Sarah the Mother of Mission: An Exposition on Genesis 18 and the painting by Silvia Dimitrova

by Graham Kings

Date added: 14/07/2016

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Sarah the Mother of Mission: an Exposition of Genesis 18 and the painting by Silvia Dimitrova

by The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings, Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion and Honorary Fellow of Durham University

Inaugural Lecture of the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project

16 June 2016, Prior’s Hall, Durham Cathedral, with a response by The Revd Steve Muneza, Assistant Minister, All Saints Church, Newton Hall, Durham

13 July 2016, Lambeth Palace, with a response by The Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan, Principal of St Thomas’s Theological College, Karachi, Pakistan



The tomb of the Venerable Bede, who died in 735 AD, is a regular place of prayer for me in the Galilee Chapel of this Cathedral. Bede was a mission theologian and historian, Bible commentator, natural scientist, and a scholar of ‘time’, especially of the date of Easter. He is the only British theologian to have been made a Doctor of Church in the Catholic Church.

Bede wrote his seminal The Ecclesiastical History of the English People[1] to show that God’s influence was relevant not only in the Holy Land but also in England. Let us pray for scholars like Bede who are working on similar projects in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America.

Bishop Alfred Lord Tucker is buried next to Durham Cathedral overlooking the river Wear. He was an artist, exhibited at the Royal Academy and served as pioneer CMS missionary in Uganda, where he was very sensitive to issues of inculturation. The theological college at Mukono, north of Kampala, was named after him: it is now Uganda Christian University. He was curate of St Nicholas, Durham 1885-90, Bishop Eastern Equatorial Africa 1890-99, Bishop of Uganda 1899-1911, and then returned to be Canon of Durham 1911-14. Let us pray for pioneers like Tucker from Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America. Dr Griphus Gakuru, who studied at Mukono, was very moved to pray by Tucker’s grave in March this year, before giving his seminar paper in our series in Durham.

In 668 AD Theodore of Tarsus was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, on the recommendation of Hadrian the African. Both of these great scholars emanated from continents far from Britain (the Middle East and North Africa respectively) and founded the renowned school at Canterbury, which attracted scholars from far and wide. They travelled from Rome to England with Benedict Biscop, who was of noble Northumbrian birth, and who founded the monastery at Wearmouth, in 674, where Bede was nurtured by him. F. M. Stenton, in his Anglo-Saxon England,[2] mentioned a statement of Bede concerning the influence of Canterbury:

Bede’s statement, which implies that Theodore and Hadrian produced pupils who could read and write Greek with ease, claims for the school of Canterbury a proficiency in classical learning rivalled, so far as is known, by no other learned community north of the Alps.[3]

One of the scholars attracted to the school at Canterbury was St Aldhelm, who was consecrated as the first Bishop of Sherborne in 705 AD. Stenton stated that a letter of Aldhelm:

contains a unique contemporary description of Theodore’s teaching. Aldhelm was beyond comparison the most learned and ingenious western scholar of the late seventh century.[4]

I am very grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury (successor of Theodore), the Church Mission Society (with whom Tucker served) and Durham University (where Bede is buried in the Cathedral) for founding this Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project and for all their support in its embryonic stage, its birth a year ago and its development.

Church, Mission and Academy interweave. Separately incoherent: together co-inherent. I also am very thankful to a considerable number of individuals and organisations for their financial funding and prayers.

We shall be considering Sarah as the Mother of Mission in two parts: first, Exposition in Text, Painting and Poem; and Second, Ramifications in Mission, Theology and Theologians. 

A. Exposition in Text, Painting and Poem

1. Scene Setting in the Bible

Where in the Bible is Sarah mentioned as a mother of later generations?

In Genesis 17:15, God says to Abraham about Sarah, ‘I will bless her, and she will give rise to nations; kings of people shall come from her.’

Outside the door of the Archive Centre of St Andrew’s College, Kabare, in the foothills of Mount Kenya, where Alison and I were CMS mission partners from 1985-91, is a plaque with an inscription from Isaiah 51:1

                 Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

                      to the quarry from which you were dug.

                  Look to Abraham your father,

                      and to Sarah who bore you.

The anonymous prophet in Babylon, whom we designate as Second Isaiah, encouraged the Jewish exiles to look back and remember their origins. Not just to Abraham their ‘father’, but also ‘to Sarah who bore you.’ Sarah is their ultimate mother.

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul gives an allegory of the slave-girl Hagar (mother of Ishmael through Abraham) and Sarah (mother of Isaac, the promised son, through her husband, Abraham). Typical of a prophet, he turns the usual interpretation directed at gentiles against the Jews. Instead of Sarah representing the Jews and Hagar the gentiles, as would be expected, he has Sarah representing the Christian gentiles’ hope in the heavenly Jerusalem and Hagar signifying the Jewish Law given at Sinai and the present oppressive Jerusalem. He writes: ‘The other woman [Sarah] corresponds to the Jerusalem above: she is free, and she is our mother.’ (Galatians 4:26).

In Galatians chapter 3, Paul stressed that Abraham is the spiritual father of all Christians, gentile Christians as well as Jewish Christians. In chapter 4, he states that Sarah is the mother of all Christians, gentile and Jewish.

2. Scene Setting in Genesis

Genesis 15 recounts how the Lord tells Abram to look toward heaven for his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Verse 6 states, ‘And he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ This key verse for Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith, in Romans and Galatians, is chronologically and theologically prior to Abraham’s circumcision in chapter 17, which represented the law.

Genesis 16 tells the story of the Egyptian slave-girl Hagar bearing Ishmael through Abram at the instigation of Sarai, who was barren and who then turned on her harshly.

Genesis 17 is a parallel story to our passage, Genesis 18, from another tradition. It uses the name El for God, rather than Yahweh, the Lord. Both concern the promise of a son to Abraham. As creation is described in two stories (Genesis 1 using the name ‘God’ and Genesis 2 the name ‘Lord God’), so the promise of a son to Abraham has two stories in chapters 17 and 18. Chapter 17 shows us the name changes from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah, describes the covenant, with its sign of circumcision, and announces the promise of a son through Sarah. Abraham laughs and suggests Ishmael will suffice (v 18). God insists, ‘No, but your wife Sarah, shall bear you a son and you shall name him Isaac.’ (v. 19) and that the covenant would be established with Isaac.

So we come to Genesis 18, which was read to us just before the beginning of this lecture. Verse 1: ‘The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.’

The appearance was sudden and unexpected. Do not be surprised if the Lord takes you by surprise. It is typical.

Mamre was near Hebron, which turns out later to be the burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and where David was anointed King.

Verse 2: ‘He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground’.

Running is unusual for an older man in Ancient Near Eastern culture, especially a man of 99 years. There is urgency. Verse 6 says Abraham ‘hastened into the tent to Sarah’, verse 7 he ran to the herd, the servant ‘hastened’ to prepare the calf and Sarah cooked the cakes. As we read this text from the perspective of the New Testament, we may be reminded of the ‘running’ of the father, and the killing of the ‘fatted calf’, in the parable of the Prodigal Son. I sometimes ponder that to the question ‘who was upset when the prodigal son returned?’ the proper answer should be ‘the fatted calf’.

Canon Professor Joseph Galgalo gave our first seminar paper in Lambeth Palace and Durham University last November. He is Vice-Chancellor of St Paul’s University Limuru, Kenya and has been a good friend since 1990. Later that month, he gave a lecture to the new Community of St Anslem, founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace, ‘What can we learn from Jesus’ hospitality?’ Parts of it were published on the web site of the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury in January. So there was input from a Kenyan theologian into the preparation of that meeting. Professor Galgalo wrote:

Table fellowship defines Jesus’ communality. Eating is patterned into the scheme of his work revealing a striking centrality of food to Jesus’ ministry…The most undeserving of people are given a place at the table, to be heard, healed, forgiven, restored, taught and fed to become beneficiaries of divine hospitality.

In our passage, ironically, it is the divine visitors who receive hospitality.

Who are these visitors? Verse 1 mentions The Lord. Verse 2 talks of three men. Verse 22 describes two men going towards Sodom while Abraham remained with the Lord, implying that one of the three was the Lord. Genesis 19 designates the two men as ‘Angels’ and in the New Testament Hebrew 13:1 says ‘some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ Somewhat confusing. But this obliqueness allows space for imagination.  Rublev’s famous icon, painted in 1411, portrays the three ‘angels’ as the Holy Trinity.

This theme of the veiling of the Lord is echoed in the Incarnation of the Son of God and also, differently, in Matthew 25, in Jesus’s parable of the Sheep and the Goats: his presence is veiled in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned.

It also resonates with kings being veiled in the works of Shakespeare and Tolkien. In Henry V, the night before the battle of Agincourt, the King dons a cloak and, incognito, moves amongst his soldiers, talking with them and learning their views. In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, the rightful King who is eventually crowned in Book Three (in a wonderful passage which, perhaps, should be read on Ascension Day) appears early in Book One as Strider, the hooded Ranger in the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Verse 9: ‘Your wife shall have a son’. Sarah listens at the tent entrance. The Hebrew circumlocution is beautiful: ‘it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.’ So she laughed to herself. It is absurd. She had grown old. These words imply decay as of old clothes. ‘Shall I have pleasure’ implies sexual pleasure. Looking at Abraham the answer seems obvious to her.

My father-in-law interrupted my speech at our wedding reception. I said, ‘First of all I would like to thank Alison’s parents for bringing her into existence.’ He stood up and said, ‘It was a pleasure.’

Verse 13: The Lord does not use quite such blunt language. ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ From a New Testament perspective, we remember Luke’s story of Gabriel’s words to Mary, ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’ (Luke 1:37) and also the surprise promise, by an angel of the Lord, of a son to Zechariah and the barren Elizabeth in their old age (Luke 1:5-25).

Verse 15: Sarah denies she laughed, ‘for she was afraid’. The Lord contradicts her, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh’. You can kid other people. You can kid yourself. You cannot kid God.

Both laughed. Abraham in chapter 17 and Sarah in chapter 18. But Sarah tried to hide it.

3. Painting the Scene

Silvia Dimitrova painting

I am very thankful for the interweaving friendship and theological partnership that my wife, Alison, and I have with Silvia Dimitrova, Bulgarian Orthodox icon writer and painter, over 15 years. She is based in Bath and her art is a vibrant gift from God to people of various Christian traditions and also to those who do not yet believe. Her two styles of traditional icons and modern love paintings in Bulgarian folk style, the sacred and the secular, enrich and influence each other. They are inspiring in their profundity and fecundity. Usually, she does not mix her styles, but in our series of seven women in the Bible she does so. They are religious and yet set in Bulgarian folk style: iconic but not icons.

So far we have four paintings and I have written four poems on them: Magdalene (2003) in the garden with the risen Jesus; Lydia (2009) at Philippi with Paul; Priscilla (2013) at Ephesus with Aquila; and Sarah (2015) with Abraham at Mamre.

We are planning to finish the remaining three over the next six years, and hopefully there will be three more poems: Miriam in Egypt with Moses; Ruth in Bethlehem with Boaz; and Esther in Babylon with Mordecai. The latter, perhaps, could furnish ideas for a valedictory lecture…

I have been meditating on this generative partnership. It is a process of imagination, incarnation and interpretation. Concerning ‘imagination’, I choose the people and the texts and Silvia and I discuss theological ideas together. She ruminates prayerfully on the passages, listens to a recording of me reading them, and prepares a sketch. Then Alison, my wife, and I meet with her in Bath to discuss it.

In the case of ‘Sarah’, Silvia wanted to reflect something of the tradition of the famous mosaics of Abraham and Sarah in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. We looked at the photos in her book. Alison noted the preponderance of green in the mosaics and the lack of it in our previous three paintings. Thus, and thence, emanated the colour green.

The three of us spent a lot of time pondering the facial features of the three visitors, who emerge as one: older in front, younger to the left and more feminine to the right. Ephrem the Syrian was one of the theologians of the 4th century to write of the Holy Spirit as ‘She’. Silvia wanted to include the calf and was persuasive: it looks towards the ‘ram caught in the thicket’ of Genesis 22, the sacrifice substituted for Isaac, and to the ‘fatted calf’ of Luke 15.

Theological imagination, emerging out of joint pondering on the biblical text, then becomes ‘incarnate’ in the painting. During this period, Silvia heard that my mother was ill in hospital and asked for a photo of her and also of my father. She had not painted older people before, nor portraits of particular people. Sarah and Abraham bear a remarkable resemblance to my parents who are now both 90. My father has Abraham’s forehead and eyebrows, but not his beard.

Rowan Williams, also well known for his eyebrows, in his latest book On Augustine, refers to Augustine’s remarks, in his City of God,[5] about the importance of the eyebrow to the well-proportioned face. Williams writes:

The apparently unimportant detail (the eyebrow) is the object of God’s care and craft for the sake of the larger picture.[6]

My mother lives in a residential home a short distance away from my father’s house. Both are delighted with this familial contextualisation.

After ‘imagination’ and ‘incarnation’ the painting then becomes the subject of ‘interpretation’. This is by our friends who see it in our home, people who take part in Quiet Days based on the paintings, and also in my poems on each of them. I wrote ‘Sarah’ on a silent retreat with Alison, in February, at St Cuthman’s, Coolham, in Sussex.

4. Poem on the Scene

Who is this woman?

Eyes uplifted,

Elderly, beautiful,

Pondering, anxious,

Right hand responsive,

Stopping laughing,

Brow furrowed,

Fingers knobbly,

Left hand supportive,

Relaxed, accepting.


Who is this man?

Eyebrows surprised,

Mature, elegant,

Wondering, welcoming,

Left hand cupped

Near to heart,

Beckoning hearth,

Reckoned as righteous,

Right hand blessing,

Thickening calf.


Who are these visitors?

Arrayed in radiance,

Mysterious in difference,

Framed by bowing

Oaks of Mamre and

Tent of Meeting,

Together as three,

Emerging out of

Scintillating leaves

Merging as One.


Mother of Promise

Of people and nations,

Forever empty,

Who ceased to be

After manner of women,

Laughs to herself,

Then covers it up,

Eventually conceives,

Bears and believes

‘He who laughs.’


Father of Promise

Of people and nations,

As good as dead,

Who previously laughed,

Suggesting a son of

Slave girl instead,

Now furnishes

Nourishing relief,

Hope against hope,

Sealing belief.


Lord of Promise

Of people and nations,

Proclaiming astonishing

Fertility, fecundity,

Wonderfully righting

Wrongful response:

For incoherent jest,

Co-inherence sows.

From mature oaks,

An acorn grows.


B. Ramifications in Mission, Theology and Theologians

We move now to our second part: ramifications of this story of Sarah in mission, theology and theologians.

1. The Mother of Mission

Sarah is the mother of mission because she is the ‘mother of promise of people and nations’. Having been up to that point ‘forever empty’ (a devastating phrase in the poem), she miraculously becomes a mother, through the co-inherence of the act of love, which could, perhaps, be described as lawfully joined[7] and joyfully loined.  This co-inherence in marriage reflects in a different way the co-inherence of the Holy Trinity. The image of God may be seen here in loving inter-related personal beings.[8]

Sarah bore Isaac: all the Jews, including Jesus of Nazareth, trace themselves back through this ‘son of promise’.

Since gentile Christians are baptised into Jesus Christ and live in Christ as part of him, and have his Spirit within them, then they also are children of Sarah and Abraham. (Galatians chapter 3)

Those on the edge of Jewish society, like Zacchaeus the tax collector, who respond to Jesus of Nazareth are delighted in the good news: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.’ (Luke 19:1-10).

In the first two chapters of Exodus, women and birthing are key to the narrative. The Hebrew midwives are brave in defying Pharoah’s commandment of infanticide for male babies. The mother of Moses hides him in the bulrushes and when Pharoah’s daughter finds him, Moses’s sister offers to find a wet nurse for him and then secretly arranges this to be his own mother, who brings him up and then later hands him over to the Princess. Moses’s mother follows in the footsteps of Sarah, like so many others, by delivering a son and handing him over for the eventual deliverance of her people.

Mission begins with God and ends with God. Before time, in time and beyond time, God's very being is outward moving, in generation and procession. In time, the Father sends the Son into creation to set people free: the Embedded for the embittered. The Father sends the Spirit into the lives of his people: the Irrigator for the parched.

We are drawn into this astonishing movement from God and towards God. In turn, we are sent by him to embody and to share his good news.

So mission is not so much what we do, as following in the wake of what God is already doing: discerning his surprising purposes and joining in. Mission is an umbrella word, which covers all God sends us in his world to do with him. Included under it, is the interweaving of evangelism, development and justice, locally and throughout the world.

2. Mission as the Mother of Theology

David Bosch has the heading, ‘Mission as the Mother of Theology’ at the beginning of his magnum opus, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission.[9] He took the phrase from a 1908 book by Martin Kahler.[10]

In 1971, the New Testament scholar Martin Hengel, published a key article entitled ‘The Origins of the Christian Mission’.[11] He wrote:

Paul, the former scribe, becomes the first Christian ‘theologian’ because he is a missionary; that is, his theology is ‘mission theology’ in the comprehensive sense.[12]

The missionary and theological work which he produced over a seven-to-eight year period (between about AD 49 and 57), when the church was barely twenty years old, has remained unparalleled over the subsequent 1900 years.[13]

In short, the history and theology of earliest Christianity are ‘mission history’ and ‘mission theology’. A church and theology which forgets or denies the missionary sending of believers as messengers of salvation in a world threatened by disaster surrenders its very foundation and in so doing surrenders itself.’[14]

3. Contemporary Mothers of Mission Theology

The merciful request from Silvia Dimitrova, a mother, to have a photo of my mother led to the contextualisation of the painting in our family. This may be helpful in trying to understand the theme of ‘inculturation’ in mission theology. It involves discovering that the treasure of the good news of the kingdom of God is familiar at home. Christ comes to us in our cultures from the Father, not from missionaries, and is already embedded in our cultures, waiting to be unveiled, like the King incognito.

In his retirement, John V Taylor, the General Secretary of the Church Mission Society and later Bishop of Winchester, wrote a letter to me on 27 July 1997. I had sent him my draft chapter on the mission theology he shared with Max Warren, which was later published in the CMS bicentenary book.[15] He commented by return of post:

The historic Christ, the Logos fully revealed, comes a story that must be told and an image reflected in other human lives – but he does not come as a stranger. He has been there all along, but his footprints were not on the most frequented paths and he is recognised as a face seen in half-forgotten dreams like that of the Suffering Messiah foreshadowed in the Old Testament but neglected in the ongoing tradition of Judaism. He comes to his own in the other faiths in another way also, in that he, the Logos incarnate once for all in Jesus of Nazareth, matches the need and fulfils the promise of each traditional world-view as though he had emerged from within it with no less relevance than he did within Judaism. We who stand outside the other traditions may only guess how this may be.[16]

He died in 2001 and would have been delighted with this project, and the many female mission theologians who have influenced it. Some are established and some are emerging in their academic work.

Mercy Oduyoyeis a Ghanaian theologian and a founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. Her book, Beads and Strands[17], is full of insights. In 2001, she wrote:

My sensitivities to the issues of gender began with moving from Ghana to Nigeria; trying to teach theology in a department where all my colleagues were men, and trying to understand the status of women in patrilineal Africa where some of us are matrilineal. I had to write Daughters of Anowa,[18] as well as many other articles and chapters in books.  It was this experience that led to my taking the initiative which resulted in the formation of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989. The Circle was preceded by efforts on my part to identify and recommend African women theologians to become members of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, of which I am a current President.[19]    

Other female mission theologians include the following:

Lydia Mwaniki, from Kenya, is Director of Theology for the All Africa Council of Churches, and is the African editor of our SPCK series. She is coming on sabbatical to St John’s College, Durham in November this year and giving a seminar paper, at Durham and Lambeth Palace on ‘Gender and Sustainable Development in Africa’.

Isabel Apawo Phiri, from Malawi, is Associate General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.

Ruth Padilla DeBorst, from Argentina, is the Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Theological Education, Costa Rica. Chair of the International Fellowship of Mission Transformation, she gave key bible studies at the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, in Cape Town in 2010.

Rosalee Valesso Ewell, from Brazil, is on the theological commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, and works at Newbigin House, Birmingham, England.

Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, from India, was the Professor of Women’s Studies at the United Theological College, Bangalore, for many years and is now lecturing at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, United States.

Jung-Sook Lee, from South Korea, is a Church Historian and President of Torch Postgraduate University, Seoul.

Sandra Mazzolini, from Italy, is Professor of Mission Theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome.

Kirsteen Kim is Professor of World Christianity at Leeds Trinity University, and a former Vice Moderator of the Council for World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. She is editor of Mission Studies and was a joint editor of the Regnum Edinburgh series of books on World Christianity.

Cathy Ross has served in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda and is lecturer in Contextual Theology at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford, MA coordinator for Pioneer Leadership Training at the Church Mission Society and lecturer in Mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford.

Emma Wild Wood is a lecturer in world Christianities at the University of Cambridge, on secondment for two years from the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, which she has directed since 2009. She has taught theology in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda.



It takes the whole world to understand the whole gospel.

The Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project is generative. It has already produced 37 articles on our website in a year. These have been born through two seminars a term each in Lambeth Palace and Durham University, through conferences in the global South (in the past Cairo in April, in the future Bangalore in October 2016, Jerusalem in March 2017, Brazil in April 2017 and Ghana in the autumn of 2017) and through intercontinental sabbaticals, south to north in Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Virginia and Pennsylvania (beginning this Michaelmas Term) and, in the future, south to south.

Our partnership with SPCK has been encouraging in three interweaving ways: the desk for my assistant, Georgie Morgan; the hosting of our website; and our new book series, Anglican Theologies: African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American. These books – single authored and multi-authored – we plan to co-publish, at discounted costs, with publishers in the global South. Assisting me are four continental editors, to whom I am very grateful: The Revd Dr Lydia Mwaniki (Africa), mentioned above, Director of Theology for the All Africa Council of Churches; Dr Muthuraj Swamy, (Asia), Professor of Theology, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India; the Ven Dr Samy Shehata (Middle East), Principal of Alexandria School of Theology and Dean of St Mark’s Cathedral; and Professor Joanildo Burity (Latin America), Director, School of Postgraduate Studies and Professional Development, Fundacao Joaquim Nabuco, Recife, Brazil. Theology develops through friendship.

In 1827, The Church Missionary Society founded the Fourah Bay Institution, which later became Fourah Bay College. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the freed slave from Yorubaland (later Nigeria) was the first student. He later became the first African Anglican Bishop, consecrated in 1864, having trained at the CMS Institute in the parish of St Mary Islington, London.  

Andrew Walls, the doyen of British mission historians, points out in his chapter in the festschrift for the late lamented mission theologian, Kwame Bediako:

By the 1870s, [Fourah Bay] college was affiliated with Durham University in England, and was presenting students for degrees in arts and divinity.[20]

I am grateful to Michael Stansfield, the Deputy Head of Archives and Special Collections, at Durham University Library, for the information that Fourah Bay College was affiliated to Durham University in 1876 and became the independent University of Sierra Leone in 1967.

Walls mentions J. Olumide Lucas, a Fourah Bay graduate and Archdeacon in Nigeria received a Doctorate in Divinity from Durham.[21] His Durham DD thesis, awarded in 1942, is available online ‘The Religion of the Yorubas, being an account of the religious beliefs and practices of the Yoruba peoples of Southern Nigeria, especially in relation to the religion of ancient Egypt.’[22]

While praying one time in Durham Cathedral, I had a sense of the bones of St Cuthbert at the east end and of the Venerable Bede at the west end, being like the deep roots of molar teeth, our back teeth. Over the centuries they have held the massive Cathedral onto the rocky peninsula.

May these roots in the past encourage the writing, networking and publishing of future scholarship in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

[1] F M Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: OUP, 1971).

[2] Ibid p 182.

[3] Ibid p 183. See also A. M. Juster, Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015) pp. xiv-xv and 75-77 for the influence of Theodore and Hadrian on Aldhelm.

[4] Augustine, City of God (London: Folio Society, 2012), p. 461 [X1.22].

[5] Rowan Williams, On Augustine (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), p. 93, referring to Augustine, City of God, XI.22.

[6] Rowan Williams, On Augustine (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), p. 93, referring to Augustine, City of God, XI.22.

[7] Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.’ ‘The Solemnization of Matrimony’ in The Book of Common Prayer (1662).

[8] Rowan Williams, in Why Study the Past: the Quest for the Historical Church (London: DLT, 2005), p. 99 draws on the work of Valdimir Lossky (whom he studied for his Oxford DPhil): ‘The persons of the Trinity are not projections of human individuality (that would be to believe in three gods); it is rather that human individuality is a fractured picture of divine personal being. The more we leave behind the idea of a self as one among many centres from which a set of repeatable attributes is exercised, the more we move to understand our selfhood as fulfilled only in self-forgetful relation, the more we realise the diving image which is the fundamental potential of our humanity.’

[9] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991).

[10] Martin Kahler, Schriften zur Christologie und Mission (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1908)..

[11] Martin Hengel, ‘The Origins of the Christian Mission’ New Testament Studies 18, 1971, pp-15-38, later republished in Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul (London: SCM Press, 1983), pp 48-64

[12] Ibid p 53.

[13] Ibid p 52

[14] Ibid p 64

[15] Graham Kings, ‘Mission and the Meeting of Faiths: the Theologies of Max Warren and John V Taylor in Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley (eds), The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp 285-318

[16] John V Taylor, letter to Graham Kings, 27 July 1997, published in Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson and Rowan Williams, Loves Redeeming Work: the Anglican Quest for Holiness (Oxford: OUP, 2001), p. 714

[17] Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004)

[18] Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995)

[19] Oduyoye, Beads and Strands, p xiii

[20] Andrew F. Walls, ‘The Discovery of ‘African Traditional Religion’ and Its Impact on Religious Studies’, in Gillian Mary Bediako, Benhardt Y. Quarshie and J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu (eds), Seeing New Facets of the Diamond: Christianity as a Universal Faith. Essays in Honour of Kwame Bediako (Akropong-Akuapem: Regnum Africa, 2014), p. 11. Soon after writing this section about Fourah Bay College, I went to a service at our local church, St James’s Bermondsey. Over coffee afterwards, I met a woman from Sierra Leone, whose mother had studied for a BA at Durham University, and a man, who was a graduate of Fourah Bay College

[21] I am also grateful to Dr Michael Stansfield, Deputy Head of Archives and Special Collections, Durham University Library, for providing the following dates: J. Oluminde Lucas gained various degrees from Durham University: BA in 1921; Dip Theology in 1922, MA in 1924 and DD (by examination, for a thesis entitled ‘The religion of Yorubas, especially in relation to the religion of ancient Egypt’) on 7 December 1942


A Response to The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings’ Sarah the Mother of Mission: an Exposition of Genesis 18 and the painting by Silvia Dimitrova

By Rev. Steve Muneza, Associate Minister within the Durham North Team Ministry and Overseas Ambassador for Bujumbura Christian University (BCU)

16 June 2016, Prior’s Hall, Durham Cathedral


Missional and Theological Ancestry

Following Bishop Graham Kings’ example and Isaiah’s (51:1) invitation to ‘look to the rock from which we were hewn’, I would like to begin by recognising the significance of this place, Durham Cathedral, as well as remembering our spiritual and theological fathers and mothers. I currently serve in the Durham North Team Ministry and doing my PhD research with the Lambeth Palace or the Archbishop’s Examination in Theology, supported by St Augustine’s and St Boniface foundations.

Whilst in Durham, it is always a privilege to walk up to Bishop Alfred Lord Tennyson Tucker’s tomb and be inspired by this theological and missional ancestor. Bishop Alfred Tucker was a visionary, ahead of his time in many ways, who saw the need to train African theologians who will contextualise the Gospel and support the rapidly growing Church in Uganda and the whole of East Africa as a result of missionary endeavour in late 1800s and early 1900s. In Burundi, my father, and almost all our Bishops and clergy men and women with University or College education are fruits of the Bishop Tucker Theological College or the Uganda Christian University as it has now come to be known. It is therefore an immense privilege to be hosted in this historical place where Bishop Tucker served and was buried.


Mothers, like Sarah, are often known for their hospitality. In Africa, this often means a generous readiness to feed unexpected guests, neighbours, close and distant relatives, friends and sometimes strangers. As we heard, the author of Hebrews probably had his ancestors Sarah and Abraham in mind as he encouraged his readers: ‘do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it’. (Hebrew 13:2). However, hospitality is both a joyful but costly business. For the ‘fatted calf’ who pay the ultimate price, it also puts a strain on relationships as in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) and child bearing at the age of 90 in the case of Sarah.

However, hospitality also sets the scene for life changing encounters. As Bishop Graham reminds us, ‘do not be surprised if the Lord takes you by surprise’. I have been privileged to encounter Bishop Graham’s hospitality several times, which always involves delicious meals for the stomach, the brain and the soul. In this particular instance, Bishop Graham’s encounter with Silvia Dimitrova has produced a series of beautiful and inspiring painting, one of which is of Bishop Graham’s parents as Sarah and Abraham.

St Augustine from Hippo in North Africa is recognised as a key contributor to Christianity and Theology. Of course any recognition of St Augustine’s contribution to the Church and to Theology would be incomplete if it does not equally recognise St Augustine’s mother, St Monica’s contribution to Augustine’s faith as a persistent prayerful encourager. This is something I consistently observe in Burundi where I was serving as a youth pastor, where the mothers’ obstinate love, care and prayers are the foundation of young people’s faith. The Mothers’ Union is a vibrant force for good in Burundi, the East African region and many other places in Africa. Perhaps mothers have always been God’s favourite partners in mission and we are grateful to Bishop Graham Kings for opening our eyes to this reality.

Missional Art and Theology

One of Sarah’s feature both in the Bible (Genesis 12:15) and in Silvia Dimitrova’s painting is her exceptional beauty (genesis 20:20). Similarly, poetry, painting and other artistic expressions are aesthetic expressions that capture the attention and hospitality provides space and time for both the guest, the host and their messages to be accepted. Dirk Ficca comments that for Sawyer “hospitality is finally not a philosophical stance or a theological concept but a matter of practice that must be lived out”. (Sawyer, 2008, pxi). In theological terms, hospitality is a welcoming and acceptance of God, of self, of family, of neighbour and even of the stranger.

As Bishop Graham reminds us, the attractive message of the Gospel must find space of acceptance, through enculturation, to be truly generative. It is key to recognise that God predates missional endeavour. For instance, slowly, godly aspects African thoughts and expressions such as Ubuntu’s mercifulness, kindness and inclusiveness are starting to be welcomed both locally and globally. (Murove, 2009; Kunhiyop, 2008).

The recognition or unveiling of Sarah as ‘Mother of Mission’ and today’s ‘daughters of Sarah’s contributions from around the world is a huge step of inclusiveness. In Silvia Dimitrova’s painting, Sarah seems to be ‘unveiled’ from behind the curtain onto the front stage. The mind cannot help but wonder what might still be hidden behind the curtain. Perhaps, it is Hagar and her fellow slaves? Or more fatted calves? Whatever it is, it is a reminder that the mission of unveiling that which is hidden and excluded, the inclusiveness and reconciliation of the whole world to its Creator (2 Corinthians 5:19) is exiting and must continue.

It is interesting that in this painting, Silvia Dimitrova exceptionally reconciles the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the spirit of the painting is that of integrity. Theological enculturation will help us in the bearing of fruits inside the Church as well as in the ‘secular’ or outside church contexts of family, public office, businesses and the whole life. Missio Dei is both inside and outside the Church. (Bosch, 1991).


As Bishop Graham said, ‘It takes the whole world to understand the whole gospel’ and I may I add, for the salvation of the ‘whole world’.

This Saturday, 18th June, the Anglican Church commemorates Bernard Mizeki, one of the early African missionaries martyred in 1896 in today’s Zimbabwe. Jean Farrant comments that;

‘Every saint has had something to say to mankind that only he, [or she] and no other, can say, and Bernard’s particular message is written more tellingly on the pages of his simple life than in the story of his dramatic death – if we love God, we can achieve anything, and, irrespective of class, [gender], material wealth or skin-color, sanctity may be gained through such unspectacular graces as steadiness, consistency, humility, and faithfulness in the everyday small things of life.’ (Farrant, 1966, pxvi).

We need to find a way of better hearing and seeing the theologies of the faithfulness in the everyday things of life across the world.

I recently watched a somewhat disturbing and thought provoking program on BBC 3 (BBC, 2016) called ‘Rest in Pixels’ and asked the following question: ‘There are now over 30 million dead people on Facebook. So what happens when we leave that digital representation of ourselves behind?’.

Bishop Graham’s reflection on Silvia’s Sarah the mother of mission invites us to celebrate a mother who impacted humanity through both an ordinary and exceptional act of childbearing, in extraordinary circumstances and a call to recognise the stories (or theologies) of her children beyond the bounderies of gender, class, race and time. It leaves us with the responsibility to RSVP the invitation.


Aquina, M., Sullivan, M. S. and Hendey, L. M. (2013). St Minica and the power of persistent prayer. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Inc.

BBC (2016). Rest in pixels. Retreaved from

Bishop of Hippo Saint Augustine (1905). The Confessions of St Augustine. Volume 1 of Library of Alexandia: World Classics.

Bosch, J. D. (1991). Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Farrant, J. (1966). Mashonaland Martyr: Bernard Mizeki and the pioneer Church. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

Kunhiyop, S. W. (2008). African Christian Ethics. Plateau State: Hippo Books.

Murove, M. F. (2009). African Ethics: An Anthology of Comparative and Applied Ethics. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Sawyer, N. (2008). Hospitality – the sacred art: Discovering the hidden spiritual power of invitation and welcome. Woodstock: SkyLight Paths Publishing.

Uganda Christian University (2016). History of UCU


A Response to The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings’ Sarah the Mother of Mission: an Exposition of Genesis 18 and the painting by Silvia Dimitrova

By Rev. Dr. Pervaiz Sultan, Principal of St Thomas’ Theological College, Karachi

13th July 2016, Lambeth Palace


Salutation: Greetings from Pakistan- land of the pure.   I count it a rare privilege and also feel humble to respond to an able presentation by Bishop Graham Kings at Lambeth Palace today. My response is spontaneous and reflective, leading to a thoughtful understanding of Christian mission with regard to its source and linkage with theology, thus, celebrating the joy of the discipline under study.

Spontaneous: Sarah the Mother of Mission, what a wonderful phrase- a thought of gender inclusion in spotting out the source and Zenith of Mission, both depravity and deprivation turning into a commodity and bounty. Based on a general taking up of masculinity of God and Patriarchs, femininity is generally overlooked in sociological and theological discussions.  Here we note that Sarah is depicted as the key figure in the covenantal mission story. Usually Abraham is presented as the father of those who believe and are considered righteous for personal salvation by the grace of God. This is high time to study, elaborate and share the combined role of Matriarchs along the Patriarchs which the author has picked up. It sounds and looks smashing but there is still a long way to go because deliberations need to be owned and practiced at a larger church scale for a meaningful interaction and practical results.   

The divine act of changing names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah respectively conveys a joint and inclusive progressive upgrading of socio-religious status of an old couple of tribal set up in order to benefit the total family, community and nations.  Abraham- father of many nations and Sarah- princess, the mother of nations and kings are manifestations of God in action in human situation to bring about transformation at a global level. The changing of their names gave new identity and integrity to Abraham and Sarah leading to greater confidence in the economy of God’s plan. Integrity, identity and confidence are mission theme for all ages.

Reflective: Devotion, studious and reflective mention of Gen 17:15 and Isaiah 51:1 is a pragmatic choice to support the topic and suits it well, however, it is not exclusively extraordinary because any reference to these passages will bring about equality of gender with female potential to initiate and bring about blessing for communities.

 It is challenging to link these passages to Gen 12:4 where Abraham alone is mentioned as a reference point for the blessings of God for all nations-mission of God. What is distinctive about today’s presentation is that the inference that Sarah is the ultimate mother and its linkage to the exegetical study of Galatians 4.26 with a further inference that Sarah stands as mother of all Christians, Gentile and Jews. The mention of Mary the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist on page 4 strengthens the point of John Macquarrie that Mary the Mother of Jesus is the mother of the Church. His advice is that this title of Mary is not to be taken in a literal way. It does not mean, for instance, that Mary originated the Church. (Principles of Christian Theology, SCM 1977:394).  In the same way when it is said, Sarah is the ultimate mother- mother of Mission and also of theology as it appears from the argument, it does not mean that Sarah originated these factors of our faith, but she stands a landmark along with her husband to receive God’s revelation, experience and share it with the community. She was a woman of faith, faith in God and his word.  Deliberations that are inclusive of female potential and participation in the Church broaden the scope of mission and theology in its historical and contemporary contexts.

Certain aspects of findings have attracted my attention to implicate this in the contemporary Pakistani situation with the background of rural Pakistan of 1960s, when I was a young boy living in a predominantly Christian village in the central part of Pakistan. Jewish exiles were encouraged by the writer of second Isaiah to look back and remember their origin. Many of my fellows of Stuntzabad  (the village was named after a Methodist Missionary, Dr. C.B.Stuntz) have sold off their portions of agricultural lands and houses in the village and shifted to the urban set ups like those of Lahore and Karachi. This presentation challenges them to remember and not forget their origin.  Paradigms of mission challenge this kind of practice of up rooted-ness and encourage Christians to maintain a connection with their roots of habitation.  This is important for faith and its transition from one generation to the second.

Thoughtful & Conceptual: Sarah-the female figure of ancient Israel is taken as corresponding to the City of Jerusalem- the house of peace. Females in domestic and civil situations stand as a source of peace which the masculine segment of society overlooks due to factors of tradition and modernity. The apocalypse identifies a woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars. This woman was intercepted by the dragon.  The Church, of which Sarah and the woman of Revelation 12 are figures, is to date under attacks and interceptions of traditional and modern monsters. The optimism of highlighting the female figure to boost mission is commendable. I love it.

The appearance of three men- angels, representative of the Holy Trinity stand as God among us, a proof that mission begins with and in God at all times. The appearance of angels signifies surprise and the unexpected visit of strangers followed by Abraham’s hospitality, which is another mission paradigm. Revelation and human experience meet each other with a projection of divine-human commitment to save lands and people. Mission is conceived with the ideal of setting people free through the Son in the Spirit by the direct acts of God. This is redemptive and holistic and stands as a biblical theological entity in contemporary context.

Setting people free is not an accepted reality in many societies of our globe - both in the South and North. At the same time unleashing human abilities is following a calling to obey.  The good news of the Gospel of Christ is for the poor and addresses the basic question that poverty is man-made. Christian preaching leads the oppressor to repent and the oppressed to regenerate for the kingdom values of love and care. Justice and Peace are the foci as well as the produce of Christian mission, which we all can be proud of as it is the result of common commitments and the effort of social change- a meaningful change of integrity of persons and communities.

As far as ramifications in mission taking Sarah as the mother of mission with a perspective of promise is concerned, we note that there is a Theology of Hope. Throughout centuries, in different parts of the world, the suffering, despised and marginalized humans have manifested pioneering aspirations for acts of love in their relationships, behaviours and conducts. There is always space to play a role in evangelism- good news for the poor, development-transformation and justice-peaceful upbringing - provided we take it as just joining in the procedure established by God in the first instance and then developed by men and women in history, primitive and modern equally.

The quest of Mission as mother of theology, an enterprise existing prior to theology, has been studied as a paradigm called mission as theology (Norman Thomas’ edited work, Readings in World Mission, 1995, SPCK p.286). In this work, excerpts from Wilhelm Anderson highlight the relationship between theology and mission enterprise, that they cannot be separated therefore it is proposed that the missionary enterprise should find its place first and foremost in the development of the programmes of biblical exegesis… It is not difficult to agree with the proposal to integrate seminaries’ curricula with mission mindedness and the Church should encourage and accept this kind of developments in theological education.

Figurative:  My response to the presentation will remain incomplete unless I mention the use of the picture by the painter and the poems of the author. Friendship and partnership with a combination of sacred and secular shed sparks of hope in mission in the context of brokenness of society and self-centredness of persons. The scheme of work taking imagination, incarnation and interpretation is covered as collaboration. All this is pragmatic mission and speaks to the majority and minority worlds equally. 

Conclusion:  All that has been highlighted by Bishop Kings shows a commitment and not a mere formality. From the title, I expected more of gender equality as a mission paradigm but perhaps the motif of the presentation was different in order to highlight the genesis of mission with a historical reference to a female figure of stature leading to a collaborative mission.


To see photos from this seminar at Durham Cathedral, 16th June 2016, click here: 

To see photos from this seminar at Lambeth Palace, 13th July 2016, click here: 

Graham Kings

Graham Kings



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