GEMN? When we told people we were going to the GEMN conference some looked at us with a quizzical look like “why would a clergy person be going to a jewelers’ convention?” Acronyms are great for those in the know, but otherwise they can be downright confusing. We may have clarified things a little bit if we hadn’t purposely left out the world “mission” just to see how people would react!
GEMN – the Global Episcopal Mission Network – began as a consortium of Episcopal dioceses interested in fostering mission. It may come as little surprise that the Diocese of Southern Ohio was one of the original dioceses. (Our diocese also played an important role in the creation of the original Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, now Episcopal Relief and Development). For decades the Diocese of Southern Ohio has been offering leadership to the wider neighborhood and standing with folks far and near to offer support and encouragement.
This year’s GEMN conference was held in Ponce, Puerto Rico, with the theme: “God’s Mission with a World in Continuous Motion”/”La Misión de Dios con un Mundo en Continuo Movimiento”. The theme was chosen to address the reality that there are always people migrating from one place to another for freedom and economic opportunity. Much of our nation’s history is a result of this fact. And today we are faced with millions of refugees fleeing war and systemic violence. People are fleeing for their very lives – and those people on the move are our neighbors.
The conference focused on mission in the midst of the current mass migrations. There was time for fellowship and conversation, time spent staffing an exhibit of the Sisters of the Transfiguration mission in Ponce which has spanned nearly forty years and enjoying good food and worship, but the keynote speeches, panels and workshops invited us to consider neighborliness more deeply. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us that evangelism is an act of neighborliness. He quoted DT Niles, saying, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find some bread.” We could say this is one neighbor seeing and acknowledging the hunger of another neighbor and sharing the news that there is somewhere to find sustenance.
A truth that has been circulating in my head while writing this article is that mission is not something we choose to do; it is something we are called to do. It flows from our connections as members of the Body of Christ into new connections with our neighbors (near and far) who are in need of the healing and reconciling touch of our Lord. It is through our hands that that healing often occurs. The Rev. Titus Presler, theologian and workshop presenter, reminded us that the focus of our mission is reconciliation – reconciliation with our neighbor, with God, and with the cosmos.
Each member of Christ’s Body is called to mission. As Paul would say, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
The Rev. Tom Fehr serves as the chair of the National and World Mission Commission for the diocese. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deacon Anne Reed represented the diocese at the conference as the former Canon for Mission. You can contact Anne at email@example.com.