Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

CALLING, CONVICTION, CLARITY: Commissioning of Ethnic Ambassadors

Calling, Conviction and Clarity: Commissioning of the Ethnic Ambassadors 
Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara 12.15.11 Los Angeles, California
Note: On December 12-15, 2011 the Ethnic Missioners of the Diversity Social and Environmental Ministries (DSE) of the Mission Department of the Episcopal Church gathered six leaders from each ethnic faith community of Asian, Black, Latino/Hispanic and Indigenous Ministries in Cathedral Retreat Center in Los Angeles, California. The ethnic leaders were to be trained as ministry trainers with and for their respective communities. Various workshops were given including Leadership, Discipleship, Communication, Power Dynamics, Life-Long Faith Formation, Church Structure and Technology.

The Ethnic Missioners are Sarah Eagle Heart, Angela Ifill, Anthony Guillen and Fred Vergara. We are grateful to the support and assistance of Ruth-Ann Collins of the Faith Formation and our DSE colleagues, Christopher Johnson and Michael Schut and we were blessed by the presence of inspiration of Sam McDonald, director of Mission. In the final day of the training, a Commissioning Liturgy was conducted by DSE and this homily was delivered. The following were commissioned as “Ethnic Ambassadors”:  

Asiamerica Ministries: Irene Tanabe, Bayani Rico, Ada Wong Nagata, Isaiah Joo, Ranjit Matthews and Minh-Hanh Nguyen
Black Ministries: Wanda Norris, Jemonde Taylor, Carole Pinkett, Freda Marie Brown and Arlette Benoit
Hispanic/Latino Ministries: Daniel Velez-Rivera, Christina Encinosa, Gladys Diaz, Nancy Frausto and Susan Moss
Indigenous Ministries: LaCinda Hardy, Elsie Dennis-Dofelmier, Martha Allen and Angela Haugen


In most of world history, there are three factors that make up the recipe of a people’s revolution: a common experience of pain, a common vision of hope and the emergence of authentic leaders who embody their people’s pains and visions. In the Church, I believe, that it is not the institution that can effect revolutionary change but a group of Christians working together, keenly sensitive to the cry of God’s people, and who, like Mary, the bearer of the Holy Child, would earnestly respond to the will of God.

Some portions of these elements are present among us today, and I prophesy that someday, we shall effect this revolutionary change in our beloved Church. A Chinese proverb says, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” You as leaders from the four ethnic communities have just began to tie up the thongs of your sandals, so to speak, in order to march in the light of Christ, no longer behind, but alongside the enlightened members of the dominant culture---and effect, real revolutionary change. You were trained and you will be trained, as trainers of leaders, present and future, in your ethnic communities to the end that we shall all be ambassadors of the Good News and servants of positive, revolutionary change.

God is still in the business of renewing the face of the earth and rearranging the order of things. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly,” sang Mary of the Magnificat (Luke 1:52-53). God is flattening authority and distributing delegated power. I am certain that us, who come from the margins, are being called by God to announce repentance and change so that the structures of racism and injustice will be dismantled and the disparity that exists between and among peoples and cultures will cease to exist. Justice and equity will meet together, harmony and diversity will kiss each other.

As a concluding remark to the many lessons that you have already learned these past three days, let me just say three things why I believe why you can be part of a revolutionary change:

First, is your sense of calling: After observing you and listening to how you responded to the presentations of your Ethnic Missioners, I am now starting to believe that it was not us who called you and invited you, but God Himself through the Holy Spirit. I observed that not only that you exhibit a sense of mission; you also demonstrated the various gifts of the Spirit and even more possess the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. The Church is in need of leaders who balance giftedness of visions and dreams with Christian maturity.

Second is your sense of conviction: I heard many of you expressing your passion for mission and your willingness to be used by God as “bridges”, “conduits” or “broad bands” of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. The time of adversarial and competitive leadership is gone; the time for collegiality and collaboration has come.

Thirdly and finally, is your sense of clarity. This is very important because, I believe the church today is losing, if it has not already lost its message. In this time of anxiety, volatility and complexity, the Church, it seems to me, is experiencing a “fog of mission” or a sense of confusion about its reason for being.

I remember a story about a certain conclave called to elect a new pope to replace the one who died. Unlike the Episcopal Church’s General Convention where election of the Presiding Bishop is an open assembly, the Roman Catholic Conclave is a secret meeting of the College of Cardinals where the cardinals are locked and secluded in the Sistine Chapel. They would retreat to their prayer cubicles, seek discernment from the Almighty and cast their votes. The people gathered at St. Peter’s Square will know if the pope is elected or not through the smoke that comes out from the chimney of the Vatican. When a Pope is not elected, the ballots will be burned and a black smoke will come out. But when a pope is elected, a certain chemical will be poured upon the ballots and a white smoke will appear. Now in this particular election, there was not enough chemical put and so the smoke that came out was neither black nor white but gray----and the people outside were confused. They did not know if they have a pope!

I am inclined to say that much as you will be the “ambassadors of the Ethnic Ministries in the Diversity, Social and Environmental team of the Department of Mission in the Episcopal Church,” you must have the clarity that your primary role as Christians and as Episcopalians is to be ambassadors for Christ, Christ making His appeal through you and entrusting you with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). We do not have a mission of our own; we are only entrusted to become instruments of Christ’s mission. We do not have a ministry of our own; we are only entrusted with the ministry of Christ---that of reconciling the world to God and each other in Christ.

Sam (McDonald), our Mission Director, reminded us yesterday that when all is said and done, our main calling is primarily “the salvation of souls.” John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest and evangelist who co-founded the Methodist Church, along with his brother Charles, once said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring them to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

It is this clarity of your message, this sense of mission and your conviction of your calling that would make you as true ambassadors. And so it is proper for us, the four Ethnic Missioners, to now call you our colleagues and fellow missioners. Let our common calling be grounded by faith, let our common conviction be sustained by hope and let the clarity of our message be shaped by Christian love. Amen.

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