By Rev Bernard Thorogood, Former CWM General Secretary (1970-1980)
Christian mission, as far as I can understand it, always has to combine idealism and realism. The idealism is the seeking of the Kingdom of God, that reign of justice, forgiveness and peace which was the great text of the preaching of Jesus. This calling has inspired our predecessors through the ages and in all the Christian communions. It is the calling of the resurrected Christ, to declare the power of life over the fear of death.
But then the realism breaks in. Mission in Christ’s name has to see people as they are, not as doctrine may suggest they are. Most people are not great sinners but live very decent lives. Most are fully occupied with the daily round in order to keep food on the table and a sound roof overhead. Many struggle for the essentials of life. In our generation human mobility has meant multi-faith populations everywhere and no Christendom in sight.
There was something of that mixture in our meeting in Singapore back then as we gathered to think about the future of the mission enterprise based in London and blossoming in churches around the globe. Now we celebrate 40 years of the wholly reformed CWM. The idealism was our conviction that the calling to mission is not temporary but permanent, is laid upon us all in the global church, and will always be costly in human dedication and self-offering. The realism was to acknowledge that Britain was no longer in any position to lead the witness to the Gospel, for the churches there had suffered through two world wars, were weary and declining in influence. The old pattern was increasingly unrealistic.
So the pattern changed to express the mutuality of the calling and the response. I don’t know how history will judge these 40 years, how well we have been faithful to our calling. But I would hazard a guess that it is difficult now to present a rounded picture of the mission of the churches. Some are busy with self-preservation as the tides of secularism eat away at the foundations. Others are launching out in exuberant confidence of spiritual blessing. Many are disillusioned with the gross inequalities of capitalism but see no alternative. And there are surely many thousands of congregations where faithful, steady prayer and praise repeat the Gospel in word and sacrament. There can be no single pattern of mission which applies to all.
Being long retired and reaching 90 at the time of the CWM birthday gathering, I am conscious of how little I have done to support the service of the churches. I am left with more questions than answers. Here are some of them:
- Are we still so sure of Christ, so trusting his word and his self-offering, that we can declare the Gospel with confidence?
- What are we ready to give? Our lives, our professional skills, our comfort and safety, our quietness and good order, our income?
- How can we pursue justice where governments shut down all protest and ‘’strong men’’ rule the state?
- What is the Spirit saying to us about relationships with other faiths? Are they all darkness and we all light?
- How best can we praise God in ways that touch the hearts of young people and lift their eyes from the smartphone to the cross?
- Can we help to welcome strangers and refugees in a world where barriers and xenophobia are rising?
- In the light of 20 years of exposure of the sexual abuse of children by clergy, can the churches be trusted to be the true witness of the risen Lord?
I wish such questions did not keep nagging me, but there they are, and they will go on facing the CWM family of churches for years to come. It is the toughest questions that lead to the most creative answers.
May you be blessed with the Word of God as you gather, remember the journey and seek guidance for our common calling. We know this for sure: God is not asleep and the wind of the Spirit reaches us all.
Reproduced from CWM 40th Annniversary Thanksgiving Service booklet