Margins, Mission and Diversity: Taking Up the Challenge
Tabor Adelaide, 2 to 5 October 2014
There were four reasons for the theme.
1. Response to the New WCC Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism
In September 2012, the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) released a new affirmation on Mission and Evangelism entitled “Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes.” The document was accepted at the 10th Assembly at Busan, South Korea in 2013. The previous affirmation had been developed in 1982. The goal is to “seek vision, concepts and directions for a renewed understanding and practice of mission and evangelism in changing landscapes.”
Doing missions at the margins is a strong focus of this document and has received some attention in the publicity for it. The significant component is mission from the margins and challenges some of the old paradigms of mission values.
The pre-assembly event for the Commission in Manila on 23 March 2012 had the theme “Mission from the margins: Salt for earth” discussed as participants brought concerns of the marginalized into the heart of the debate on mission and evangelism.
2. International Conference in Toronto
The 13th Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies was held in Toronto in August 2012, where the focus on migration and human dislocation highlighted one key area where the margins were in the centre for Christian mission.
3. Rare to explore
In Christian circles the exploration of the margins and missions has been limited. There are only several conferences around the world with a similar theme. A 2010 conference entitled “From the Margins to the Core?” and a conference on Christianity, Culture and Diversity in the US. In September 2009 the “Mission at and from the Margins” colloquium at the Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad, India saw 20 scholars explore issues related to Dalit Christian experience in Andhra Pradesh as part of a wider project. The conveners of the study were: Rev Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, Rev I. P. Asheervadam and Rev Dr Peniel Jesudas Rufus Rajkumar. A book has been published in the Regnum Edinburgh 2010 Series as a legacy of the Edinburgh 2010 conference. The International Review of Mission published an edition focusing on Mission from the Margins in 2012. It is informed by those who experience discrimination and marginalization within the church and society such as those who are suffering on account of and struggling against the cultures of racism and casteism; indigenous peoples; people living with disabilities; and migrant communities. Several recent books have been produced.
4. South Australian History
This state began as a non-convict colony where religious diversity, equality and tolerance were valued, thus earning the nickname ‘Paradise of Dissent.’
The affirmation should provoke missiological reflection by God’s people as they participate in God’s mission in this post-colonial and post-Christendom world. One key area relates to mission and the margins, places of discrimination and marginalization from mainstream society. Such settings today can include contexts of poverty, closed employment centres, marketplaces and detention centres. Mission has traditionally been to the margins but the time has come to consider mission from the margins. Engaging with the margins leads to the generation of contextual, hybrid and diverse expressions of the Christian faith. The challenge is what does this mean, especially for the relationship between gospel and culture, as the Christian community moves forward, knowing it comes out of contexts where the struggle for dignity and justice is intense and constant.
This conference aimed to explore the implications for the broad Christian community arising from mission to and from the margins, knowing that the diversity of cultural engagement that results makes it challenging for the Christian missions community and that the history of managing diversity in Christian mission in the margins has been patchy.
Professor EmeritusAnthony Gittins (for a biographical summary of this Catholic scholar see the link). He has been writing in the area of missions and margins, and his experience has been in the US and West Africa.
The conference program had a number of components. Thursday afternoon allowed delegates to arrive in Adelaide on the morning. The three afternoon plenaries set the scene for the conference and the evening program was intended to provide a more relaxing plenary based around the creative arts.
Friday and Saturday allowed the program to develop the theme with a plenary in the morning and then paper sessions in the late morning and afternoon. Then the evening involved plenary activities off campus, at Pilgrim Church on the Friday with a focus on urban mission with Rev Dr Ash Barker giving the inaugural Ross Langmead Lecture and the Conference Dinner at Modern China Restaurant in Goodwood on the Saturday. These evening events were intended to give people a chance to have a break and see some of the city.
There were 44 (of 50 invited) paper sessions of 40 minutes each in five streams – Church and Particular Communities, Church and Indigenous Communities, Church and Society, Church and Multi-Ethnic Engagement, and Engaging the Margins. Originally it was planned to have 28 paper sessions but after 60 abstracts were received this changed and the program adjusted. Two more streams were added to adjust to the themes of the papers.
We endeavored to keep costs down for delegates and offered billeting and taxi sharing co-ordination. Ninety-six conference participants attended, of which 90% were full-time, 48% were concession, 43% were females and 38% from South Australia. Of the 82 for whom denominations have been identified, the top four were UCA (23), Baptist (17), Catholic (12) and Anglican (11). Another 8 denominations were present providing a good spread overall. There was 8 from New Zealand, 1 from Papua New Guinea, 1 from Zambia, 1 from Cambodia, and 1 from Burma. This was very encouraging indeed considering that no paper marketing resources were produced, that the number of AAMS members attending was very limited and that it was the first conference, to my knowledge, with a FB page. Electronic marketing was the dominant feature.
For the committee, there have been a number of positive outcomes for missiology in Australia and for AAMS. The primary one was a number of publications:
A book edited by Darren Cronshaw and Rosemary Dewerse entitled We Are Pilgrims: From, in and with the Margins of Our Diverse World.
Two editions of the Australian Journal for Mission Studies, June 2015 and December 2015.
The value of a conference also lies in the casual interaction between delegates and the Tabor venue lent itself to this by having tables and chairs set out outside the hub and the provision of cold drinks, tea and a coffee machine always available. Many strong connections were formed and relationships have continued. A group of women who attended now meet regularly to encourage each other in their involvement in mission.
The positivity of this event was so encouraging. It was well worth doing. There are so many ‘thank yous’ – God, families, members of the organizing committee, the sponsors, the late Dr Ross Langmead, members of the Australian Association for Mission Studies Executive, especially Darren Cronshaw, Ian Grant and Peter Wilkinson, Tabor Adelaide and its staff, and the paper presenters.
All the best for the organizers for the next conference. We trust that this report will help you in your planning for the conference. If any help is needed, then we would be available for support and advice.
Chairperson of the Organizing Committee
For a PDF version of the full Report, including dewtails of workshops and speakers, please follow this link.