This post was written by the Rev. Dr. Paul Nancarrow, who was recently named Canon Theologian for the Diocese.
The heart of mission is to discern what God is doing in the world, and then to organize ourselves to join God in doing it. It is our faith that God is always already at work in the world, everywhere in the world; from the first moment God said "Let there be light" to this moment now, God's creating love is at work in the world. God's creating love is on a mission to build up in the world more and more interconnected and beautiful networks of right-relationships for shared well-being: in ecosystems, in human communities, in neighborhoods, in families, in our own hearts.
We join in God's mission when we see right-relationships in formation around us, and when we join our own energies and efforts to help those relationships grow into deeper and deeper shared well-being. In church and out of church, in spiritual places and in secular places, whether God is named explicitly or not, we are joining with God in God's mission every single time we engage in right-relationship for shared well-being.
This core commitment has been the center of my theological journey. When I studied academic theology for my doctoral degree, I focused on what is often called "process-relational theology," and I studied in particular how our way of doing sacraments connects us to God's creative way in nature. As a parish priest, I've tried to help people see that the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist is a kind of training ground for right-relationships for shared well-being: when we come into communion with God and Christ and each other in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, that forms in us a pattern of receiving and offering for our shared well-being; and when we go forth from the church into the world, we carry that pattern with us to build up well-being and communion in all our relationships. As a participant in the church's outreach and service, I've been awed at how we don't just "go out to help people," but we form relationships with people, and together we reveal the creating love of God as we heal and feed and build side by side. The connecting insight has always been that God is at work here, right here, and what we do we do by joining God.
That's why I think theology is absolutely central to the missional church, because to join God in mission we have to discern what God is doing, and discerning what God is doing isn't always easy or obvious.
As the scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne puts it, you can't just pick up a rock and find "Made by God" stamped on it; you can't just look at a situation and see God's will written on it in big neon letters. God works through many people, and in the deepest places of our own minds and hearts. God works in ways that sometimes seem paradoxical, and that sometimes we only see clearly in retrospect. God gives us guidance and ideals in scripture; but scripture must always be interpreted, and that interpretation must be applied to the here and now. God is infinite, and we are not. So we must always be humble and thoughtful in trying to discern what God is up to. That kind of thoughtfulness is the main work of theology.
Oh yes, to do that work theology develops doctrines and systematics and creeds and metaphysics; but all of those are really just tools to help us get to the heart of the matter, which is to wonder what God is creating right now, and how we might get in there and co-create with God.
The work of a Canon Theologian in a missional church is to help foster that wondering. Using scripture, using the traditions of our doctrines and liturgies, using our knowledge of what's going on around us, how can we reflect on the moment and see God at work in it? And then how can we, individually and in community, join with God in creating what the next moment can bring?
What I hope to be able to do in this role for our household of congregations is to write occasional pieces, to offer workshops and classes from time to time, and to be available for questions and consultations, that will help us all wonder what God is doing and how we can join in doing it.
Want to know more? Just ask!