A short extract from the General Council’s report on Lay Association. What is the way forward in the rapidly changing social and religious environment? A question for the Chapter.
Viewed historically, we can observe that the Associate Programme functioned well for a while in a specific context, with most Associates coming from Christian faith communities in the Netherlands, Britain and other countries. These young people were idealistic, altruistic, and enjoyed a certain economic security. There was also an extensive network of MHMs with whom to place the Associates in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These conditions have changed radically in recent decades. In East Africa, the APEAR programme failed to take off. More broadly, the opportunity to develop an Associate programme in tandem with the opening of formation centres in Africa and Asia was lost, which is regrettable.
At Chapter 2015, it was stated: “In order to involve more lay people at all levels of our Society’s missionary work, we recommend that the General Council review, reform and extend the Associate Programme.” (Documents, p. 24) At the East Africa Area Assembly in January 2021, there was a call “to return to the Lay Association program as there are people interested”. For this aspiration to be realised, new approaches would need to be tried out.
The three-year commitment required by our present Associate Programme is asking a lot. Chapter 2015 stated: “We are open to suitably qualified people working with us for shorter periods of time as volunteers.” Some people might still be willing to go out on mission for a period of between three months and one year. Some organisations – church, NGO sector, state – offer short exposure tours. The candidates could be encouraged to finance the trip themselves. In some cases, the short exposure trip might develop into a long-term commitment. The Society would need to consider offering varying periods of commitment.
Consideration of shorter periods of commitment could apply not only to young people but also to those of more senior years, including retired people, who may have a strong sense of missionary commitment and a broad range of relevant skills and experiences (and are able to self-finance their commitment). This can be a worthwhile experience not only for the beneficiaries but also for those making the commitment.
Gallery of Delegates: