When I was at primary school in the North East of England back in the 1960s our school (which was not, note, a church school) initiated a house system. And the four houses they set up were called Bede, Cuthbert, Aidan and Chad.
I’ve often reflected on the way that decision demonstrated that region’s strong sense of place and its easy and happy association with its local saints.
This year my wife and I spent a week on holiday back in that part of the world just north of Lindisfarne, the island off the coast where in the 7th Century AD both St. Aidan and later St. Cuthbert ministered and which became a major centre of both learning and scholarship; evangelism and mission, when the Kingdom of Northumbria was still a predominantly pagan land. Both Aidan and Cuthbert, who were not native to that land themselves, travelled far and wide across the kingdom and beyond in an often hostile and pagan environment sharing the good news of the gospel with people at every level of society, without fear or favour.
Then for the second week of our holiday we moved across country to Galloway, in southern Scotland, not far from Whithorn where around the same time St. Ninian is believed to established a centre of mission, as a result of which he became known as ’The Apostle to the Southern Picts’.
Lest you think we were on some kind of pilgrimage, I’m afraid to say we weren’t! We were ‘just’ on holiday - and had a lovely time. But it was wonderful to walk in the steps of these great saints and to be reminded of their stories.
We in Church Mission Society, along with many other mission movements across the world, Anglican or otherwise, are privileged to follow in those saints’ footsteps in pioneering mission. And globally, today, with widespread contexts hostile to the Christian faith, we are ministering in situations more like theirs than has been the case for perhaps a millennium.
Certainly I see the spirit of these saints living on in people sharing the love of Jesus in all kinds of marginal contexts, whether that’s serving Syrian refugee children in northern Lebanon; providing access to healthcare for indigenous people, often considered to be second-class citizens, in northern Argentina; or providing a refuge for children caught up in the horrors of cobalt mining in Katanga in DRC.
In CMS we are currently running a campaign called #missionis to try and raise questions about what is at the heart of this mission to which the Lord calls us. How would Aidan, Cuthbert and Ninian have answered I wonder? Let’s not think it was in any sense easier for them than for us. Cuthbert craved a life of contemplation as a hermit and only agreed to be made bishop, with all the missionary demands that placed upon him, with great reluctance.
So what was mission for them? I think they’d have spoken about it in terms of cost, and sacrifice and suffering. A walk in the park it certainly wasn’t. No doubt too they would have spoken of it as matter of joy and delight too. After all you don’t make the sacrifices they made if you don’t think your purpose isn’t of the greatest significance. They knew they had discovered ’the pearl of great price.’ (Matthew 13:45,46).
Above all, I suspect, they would have echoed St. Paul’s words: ‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).
Convinced that Jesus had indeed died for all, they were compelled by his love not to live for themselves but for him, and in love to make him known. That was their #missionis.
In that light, I ask, what is mine? And what, indeed, may I ask, is yours?
Canon Philip Mounstephen, Executive Leader, Church Mission Society. @pmounstephen