Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-45s75 Total loading time: 0.493 Render date: 2021-11-29T00:42:05.645Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Beyond Benevolence: Toward a Reframing of Mission in the Episcopal Church

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2009


Today’s changing context invites a rethinking of mission in the Episcopal Church. Based on a large-scale, grassroots intervention process in an American Episcopal diocese, this article identifies several operative missiological and ecclesiological categories in the Episcopal Church that warrant critical examination. The themes of democracy, inclusion, and benevolence are explored in light of their historical and theological background and against the sociological realities of the contemporary church. The article proposes a reframing of Episcopal mission in a more theological and Trinitarian direction using the themes of communion, companionship, creativity, and cultivation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Journal of Anglican Studies Trust 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Dwight J. Zscheile is an assistant professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary and an associate priest at St Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St Paul, Minnesota.


2. The conversation about a crisis of Anglican identity goes back at least as far as Sykes, Stephen, The Integrity of Anglicanism (New York: Seabury Press, 1978) Recently, the November 2007 ‘Interim Report’ of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church raised the issue, saying, ‘We cannot be leaders within our Church nor in the global community if we are unsure who we are or where God is calling us to go’. The recent Episcopal Identity Project (2009) is one attempt to address this. See Scholar

3. To protect the anonymity of those involved, the diocese shall go unnamed. The process was a system-wide action-research intervention authorized by the bishop and conducted during 2006–07.Google Scholar

4. All congregations were invited to participate.Google Scholar

5. See Keifert, Patrick R., Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992).Google Scholar

6. Prichard, Robert W., A History of the Episcopal Church, Rev. edn (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pubulications, 1999), p. 10.Google Scholar

7. See Ahlstrom, Sydney E., A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p. 189; and David Lynn Holmes, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993), p. 19.Google Scholar

8. Prichard, History, pp. 84–85. See White, William, The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, Church Historical Society Reprints edn (Philadelphia: Church Historical Society, 1954).Google Scholar

9. Cited in Douglas, Ian T., Fling Out the Banner!: The National Church Ideal and the Foreign Mission of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Hymnal Corp, 1996), p. 85.Google Scholar

10. Douglas, Banner, p. 85.Google Scholar

11. Douglas, Banner, p. 139.Google Scholar

12. Prichard, History, p. 128.Google Scholar

13. Ahlstrom, Religious History, p. 630.Google Scholar

14. Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation and Seabury Press, 1979), pp. 876878.Google Scholar

15. Douglas, Banner, p. 86.Google Scholar

16. Douglas, Banner, pp. 251, 287.Google Scholar

17. Ahlstrom, Religious History, p. 630.Google Scholar

18. See Sachs, William L.Holland, Thomas P., and Episcopal Church Foundation., Restoring the Ties That Bind: The Grassroots Transformation of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2003).Google Scholar

19. Source:, accessed March 10, 2007.Google Scholar

20. The 2008 domestic total average Sunday attendance was 705,257, while the US population exceeded 300,000,000. Sources:, accessed October 15, 2009.Google Scholar

21. See Douglas, Banner, pp. 316–28.Google Scholar

22. The Episcopal Church is not alone in struggling with its missional identity in a post-Christendom world, of course. Many mainline denominations in America in recent years have been consumed with their own internal battles, often along the lines of the society’s wider culture wars, rather than addressing more directly their changed context.Google Scholar

23. See Simpson, Gary M., Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), pp. 115117.Google Scholar

24. For an analysis of the benefactor tradition in the New Testament and Greco-Roman context, see Danker, Frederick W., Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field (St Louis, MO: Clayton Publishing House, 1982).Google Scholar

25. See Frederickson, David, ‘Congregations, Democracy, and the Action of God in Philippians 1–2’, in Patrick R. Keifert (ed.), Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009), p. 56.Google Scholar

26. Jürgen Habermas has been a leading proponent of reclaiming the deliberative stream of democratic thought. See Habermas, Jürgen, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984).Google Scholar

27. I am indebted to Gary Simpson for this contrast with the benefactor tradition.Google Scholar

28. See, for instance, Davies, Matthew, ‘Mission from All to All: Five Marks Provide for Inclusive Ministry’ in Episcopal Life (New York: Episcopal Church Center, 2008), June 2008. ‘Inclusion’ was one of the predominant themes that surfaced in the Episcopal Identity Project. See ‘Around One Table: Exploring Episcopal Identity’ (College for Bishops/CREDO Institute, 2009).Google Scholar

29. See Clark Roof, WadeMcKinney, William, American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), p. 110. Episcopalians followed only Unitarian–Universalists and Jews in a socioeconomic ranking of denominations.Google Scholar

30. See, for instance, Boff, Leonardo, Trinity and Society (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, First Fortress Press edn (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco, CA: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991), John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985). For communion and ecclesiology and the ecumenical movement, see ‘World Council of Churches. Commission on Faith and Order’, The Nature and Purpose of the Church: A Stage on the Way to a Common Statement, Faith and Order Paper, No. 181 (Geneva: WCC/Faith and Order, 1998), Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission., The Final Report, North American edn (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1982).Google Scholar

31. See Bria, Ionand World Council of Churches, Go Forth in Peace: Orthodox Perspectives on Mission (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986), Emmanuel Clapsis, ‘The Eucharist as Missionary Event in a Suffering World’, in G. Lemopoulos (ed.), Your Will Be Done: Orthodoxy in Mission (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1988); John D. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (New York: T&T Clark, 2007).Google Scholar

32. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, pp. 4–5.Google Scholar

33. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, p. 5.Google Scholar

34. Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 2004), p. 11. Emphasis in original.Google Scholar

35. Douglas, Banner, pp. 249–54.Google Scholar

36. See, for instance, Jesus’ many encounters with marginal people, such as Samaritans and women, as well as the transformation that takes place in Peter, Paul, and other leaders in Acts as the Spirit converts them through the conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles. See Van Gelder, Craig (ed.), The Missional Church in Context: Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2007), pp. 3940.Google Scholar

37. See Guder, Darrell L. (ed.) Guder Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).Google Scholar

38. Newbigin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989).Google Scholar

39. See Zscheile, Dwight, ‘A More True “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society”: Toward a Missional Polity for the Episcopal Church’, in Craig Van Gelder (ed.), The Missional Church and Denominations (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2008).Google Scholar

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Beyond Benevolence: Toward a Reframing of Mission in the Episcopal Church
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Beyond Benevolence: Toward a Reframing of Mission in the Episcopal Church
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Beyond Benevolence: Toward a Reframing of Mission in the Episcopal Church
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *