The Church is Mission: Remembering Bishop Bob
by Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
The peace of the Lord be with you! Shalom Beharim! Shalom Aleichem!
The church is mission!
This is a profound theological statement. The remarkable man whom we honour in this Memorial Lecture in his lifetime as a servant has tried to live out. I am convinced that such is the intention or premise of this noble activity – to keep this aspiration alive and burning in our ecclesial and social consciousness and actions.
I am humbled and felt so small literally and figuratively to give this opening remarks in this serious and significant lecture and to the remarkable man whom it honours. The topics are not the regular sermon topics that any clergy can “guavize” or instantly-compose before the Sunday service. It needs courage, passion and a prophetic stand to dissect the social issues and bravely express how to concretely address them. And the person we memorialize is a remarkable man not only in physique but also in mind and deeds relative to these issues in his lifetime.
Along this line let me quote Bishop Bob, as he is fondly known in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion,
“… Church life cannot be separated from social concerns and social action. I am gripped with the strong sense that my pastoral concern will lead to the prophetic, and the prophetic leads to the pastoral. I have maintained this unity in order to preserve the integrity of our decisions. We need to foster dialogue on various issues affecting society. It is my basic assumption that all sides be examined, lest we have polarization, and intense convictions set in and divide us.
In order to address issues and concerns effectively, and to find solutions, we need to transcend moods that tend to divide us and impede our progress. In our work together, we need to value and affirm the other person and not to downgrade. We need to build – but not to knock down and embarrass; not to compete for recognition but to build the corporate church.
We need to develop together, drawing out our legitimate concerns of one another and to respond to them qualitatively and positively.”
These words certainly were the basis of much he did in his ministry. His life and work were testimonies that he practiced what he preached. Let us not lose sight of this principle as we listen to our esteemed speakers in this launching edition of the memorial lecture. Let these lecture not just an academic exercise but rather serves to enliven and give leaven to our witnessing in and outside the Episcopal Church in the Philippines or in our respective faith communities and churches.
Let me further revisit the mind of this remarkable man for us to be reminded of his advocacies even as we try to contextualize them in our present situation – although his context was not so different today.
In 1993 he said (excerpts):
• My image of the church and mission is that the church is mission. The church does not have mission. It is much like the astronauts. They were the mission to the moon and outer space.
• The church – every single one of us – and all of us together are called to reaffirm three aspects of the Christian ministry: Proclamation, Redemption, and Community. This ministry is not just for the clergy and lay-workers – it is not just for an hour in a day or a week – not for summer Christians. The call and the demand is that this hour, this day, this year – every year and every day of the year must be the acceptable hour, acceptable day – the acceptable year of the Lord for the whole people of God. His exegesis of Luke’s “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).
Bishop Bob’s core advocacies on human rights, Indigenous People, Ecumenism and Labor Rights continue to challenge us in order to be relevant in doing God’s mission today. His writings implicitly spelled out the full responsibility of the church in mission – or his idea of “the church is mission”. In 1992 he wrote,
“We need to be reminded that the suffering and struggling people are the entry points of mission. Mission cannot escape from the creative edges of engagement with the marginalized and the powerless. Of necessity, the job description of the Christian is marked by immersion in the suffering and struggling of people, led by the Spirit of God for the transformation of society, the fulfillment of basic human needs, their striving for dignity and equal opportunity, their drive for self-determination, their fight to genuine rights and freedom – the extension of God’s reign in earth.
To speak of mission, therefore, is to speak of the whole agenda for justice, addressing poverty, oppression, freedom and sovereignty. Otherwise our Christianity is merely serving first aid, waiting at the bottom of the cliff, picking up casualties of unjust inequalities, of uprooted families and broken homes, of widowed mothers and orphaned children. There can be evasion of our full Christian responsibility.
And in 1993 he returns to the basic vision of mission at all levels of the life of the church when he wrote:
“The whole church is mission, a people sent, to meet humanity’s total needs, like the all-embracing love of Christ. Important here is justice and peace work. Jesus not only proclaimed the Good News, he was the Good News. The saving message cannot be dissociated from the saving ministry.”
Excerpts of the preceding thoughts, aspirations and advocacies of Bishop Bob are compiled and published in a booklet entitled, “The Church is Mission: A Challenge to the Anglican Communion”. It was edited by John Ratti with the foreword by Edmond L Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (USA).
I greeted you earlier with peace… Shalom. Shalom is an all-embracing and comprehensive description and concept of human relations and community (“wholeness, harmony, oneness”) which is projected as a future hope and as a concrete condition to be attained. It exists through the process of “making”. For example, a “peaceful world without war” may be realized only when the causes of un-peace are removed or if one returns the land he robbed from the original owner, then they can live in peace together. I believe that this is focus and end-goal of Bishop Bob’s dreams and advocacies.
Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true. That price can be seen in our servanthood and giving life. According to Bishop Bob, these are not two distinct components of the Christian life. It is not a “one after the other” proposition, but these components constitute one and the same manifestation of the Christian journey. He underscored this by asking,
“How committed and dedicated is our servanthood that it gives life to others? How unselfish and sincere is our life lived in active and concrete servanthood – even at the cost and sacrifice of our own lives? For the mark of the true Christian servant is to fade away in service, to expend one’s life in order that others may have life.”
The Psalmist from another angle from another time more than two millennia earlier wrote for the sons of Korah of that price that we have to pay in order to achieve Shalom,
“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, which glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” – Psalm 85:8-13
In the context of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines for the next decade, the price every clergy and lay members of this church has to bear is spelled out in its Vision 2028: “Scripture Rooted, Spirit-fired, Discipled Parishes (Congregations). Every member of this church need to hear what God is saying by seriously engaging the Holy Scriptures. As we intentionally and seriously study the Bible, the omniscient God shall encompass us by the working of the Holy Spirit, then and only then that we shall be guided by His truth. With the truth setting us free, we can be His Son’s true disciples and we can follow His way even it leads to the cross.
At this point let me express my sincere appreciation to those who planned and made this Memorial Lecture possible. To the staff of Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation and the Longid Foundation, Matago-tago kayo… Mabuhay kayo!
Let me end this quite lengthy opening remarks with Bishop Bob’s prayer at the end of his address to the 1994 Diocesan Convention of the EDNP. I do believe that we are one in this prayer and somehow expresses our hopes and aspirations for our people which the Memorial Lecture would like to impinge in our social consciousness and actions.
Give us, O Lord
A church that will be more courageous than courteous;
A church that will not merely comfort the afflicted but afflict the comfortable;
A church that will not only love the world but will also judge the world;
A church that will not only pursue peace but will also demand justice;
A church that will not remain silent when people are calling for a voice;
A church that will not pass by on the other side when wounded humanity is waiting to be healed;
A church that not only calls us to worship but also sends us to witness; and
A church that will follow Christ even when the way points to a cross.
To this end we offer ourselves in the Name of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen.
Launching of the Bp. Robert Lee Omengan Longid Memorial Lecture
17 October 2019
Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary Chapel