By Easten Law – Assistant Director of Academic Programs – OMSC@PTS
After a long Covid-induced delay, the Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Mission (EFPM) gathered on November 4-5, 2022 for fellowship and learning in Stony Point, New York. OMSC@PTS’s global partners and staff joined professors, graduate students, pastors, and mission agency leaders to explore and discuss new research, sing and pray together, and imagine new pathways for missiological scholarship.
The EFPM is the oldest gathering of missiology professors and students in the United States, predating the larger American Society of Missiology. Its earliest gatherings date to 1917 as the “Teachers of Missions Group.” In 1940, the group wrote up a constitution and became formally instituted as the “Fellowship of Professors of Mission” (you can access the extensive records of the group’s gatherings at the Missionary Research Library Archive dating back to 1932). This regional meeting has always been modest in size but, thanks to the concentration of theological scholarship along the northeast corridor, it has provided an exceptional platform for missional engagement and networking.
The 2022 meeting was no different. Of the nearly 40 participants in attendance, some ten institutions of learning and missions were present including Boston University, the Gospel Episcopal Mission Network, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Houghton University, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary, William Carey International University, and Yale Divinity School among others.
Dr. Gina Zurlo opened with a sharp presentation of recent demographic trends in the world church drawn from the new 3rd edition World Christian Encyclopedia (see Gina Zurlo’s article, “The World as 100 Christians” to get a taste of this stunning research). Zurlo’s presentation was followed by a series of small group discussions on a few of the encyclopedia’s country profiles. This was an especially enlightening and lively exercise given that many of the meeting’s participants were either from the nations being reviewed or are established scholars of these regions. By sharing what they perceived to be the strengths and/or gaps in each profile, important lessons were learned about what it means to read and interpret quantitative and qualitative data critically and carefully.
If you are interested in a more affordable, concise, and accessible version of the data from the World Christian Encyclopedia, consider picking up a copy of Gina Zurlo’s Global Christianity: A Guide to the World’s Largest Religion from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. For those seeking deeper reflection on the methodology behind the Encyclopedia, see the January 2022 special issue of the International Bulletin of Mission Research.
On Sunday morning, OMSC’s global partners led worship – each bringing a word, prayer, or song to encourage and bless the group. Of special note was the devotional reflection shared by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta and Sharath Sowseelya Mesa as a dialogue, exploring the many ways the first chapter of the Gospel of John shaped Farsijana’s youthful missionary experience and continues to guide her scholarship today (see Farsijana’s recent post to hear more about her experiences here at OMSC).
In the final session, attention was given to four new books of note in missiological scholarship: Thomas Hastings’s Worshiping, Witnessing, and Wondering: Christian Wisdom for Participation in the Mission of God, James Jinhong Kim’s Global Christianity and the Early Letters of Horace G. Underwood, Kyama Mugambi’s A Spirit of Revitalization: Urban Pentecostalism in Kenya, and Michelle Sigg’s Birthing Revival: Women and Mission in Nineteenth Century France. Each author shared some of their motivations and process for writing the book and commented on what they hoped their work might contribute to larger questions and concerns of missiology and world Christianity.
As with any gathering, however, many of the most meaningful moments took place in between the formal sessions during meals, coffee breaks, and walks viewing the lovely autumn foliage around the Stoney Point Center. For many doctoral and graduate students, this was a chance to connect with scholars and classmates from other schools and to exchange ideas and questions that they may not have had the chance to discuss in their programs. Mission agency leaders benefited from hearing new research with direct relevance to their work, and professors were granted a much needed occasion to reconnect and share their ideas in an intimate and relational setting.
For OMSC@PTS’s Global Partners, participating in this gathering is just one of the many meaningful opportunities our residential study program affords them to share their research and mission experiences with new friends engage new missiological scholarship. OMSC@PTS is proud to be a longstanding partner and supporter of the EFPM and we are looking forward to assisting with the 2023 meeting next year.