A truly inspiring day as a guest at the dedication of CMS new mission centre in East Oxford. Strangely, the Church of England has never had an official institutional mission arm — just a network of voluntary societies driven by passion. CMS has been at the heart of mission for 210 years. We were reminded in today's service of the key role CMS’ early supporters like John Newton and William Wilberforce played in rolling back the slave trade and transforming society in those early days.
The centre includes a mission studies library and resource centre, named after Samuel Ajayi Crowther, former slave, translator of the Scriptures into Yoruba, and pioneer bishop in Nigeria. Last year CMS supported 704 people and 204 projects in mission all over the world, including the UK. Oxford’s increasingly a world city. There’s blessing for us locals in having close access to the heart of the CMS network in our diocese. It's a more than welcome development.
As well as serving the cutting edge of mission, CMS has been a hotbed of creative thinking for the whole Church, led by visionaries and big thinkers like Canon Max Warren and Bishop John V Taylor.
Max Warren said — “It takes a whole world to know Christ.” Go figure. Think of all those words mean and could mean in a rapidly globalising world that he foresaw sixty years ago, which is now our daily reality.
Today CMS is a key resource to the whole Church — a hotbed of praxis, prayer and reflection about discipleship across cultural frontiers. The early Church worked really well across frontiers, sharing Christ as he was reflected and refracted among disciples of different cultures in places like Corinth, Alexandria and Rome. Years of institutionalisation and control freakery have ossified this gospel process, but are now giving way, all over the world, to a vibrant sense of emerging kingdom. This, not institutional powergames rings a lot of bells for readers of the gospels, whatever their culture or background. Christianity is resuming its primal character as a way of life, a pilgrimage. In this kind of a world faith grows not by cultural or doctrinal imperialism, but virally. Because there really is a God who loves us, that’s OK. We can break our shackles, and transcend our Institutional silly B’s!
Two striking artistic expressions of such creativity caught my eye — paintings by Chinese theologian and painter in residence Dr He Qi, and an amazing sculpture out the front, “Light of the World” by Saga Arpino, a bronze with three kilometres of glass rods, hand cut into 10,000 sections.
Archbishop Rowan preached on the Light of the world. In 2 Corinthians 4, Saint Paul sees Light playing on and shining through the Christian Communityin a transcending way. It’s a transformational process from glory to glory “Until we have faces” (C. S. Lewis). Christ introduces us to ourselves, to each other, and to God. Then we can begin to glimpse what we all look like from God's point of view. God has a face, and to know him as he is enables us to wak in the light. It’s the route to true freedom, transformation and hope.