always room at the mission banquet.

  2. Pastors. Again, many pastors are strong mission emissaries, but we know from our own seminary task force that many clergypersons do not receive firm grounding in mission history and theology from their academic studies. We have heard from seminary professors that many people go to seminary with little or limited exposure to mission as a comprehensive understanding of evangelism and Christian service. We need mission-minded pastors who can educate and lead congregations in local and global mission involvement.

    You may recall that Professor Dana Robert of the Boston University School of Theology told us here a year ago that volunteer service is the pivotal mission for students entering in her classes. This is a positive report, and thank God for our several VIM programs, but the experience needs and deserves follow-up and linkage to other aspects of Christian theology and mission.

  3. Young people. I expect that the phenomena observed by Professor Robert would also be typical of the third group we need to bring to the mission banquet. I refer here to young people. A fair number of our United Methodist youth take part in congregation-based volunteer teams, teams often engaged in construction projects. This is wonderful fellowship and training but, I wonder, do we take full advantage of it for teaching the Wesleyan understanding of personal and social Christianity? Do the young people, wherever they are from, come away from the experience with a deeper understanding of what mission means, with a sense of the intrinsic spiritual value of being connected to persons in different places and cultures? Young people are a part of the church now, not tomorrow; we have a responsibility to them and an opportunity to learn from them. I expect that we need to learn from mission-engaged pastors and from mission-engaged young people how to become more creative emissaries in communicating with their peers.

    I hear God calling us to be more creative and persuasive mission communicators. Over the past four years we have done a fine job of improving what I think of as our "factual communications." Through our magazines, website, and press releases the people called United Methodists have never been better informed on the activities and operation of this board. We strive to be transparent, fast, accurate, and conscientiously collaborative with other general agencies in our use of information.

    However, I think we are far less advanced in what I will call "inspirational or motivational communications." Here, I mean the kinds of stories and videos that stir the imagination and compel commitment. I am talking about more than sentimental images. I am talking about dramatic human encounter with the love of Christ; of accounts in which prejudice changes into passion for justice, despair blossoms into hope, and uncertainty becomes vibrant faith.

    Pastors look for examples and young people seek models, and I think we are challenged to put more energy and resources into inspirational and motivational communication that may appeal to those significant sectors of the church. In saying this I mean no criticism of our staff communicators, but I mean to challenge us all to think deeply about the purpose, style, and outcome of our communication efforts.

    Part of what I am saying is that we need to become more attentive to interests and needs of particular constituencies. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, the methodology of the invitations to group two, the poor townspeople, and group three, those outside the town, were not the same. In the town, the host said to "bring" the people; outside the wall, the emissaries were to provide a sense of safe conduct. We need to be adaptive today in the ways in which we deliver invitations to the mission feast. I am hopeful that our projected mission academies will be valuable for pastors and lay leadership. I am confident that we can devise effective means to enlist more young people in the mission cause through motivational, experiential, and participatory approaches.

  4. Candidates for mission service, especially medical professionals. On Monday night we inaugurated our missionary recruitment campaign; a wonderful moment, a sign of our vitality as we move into the future. I am gratified that we have established the service area of the Global Health Missionary. Next month in Ghana we will commission 15 missionaries for service in Africa, six of them in medical mission.
    We need more such persons at the mission banquet. I am realistic; attracting and holding trained medical personnel may not be so easy in a world where even affluent communities have shortages of doctors and nurses.

    Last December, at a meeting on our malaria initiative, Bishop David Yemba of Central Congo said that today in Africa the training of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians is not as difficult as retaining them once they are educated. Africa-trained medical professionals are often siphoned off to Western Europe and the United States, where compensation is high and facilities are up-to-date.

    Since we cannot compete on the financial scale, we will need to make service as a Global Health Missionary attractive in terms of the spiritual and humanitarian reward. We may also need to look at flexible patterns of service. For eons, a missionary term has been three years. With regard to highly skilled professionals, has the time come to consider shorter terms, perhaps two years for young people entering medical professions, or for those in their mature years who might be willing to commit to a time period shorter than three years? Do we need to consider modifications of individual volunteer service, so that we would pick up travel and living costs of doctors, dentists, nurses, and others who might commit a year, 18 months, or two years to medical mission work?

    I am not making executive decisions here; I am saying that we need to look at a variety of options if we are serious about a significant increase in our global medical ministries. We need hospital- and clinic-based medical personnel and we need persons who are skilled in the techniques of community-based health, the model we are using in malaria and AIDS prevention and treatment. We need to think creatively in this and other areas of professional and volunteer mission service. May I be allowed to say that we shall need to think outside the boxes we have used in the past?

  5. Our theme parable makes clear that the poor are welcomed at God's great banquet, so let me not fail to name them among those we want to include in the mission feast. As you have heard repeatedly, Ministry With the Poor is one of the four program emphases approved by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops for the next quadrennium, 2009-2012. The other three are global health, new congregational development, and leadership. I feel relatively confident that this plan will be approved by General Conference and, again, as you know, Global Ministries is designated as the lead agency on Ministry With the Poor. This fact challenges us to increase the visibility of the ministries we now have and to start new ones. For example, the proposal we submitted outlined a series of comprehensive pilots to be undertaken in collaboration with conferences or missions in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the United States.

    Carefully notice the title of this undertaking: Ministry With the Poor--not Ministry to the Poor. We are not talking about a charity ball or a used-clothing pantry, as significant as those may be in some situations. We are talking about interactive ministry with poor people and about ministry to address the systemic causes of hunger and poverty. We are talking about:

    • The church and its members, rich and poor, as advocates and funders of micro-enterprise, sustainable agriculture, and community economic development;

    • Ending child labor and sweat shops;

    • Achieving gender equality;

    • Debt relief, affordable credit, fair trade, economic justice, and educational opportunity;

    • Clean water, adequate nutrition, safe shelter, available health services, affordable child care, and adequate transportation.

    Additionally, we are talking about fairness for refugees and immigrants, almost all of whom are poor and who go on the move because of disasters, wars, or economic deprivation.

    We are talking about nothing less than taking on what the World Health Organization has called "the disease of poverty," and doing that in concert with the poor themselves. This, my friends, means welcoming the poor into our churches and communities; listening to them, not as romantic figures of pity but because they, too, belong at the mission banquet as full shareholders in God's grace.

    At the 1997 Global Gathering in Kansas City, one of the speakers warned that if the church plans to get involved with the poor it better prepare to get its hands dirty. "Poverty and its causes are dirty business," she said.

    Each of us, the mission people, needs to know about the poor in our countries, states or provinces, counties, cities, towns, and communities; know not only the statistics but know poor people themselves. We are called to talk with them about their concerns, relating to them not from a position of "our" abundance but as children of God relating to other children of God. We are called to take account of the fact that many Methodists and United Methodists around the world are among the poor. If we relate to the poor as fellow children of God at the mission banquet, I can assure you that John Wesley, our spiritual parent, will go before the throne of God and call us blessed. I assure you it will happen. Wesley, late in his career, said: "If the Methodists abandon the poor, God will abandon the Methodists."

  6. Finally, there is also room in the festive hall of mission for more global participation. Let me explain. The United Methodist Church and this program board have a global vision, a global mission, and a global capacity; we do not always have global operations, or a global image, or a global sharing of responsibility and opportunity. A few weeks ago, a member of our communications staff entered into a polite but pointed email exchange with an editor of an international, ecumenical press organization. That organization had described our denomination as the "U.S.-headquartered United Methodist Church."

"No," said our staffer, "The United Methodist Church does not have a specific headquarters. We are an international connection." The editor inquired if "US-based" might work as an adjective. "No, The United Methodist Church is not US-based; what about just saying ‘The United Methodist Church?' Does a church need a nationality?"

As a result of mission, mission empowered by the Holy Spirit, our denomination has become a global church, and as mission leaders we need to live out this global reality.

I am announcing today that the General Board of Global Ministries will move toward making a greater visible reality of our international or global nature. We are committed to having Global Ministries offices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Think of these not as field offices but as branches, much as a university might have schools in various locales while retaining a single board of regents. These branches will be under the board's general administration but will have their own integrity, their unique contexts for mission, and participate in the full global vision, mission, and capacity of our work. Many details remain to be worked out.

The branches will play key roles in the successful implementation of our objectives in the new quadrennium, including the emphasis on overcoming poverty and improving global health. They will be centers of mission and ministry enhancing the interaction of the board with annual conference, districts, local churches, and mission partners. The branches will encourage more programmatic and financial accountability, strengthen internal and external communications, enable more rapid response to natural disasters and those disasters caused by humanity's inhumanity.

We are a denomination global in our attitudes and affections, and the time has to come make this visible in our operational structure. I think that God is leading us in this direction.

For the last two centuries, seeds of faith have gone from the western and northern hemispheres and found fertile ground in the southern and eastern hemispheres. It is south and east where the church is maturing and growing. We need to anticipate this shifting reality. We need to give evidence of genuine partnership. When we are clothed with the new reality described in Colossians there are no junior partners in mission. To use the image of our theme parable, God's banquet is a moveable feast, and we must not only invite but we must receive the invitations of people beyond a particular continent or nation. My friends, we are talking about God's mission feast!

Conclusion
Are we ready? Are we ready in compassion, kindness, humility, patience, love, and peace to be forceful, effective emissaries inviting and accompanying "more" people to God's mission banquet?

This is our privilege as directors and staff of the General Board of Global Ministries. This is our responsibility as followers of Christ. We pray for God's grace to accomplish our mission as God's emissaries, in the words of Bishop Gerald Kennedy:

"God of love and God of power,
make us worthy of this hour ...
God of love and God of power,
Thou hast called us for this hour."

Amen.

Address of the Rev. R. Randy Day
General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church
April 25, 2007


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Topic: GBGM events United Methodist Church Mission updates
Geographic Region: World
Source: GBGM Press Releases
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Date posted: Apr 27, 2007