Those were the two words that the Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Senior Director of Mission Engagement and Support with the PCUSA, spoke as she finished her comments during a panel discussion at the most recent Association of Mid-Council Leaders Annual Meeting in Chicago. It was my first meeting with this group as I am still settling into my first full year of serving as your Presbyter for Vision and Mission. Quite honestly, the meeting was at times as dry as it probably sounds and was, at other times, wonderfully engaging, broadly informative and refreshingly insightful.
Rosemary Mitchell’s comment, “Mission attracts” was one of those refreshingly insightful moments. She revealed to us that she had spent nine years in secular work before she returned to serving the church in her most recent position with the national church. One could hear the frustration in her voice as she described the difference between her experience in the secular world compared to the sacred world of the church. She said in the secular world when agencies face economic difficulties they double down on their essential mission. In the church when we face economic difficulties we table our mission priorities until things start to look up again.
She wanted to share with us the lesson from her secular work where she learned that agencies survive tough times by asking the community to invest even more deeply in their essential mission until they can get on stronger footing again. She said her experience is that people do respond to pleas to invest in mission. Then Rosemary summed up her comments with this simple two-word reminder, “Mission attracts.”
When I first took this position I had this vague sense that I had two primary foci—to invite the presbytery into a shared vision for the future and to organize ourselves around shared mission commitments. After all, my title is the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. Of those two foci, I was completely comfortable stepping into the role as a “visionary” as much of my past work has been rooted in helping people and organizations see possibilities and help them live into their imagined future. I was less sure of what I would bring to the arena of mission. Much of my work has been deeply rooted in Christian mission, but for me mission always seemed to be the healthy byproduct of good vision work.
But I am increasingly convinced in this uncertain and vulnerable time that we will not be able to separate out the vision thing from the mission thing. In fact, I am convinced that whatever vision we cobble together over the coming months and years will be a direct result of reminding ourselves, recommitting ourselves and doubling down on our essential mission. Mission shouldn’t be the luxury of having abundance, but the very root of who we are even in scarcity.
I have spent years working with organizations and churches discover and live into a vision. Not surprisingly, mission has, in every case been a natural byproduct of that work. But I am wondering if, in this time, it isn’t vision that comes first, but mission. I am wondering if our vision will become the natural byproduct of work rooted in a recommitment to our essential mission. Maybe the question isn’t who do we want to become (the vision thing), but who are we now in our deepest and most authentic expression as Presbyterian Christians.
Maybe we shouldn’t be looking to the future for our vision, but to the people who grace our lives and our neighborhoods right now. Maybe our vision already exists in the mission that awaits us at our own doorsteps.
Do we have homeless sleeping outside our doors?
Are there people who are feeling alienated, isolated and lonely in the neighborhood around us?
Are children and youth left unattended after school?
Do seniors sit at home all day with no social and meaningful connection?
Is there food insecurity among families around your church?
Do people get along and enjoy a sense of community in your neighborhood?
I am the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. A year ago I was all ready to dive in on the vision thing. Today I am not sure that is best first step. Vision can paint a picture of the future we want.
Mission is what will get us there.