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Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad.

Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad.

By Janel Kragt Bakker. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013. Pp. viii, 298. $99 / 64 [pounds sterling]; paperback $29.95 / 19.99[pounds sterling].

Sister Congregations, a product of Janel Kragt Bakker's dissertation research, represents foundational investigation into an increasingly important topic for world Christians. Significant research on short-term mission trips is widely available, but Bakker has given us the first in-depth ethnography of extended relationships between sister congregations in different parts of the globe. Twelve churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist) from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area participated in the study. The churches studied had budgets and memberships well above the median. This social location both imposed a parochialism (which Bakker acknowledges) and provided the benefit of being able to include participants involved professionally in international development who affirmed the significance of congregation-based partnerships.

It might be posited that Western Christians, if they wish to address their present malaise, should give particular attention to partnerships with the churches of the Global South. Bakker's groundbreaking research would be an important place to start in any such effort. She identifies encouraging possibilities for the long-term relationships of sister churches. Western Christians have deeply ingrained assumptions that our practices are the normative form of Christianity. Bakker demonstrates the need to move beyond such suppositions and beyond project-based encounters to deep relationships, an approach that allows us to address money as power in North-South ecumenism. Western hegemony has faded, and a more faithful understanding of partnership is required.

Bakker notes the limits of her research, including the lack of Global South perceptions. This and further exploration of the role of missionaries as links and teachers of the partners deserve investigation. "Congregations themselves are the driving agents behind the sister church phenomenon" (69). The mainline institutional crisis suggests that the role of regional denominational structures (e.g., judicatories, synods, conferences, dioceses) may be worth further research, with an eye toward involving more and smaller congregations and supporting fuller accountability.

In 1910 at the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference the plea from Indian bishop Azariah was "send us friends." Bakker has blessed us with a resource to respond to that admonition and move beyond the Western guilt complex noted by Lamin Sartneh in 1987 in the Christian Century.

David C. Dawson retired recently after thirty-three years as regional judicatory staff for the Presbyterian Church (USA). He lives in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

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Author:Dawson, David G.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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