Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Care for Immigrants and Refugees

I have long been involved and concerned about the plight of refugees and immigrants.  In the 1990’s, as a new rector in Connecticut, my parish settled several refugee families from Cuba.  In the early 2000’s while serving a parish in suburban Washington D.C., I served on a board and was active in a organization that advocated for the safe treatment of immigrant day workers, many of whom had fled Central America decades before in the aftermath of the civil wars and conflicts – wars where we as a country were very much involved.  This is pre-Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it you pay for it.”  I’ve also worked with others to plant Latino congregations and have tried through my mission trips to Latin America to keep my Spanish fluent enough to communicate, preach and counsel. 

Which for me leads to today. 

There is a whole list of things broken about our immigration system.  I have long believed that the vast majority of those who come to our country without documentation, in a more peaceful and prosperous world, would rather remain, live, work and die in the homelands of their birth.   Yet for a range of reasons – intractable poverty, political corruption, unfettered capitalism where few taxes from foreign corporations reach the people in need, gang violence fueled by destabilized societies racked by decades war and violence, the insatiable appetite for drugs in the U.S. coupled with weak governments to the south of our border that have failed to corner the cartels -- all these and more make for instability, fear, unemployment and underemployment that drive whole populations from their homes.  

And then there is the “little dirty secret.”  Undocumented immigrants, unable to acquire legal short term work permits, work in the underbelly of our economy: they pick our vegetables and fruits, build our houses, care for our elderly, process our animals into food, and tend our green grass.  When our economy is down, they do not come.  When times are booming, the immigrants come in droves -- hired by willing and paying employers.  

All valid sociological and economic theory.  How about theology?  We can quote verses from the Old Testament about the care of the foreigner and we can cite Jesus himself about love of neighbor, but all of that will falter if we are guided more by fear than openness.  If our loyalties are more tribal than to the greater human family? We are in a predicament.  How do we square faith and loyalty to nation when borders by their very nature keep some out and some in?  While few suggest that all borders cease to exist – boundaries have existed between peoples and nations from ancient times forward – how can Christ’s values rule our rules and draw and defend our borders? 

Many individuals and churches are trying to discern what to do and think in response to what appears to be dramatic shifts in policy towards undocumented immigrants in this country and refugees seeking asylum from countries around the world – specifically some countries (but not all) where acts of terrorism have been know to have been planned and carried out.  What is our Christian responsibility? 

We know that to simply say nothing or doing nothing is not an option.  Though Holocaust comparisons are by nature perilous, what the world learned in the World War II is that if good people remain silent that there will be few voices left to save even those same good people from harm. We all have something at stake in this conversation and reality. 

Some congregation are considering whether they should provide sanctuary for immigrants in fear of deportation. Some communities are increasing their support for refugee families still entering the U.S. 

I believe local and demographics matter.  My former congregation in Maryland, made up of over 30 nationalities and where I started a Spanish-speaking congregation of mainly Central Americans, is situated in a part of the country where immigrants and refugees would readily know of their presence and be assured of their support.  Urban churches, border churches, churches near high density immigrant populations can be magnets for the kind of outreach that offers the foreigner and refugees assistance and perhaps sanctuary -- an expression that honors human dignity. 

What might be the role of Christians in Exeter and the Seacoast?  First, have open and prayerful hearts.  Every person we read about in the news fearing deportation is a human being with a real human story. They have made choices in their lives that they never believed they would have had to make.  Many have traveled for far from home, families have been separated, traditions lost.  I hope we never lose the compassion of Christ as to think through these issues.  

What I decided to do as one person is this: I have begun to volunteer with a group called the New Hampshire Immigration Visitation program at the Strafford County Jail in nearby Dover.  NHIVP is a small group of dedicated volunteers who visit the facility to give “know your legal rights” advice, acting not as attorneys but serving as advocates and educators.  The jail in Dover receives persons arrested by the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Department (I.C.E) from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as some from Massachusetts.   Women and men can be detained for more than one year in the facility as they await court hearings for deportation or asylum requests.  I began volunteering to add to the volunteer pool that speaks Spanish, as many but not all of the detainees are from Latin America.

Through this work, I was asked to offer worship services in Spanish.  Last Sunday I celebrated Eucharist for about 15 inmates from various Latin American countries and one man from Africa who just wanted to receive the sacrament.  In this time of Lent, I commented how strange I felt coming from the outside to behind the wall to preach about wilderness.  I hope to find a regular routine to visit the jail to offer whatever hope and encouragement I can through the sharing of the sacrament of the Eucharist. 

We plan to community forum on Sunday April 30 to learn more about this pressing issue.  Stay tuned. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Meditation at Phillips Exeter Academy

Meditation
January 25, 2017
Phillips Exeter Academy Chapel
The Rev. Mark Pendleton

There is the response in physiology referred to as ‘fight or flight.’  It describes how animals react to attack or threat.  Hormones such as adrenalin are released, blood rushes through the body, and the heart rate quickens.   The animal decides that it is time for battle or time to run to safety—stress is regulated. 

Key moments in my life have involved making the choice of flight over fight —taking leave, running away, heading for the exit. My fleeing was eventually exposed and cornered by a faith-calling and years later, the beginning of a generous family life.

People have been known to adopt different emotional roles within family systems that can impact relationships well into adulthood.  The ‘hero child’ is known to be hyper-responsible and peacemaker; this is often the oldest sibling.  The ‘scapegoat’ is the so-called “problem child,” carrying the sins of the family and drawing attention to themselves. The ‘lost child’ can become almost invisible and escape into his own needs. The ‘mascot’ is often the youngest: Powerless to impact the whole, she becomes the clown, court jester and comic, using laughter as diversion or tonic.

The middle child in my family—born and raised in Ohio—I was the ‘hero child’, like many in my line of work, with a little mascot thrown in when things got super uncomfortable and serious. When it became clear to my parents that their marriage was over—it had been pretty obvious to the hero child, the scapegoat and the lost child living in their home that the better years of the marriage had ended years before—I found myself with a painful decision to make.  I was turning sixteen and loyal to the needs of my mother, but also unknowing of the depths of her cycling depression, which was finally diagnosed and treated—sadly— only two years before she died decades later. I should have stayed, but had to leave. 

I took flight and fled the divorce and the dividing conflict in its wake, escaped the self-imposed demands of being the hero child when all I wanted to do was to find my way.  Rather than hitchhike at the edge of town, or become a runaway drawn to the lights of the Big City, I exited by a much easier route.  A year as a high school foreign exchange student in New Zealand was an honorable temporary discharge from the stress and mess swirling around home.

New Zealand: I guess I really wanted to get far away.  I wasn’t even sure where New Zealand was on a map when I applied to the exchange program.  It’s far away—bottom of the world, another hemisphere, different stars in the night sky far way. Phone calls home over the course of the year were rare and expensive.   In 1980 the cheapest way to communicate back home was through writing and sending those whisper thin light blue all-in-one letter/envelopes called aerograms.  

What an adventure I had in my escape destination! Dropped into the very British South Island city of Christ Church, I wore a school uniform for the first time -- shorts, tie, and blazer.   New Wave and Punk Rock music were the rage, allowing me to see the Police and the B52’s in concert when they were still new bands. I learned to play rugby, the national sport and religion of the Kiwis.  Though not that good at the game, I was apparently good enough to join our high school team as we toured the east coast of Australia playing local teams, including an all-aboriginal side on a dusty dry pitch in the Outback.

The year away opened my eyes to a wide and diverse world.  And it was hard.  There were long stretches of self-doubt, loneliness, mishaps, and a tinge of lingering guilt for leaving home. Friendships were easily made at first, yet hard to deepen as the year wore on. I came to know what it feels like to be the foreigner, the outsider, in a school where most friendships were established long before I arrived.  Everyone knew that I would return home at the end of the year and I suspected that some of my classmates withheld a bit of themselves knowing that this visitor would return home. 

When I did return home, I was different yet not changed, now seventeen and soon off to college—Miami University of Ohio.  The new expanded world I had experienced had offered up to me a clear career goal: the Foreign Service. Political science, history, French and Russian were logical courses to take. 

Soon enough, like clockwork, I began to feel boxed in and out of sorts with those around me.  How could I ever make a mark in a sea of sameness? Everywhere I looked there were white, preppy, Greek-fraternity-life centered, upper middle class offspring of the 4 C’s -- Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland and Columbus.  Fight or flight?  I took leave, headed for the exits. Again. 

My gap year came mid-way through college.  Selling my used Buick gave me enough cash to pay for another year overseas with a different organization that I had learned about in the back of a New Republic magazine.  My destination was Colombia, South America for a year of language, cultural immersion and volunteer work.   

The first night in Bogota, the sprawling capital high up on a mountain plateau, I was dropped off to my host family.  I could do this, I thought —professional exchange student that I was becoming. The Guzman Lamprea family was middle class by Colombia standards, but to my frame of reference they were poor.  A small bedroom I would share with three brothers with a skylight at the edge of room.   Not a real skylight, rather a gaping hole in the ceiling that allowed the cold mountain rain to filter in and dampen the air as we slept.  We ate soup for the main meal each and every day, flavored with meat and held together by potatoes.

Not long into my stay, I caught a severe case of amoebic dysentery that led to the shedding of twenty-five pounds far too quickly—the hard way. As sick as I felt, I was absorbing everything around me. As I rode the crowded buses of the city, with the loud and pounding Cumbia music pulsing everywhere, my daily backdrop was the hillsides that surrounded the city, crowded with makeshift shacks.  Street kids, called gamines, stood on most every corner—abandoned, dirty, addicted and high from sniffing glue and paint. Colombia in the early 1980’s was not a safe place to live or visit; the ad in the back of the New Republic failed to disclose that reality. Every week I would be pulled off of buses by the military and police, and like other adult males, asked to stand, legs spread apart and arms-raised, to lean up against nearby walls to be searched.  Stop and frisk Colombia style. It was normal.

God was just starting to show up in my story.   The first entrance began each time my host family would take me to their neighborhood Roman Catholic church.  I had attended some Catholic churches as a child—snuck away by my lapsed Catholic mother who had married my Baptist “not a fan of the Catholics” father.  The churches I visited in Bogota were large and barn-like, dark and light, full of weary and hopeful voices, singing the prayers of a people caught up in a hard life in a gritty section of the city. 

Midway through the year I took off for a month to backpack down the Pacific coast of South America with some friends from Europe who were in Colombia with the same program.  We were keen and motivated to survive on the $20 a day that would cover our food, drink and lodging.  Our traveling band discovered an almost deserted stretch of beach on the northern coast of Ecuador to settle in and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.   

A friend from Austria then shared with me a book she had just finished reading, a non-fiction book entitled Cry of the People written by Penny Lernoux, a journalist and former nun. 

This was no easy or steamy beach read.  It was an honest and in depth account of the centuries of poverty, oppression and social inequality in Latin America—a history in which the church, the Roman Catholic Church, played a founding and preserving role.  The journalist author pulled no punches: she took on Popes, Presidents, the C.I.A. and anyone who violated human rights or looked the other way.  She told stories of courageous people—nuns, priests, mayors, lay leaders, teachers, bishops—who heard the call of justice and the cry of the people and chose to live alongside the poor and oppressed to give them comfort and voice. 

Those who spoke out against the authorities became targets: They were hunted down, harassed and tortured and sometimes killed by the authorities that feared losing control.  A Honduran priest named Hector Gallego was thrown into the ocean from a helicopter by the Panamanian police.   Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed by the military as he was saying Mass in El Salvador.  Nuns were shot in the head and their bodies thrown into ditches.  A deadly game was on in a world I knew nothing about.

The early Christian father Tertullian once wrote, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  The blood was flowing in the 1980’s in Latin America, as a new movement, called liberation theology, was being preached and practiced in crowded  barrios and favelas. 

That was all it took—a random, dog-eared paperback book loaned to me by a fellow backpacker on a beach. I experienced then and there, a moment of clarity, peace, and what Christians calls grace.  It was my unexpected ‘St. Paul on the road to Damascus’ disruption and conversion experience. God broke through to me in the person of a Jesus I had never known.  My heart raced, but this time, instead of running away from a potential threat or stressful event, I turned. I opened up to light, love and a welcome I had never known. 

Right then I connected this Jesus, who had just crashed our really good extended beach party, with the ordinary people I had been reading about.  He was the one who gave them courage, purpose, passion, and strength to stand up and speak out, face down evil, to claw their way through life with a hope of dignity.  In his name they became heroes, saints and martyrs. I saw the face of God and everything changed.   

You may know the Yiddish proverb “man plans and God laughs.”  My plans for my life were changed on that day and in an instant.  I said, “yes” to God on beach in Ecuador at age 20.  My newly found faith, however, came with a conditional clause.  What I was hearing was that I should also change my career aspirations and study to be a priest—like the ones who were being killed in that paperback I had just devoured in one sitting.  “Really?   Are you sure?   Can we talk this through?” 

The next stop was to return to the U.S. and transfer to Florida State University to finish my undergraduate studies. I quickly landed on the doorstop of a local Catholic church in Tallahassee, eager to announce my arrival and exciting news.  The priest advised me that if I were to take this new calling seriously, I should begin to imagine and practice a celibate lifestyle.  Celibacy.  I had not thought through that part of God’s plan.  Pulse quickening, I took flight again, but only across town, to find the campus Episcopal ministry—close enough to the Catholics and the final stop for
who felt called to be priest, but also husband and father.

Hoops would have to be jumped through, of course, later on.   Sitting across from a middle-aged rector of a large parish in Jacksonville, I was asked:  “Do you have a savior complex?” “What do you mean?” I responded, moving uncomfortably in my chair.  “Do you feel compelled to save or rescue other people?”  ‘Of course I do. I’m the hero child, you fool’, I thought to myself.

“Why are you here? “Tell us about your childhood, your family. I see from your application that your parents are divorced. Are you trying to save or redeem your family, your past, yourself?”  On and on he droned.

Discernment, a highly valued faith word, involves testing, questioning, listening, learning, and waiting.  The task is one of unmasking, shedding, peering within ourselves to take stock and own the baggage and the blessing we carry, to ask who we are in spite of and because of our childhoods and youth, mistakes and choices made along the way.

There would be other leave takings in my life, but these were more optional than reactive. Given the chance to spend a year in seminary in Cuba in 1986 I jumped at the chance.  Living in Havana thirty years ago, when the island remained in the firm grip of Fidel and the Soviet Union and had not yet welcomed Popes, Presidents, cruise ships and spring breakers, Cuba was a bizarrely magical place. It was a Police State caught in a nostalgic time warp filled with American cars from 1950’s, and also the desperation of the hopeless many who risked their lives in flimsy rafts to float to freedom.  Beautiful, repressed, paranoid, and always hopeful Cuba.

The gospel of Luke tells a foundational story of a prodigal son leaving his dutiful brother home so that he could run off and live a life of excess then led to his ruin.  When he had lost everything, this son turns back home to reclaim the love of the Father he had left behind. Greeted by an overjoyed and loving father who ran towards his lost son, all was set right again in the universe.  The lost had been found and the party began. 

It is a long way from the liberation theology of Latin America in the 1980’s to Exeter, New Hampshire.  Today I am no revolutionary. I am a member of the Rotary Club.  When knee-deep in the more mundane duties of running a parish, there are moments when the wellspring of inspiration runs dry and I almost forget how and why it all happened.  And then I remember. 

Eventually the running stopped.

The Greek word for conversion is metanoia, which means to turn or to have a change of heart.  I turned, and never turned back.  No fight. No flight. 

If there are books that inform, touch and move us, these are the books not to keep, but to give away to someone you know or just met.  We never know, do we?  A book can change a life. 

Let me end with the words of the hymn by Frederick William Faber that I have I asked Bruce to play. 

There's a wideness in God's mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in his blood.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
We should take him at his word;
And our life would be thanksgiving
For the goodness of the Lord.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Praying for Our President

When it comes to elections, many believed, that Donald J. Trump would never be elected President of the United States.  I count myself among them.  I cited polls, demographics, and controversies and then discounted the possibility.  Let me clear: this is not; I believe a partisan or judgment statement.  Many from both sides of the aisle did not expect the final results.  I was as surprised as many others living conformably in my bubble on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. 

But here we are.  The week of the inauguration of a new President, the most powerful person in the world today.  I have not spoken out on the election directly, because I want to honor the tradition and law that churches and preachers should not get into the direct support of political candidates.  I want to honor other peoples’ political views, especially from the pulpit meant to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And I want to honor the particularly American form of democracy and our church’s support of it.  We, in our Book of Common Prayer, pray for the President of the United States and other national and state leaders.  Pray that our leaders make right decision, uphold our laws and be defenders of justice.  

At the same time, I want to acknowledge the real anxiety, fear, and concern that many people feel – especially those who have opened up to me.  We are in unchartered waters.   

We need prayer, which is at its core, our openness to the presence of God in our lives.  We need God to help us now and always.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has written this week: “We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally. I pray for the president in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord.  If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way of prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.” 

The Apostle Paul, in his opening words to the church in Corinth, wrote: “God will strengthen you to the end.”  (1 Corinthians 1) We need strength in our daily lives.  Strength to get up on the morning, embrace a new day, confront challenges in our work and in our studies, cope with illness, and strength to care for those we love.  Strength to be people of light and hope in a broken world. 

And, perhaps most importantly, Paul adds: God is faithful. 

We think of faith as something we possess.  Being faithful is the object of religion after all.  We have faith, belief, in God.  It is our part of the covenant and the creed.  We believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty. 

Paul turns this around and reminds us that God is faithful.  God believed in us long before we believed in God.  Yes, beginning when we were in our mother’s womb.

God is faithful, which allows us get cultivate, feel, test and increase our faith. 

So get ready: we will and should pray for Donald our President, just as we prayed for Barack, and George, Bill, Ronald and Jimmy.  Not the President, but our President, as the Book of Common Prayer suggests.  At least that is the commitment we make to one another living in community.

Will that be hard for some?  I’m sure it will, just as it was for those with different political views to pray for whoever was President at the time.  And remember: God is faithful.

And in the days ahead some may conclude that prayer is good and solid starting point, but not enough and the only thing we can do.  Christians are called to live out their prayers in faith and action.  To feed the hungry, visit the sick, cloth the naked, visit the sick and those who have lost their freedom, and much more.

There are moments when following Christ means we are called to act, speak out and organize.  The point of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday is to commemorate a man who did not believe that his faith stopped at the walls of the church he led.  He is after all the only ordained preacher to be honored with a holiday.  King was enraged by racial discrimination and segregation in this country.  He cared about the lives of every day workers, which brought him to Memphis on the fateful day in 1968.   And lest we forget, he spoke out against the Viet Nam War to the chagrin of some supporters who had hoped that he would stay in his lane. 



Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Sermon I Want to Hear

Christmas 2016
Exeter, New Hampshire

We gather on this holy night for our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus. It was the angel that proclaimed to shepherds in the fields: (Luke 2:10-11)  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  The world needs good news.  We need good news. And Christmas comes each year and offers us a way to believe again in hope, peace and joy. 

 In the Bible, names carry meaning, and Jesus’ name means simply, “God saves.” Jesus is the Savior of the world.  As Moses before him saved those who lived in captivity in Egypt and led them to a Promised Land, God’s sight and purpose was much broader and lasting with birth of the Christ child: all the world would be saved -- not just the chosen, the good, the knowing, the holy, but all, now and forever. 

God saves -- a good thing, right?  Someone who has fallen overboard is thrown a life preserver to save them.  A hiker losses their way in the forest and search parties are quickly organized to search and save her.  We admire the heroism of a first responder who runs into a burning building to save those trapped inside. 

You may have heard that this past week Dr. Henry Heimlich died at the age of 96.  Dr. Heimlich is credited with saving thousands of people from choking to death, thanks to the method he invented in 1974.  The good doctor actually used the maneuver at his retirement home this past year when a woman began choking. 

People helping and trying to save others from harm or distress makes sense.   How about God saving us?

Why then does the phrase “God saves” carry with it so much weight and baggage?  For me it goes to my years I spent in the South in my college years -- at the very edge of the Bible Belt --that taught me to be on guard and ready to defend myself if anyone asked me if were “saved.” Because I knew what they were really asking.  “Are you saved? Born Again? Do you believe the Bible to be literal and true? Do you know Jesus the way we know Jesus?”  Is he your personal Lord and Savior?   It always felt more like a test than a genuine question. 

On the subject of saving, let me try to save you from something else this evening. My source is the blog post by Lutheran pastor Erik Parker entitled “11 Christmas Eve sermons that often get preached, but we don’t want to hear.”

Parker contends that before the congregation “can hold the candles and sing Silent Night, the pastor is going to ramble on for a while. What is the preacher going to say this year?” people wonder. 

So as I ramble on these are the sermons Parker suggests I avoid. There is the “come to church sermon and the come back to church sermon.” This is the risky strategy of targeting the less frequent churchgoer into checking in more often.  Trust me: not a good idea.  There’s the “Jesus is the reason, so Santa is not” sermon – the sermon that, makes a person feel bad for even mentioning poor Santa’s name around children.   It’s O.K. Santa is fine by me.  And then there’s the “magic of Christmas” sermon. This one suggests that this night is all about feelings and nostalgia, painting a cozy picture of a Norman Rockwell Christmas with perhaps a story thrown in from the preacher’s childhood. There’s the lecture sermon with a lot a religious words, and then there is the anti-consumerism sermon that leaves everyone feeling ashamed for buying any gifts at all.

Such pressure. Christmas Eve sermons should be simple yet meaningful, relevant and timeless, inspire but not be too heavy or depressing. 

What is the message tonight then? God saves.

It starts by looking where we least expect things to happen in our lives.  God continues to show up unannounced and in surprising ways to stop us in our tracks and make us reconsider the gift that is our lives. 

In Isaiah’s time God made this promise: the yoke of the people’s burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors, would be broken. 

But how? For those long ago who thought God would send down armies more powerful than those that occupied Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, they would be disappointed.  For those who hoped for a revolution from within to topple the powerful, they too would be disappointed. 

In the Christmas story, shepherds are given front row seats to the event that changed everything.  And yet they were people who had no power or influence in Jesus’ day. They were at the bottom of the ladder of success, yet they were given a prized view.

The Apostle Paul wrote: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28  

God chose a different way to save us and show the world out of darkness.   Out of exile back home.  Out of the shadows into the light. Out of loneliness into community.  Out of sin into healing.  Out of death into life.  

The way out and the way forward comes through a child.  Isaiah 9:6 And a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

To be saved, we are invited to make room and space in our lives for the power of weakness, service, humility, tenderness, innocence, vulnerability, compassion, openness, forgiveness and trust.   

Our world has many challenges, as it did on the night Jesus was born. Our work – and it is work -- is not to overcome by them, or depressed at turns of events, or hopeless at the news of endless wars or tragedies.   Certainly we cannot afford to check out and ignore what is going on beyond our families, homes and comfortable communities.  

Once we believe in our hearts that we are worthy of God’s saving, we are asked to lend a hand.  To heal and mend the world.

 The Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila reminds us:

 “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

So let us join the Light that overcomes all darkness.  And may God save us all. 
 
The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton
 

 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In Partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean


Group photo of the Conference participants in Panama City, Panama 
Two days after the Presidential election, I left the country. It would only be for a week, but I knew there was no escaping the impact and reaction of many around the world. 

I was invited to travel to Panama City, Panama to attend the Latin American and Caribbean Partners’ Gathering by the staff of Trinity Church Wall Street. 

Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City is a famed historic and resourced congregation that has a large footprint far beyond lower Manhattan.  With its vast financial wealth that dates back to pre-U.S.A. and the land grant given to them by Queen Anne of Great Britain when Trinity was still a Church of England congregation, Trinity has been a leader in making grants that empower ministries around the world.  Having worked deeply throughout Africa in the last two decades, Trinity is exploring new partners in Latin America and Asia.
Trinity rector Bill Lupfer (second from the left) presented Trinity's goals and values 
Convening is something Trinity does very well and often.  Those that Trinity gathered in Panama from November 10-15, 2016 were bishops, clergy and laity from South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the West Indies and Spain and Portugal.   This was the second gathering for this emerging group, which had first met in Brazil last year. Archbishop Tutu once said that the core identity of Anglicans is that they meet.  So, this group, in that tradition, met to discuss what it means to be Anglican in their cultural context and how it shapes the mission agenda. 

What fascinated me as a North American observer was to see how the mix of peoples and histories and cultures was and is still impacted by the colonial roots of each of the regions.  Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the United States were all colonial powers. As one presenter noted, Anglicanism is a ‘heritage carried in colonial vessels.’   Gathered in one room was a Jamaican, a Brazilian, a Mexican, and a Cuban all brought together because of the legacy of the Anglican and Episcopal mission in the America’s. 

Language.  We used three to communicate: Spanish, Portuguese and English.  Trinity provided professional translators and equipment to ensure that all plenary and small groups had simultaneous translators to that people could speak and listen in their native tongue. 
Breakout conversations with translators in booths behind the table. Bishop of Cuba second to the left 
There were common threads of concern and interest among the participants and we had time for presentations and small group conversation on various topics: migration, the environment, economic inequality, indigenous rights, theological education, leadership development, and long-term ministry sustainability.  A bishop from Jamaica spoke about socials ills of crime, drugs and the delinquency of many young men on the island and how the church is challenged to respond.  There was time for sharing from each participant diocese about their history and current ministries -- a way to share the Good News and best practises of mission. 
Presentation on Indigenous peoples and the church's mission 
One of my lasting impressions was on the issue of migration. In the U.S. the immigration issue was a hot point of the political campaign: to build a wall or not to build a wall on our southern border with Mexico and whether or not to deport millions of people. The rector of Trinity Church Bill Lupfer reminded us that the original settlers to the island of Manhattan were afraid of the local Native Americans in the 1600’s, so they built a wall. That wall ran along a street, which became known as Wall Street -- the iconic name of all things financial in New York and beyond.  A wall does not end fear; it only divides. 

Presenters shared the impact of the presence of migrants and refugees on their local dioceses and what they were doing to respond.  Immigration is not  ‘just’ a U.S. issue (note the obvious tone of this statement).   Almost every diocese that participated spoke about the plight of migrants in their countries: Latin Americans in Spain, Cubans in Costa Rica passing through to Mexico and the U.S., Haitians and Senegalese in Brazil, Venezuelans in Colombia, Dominicans in Puerto Rico, Haitians in the D.R., Guyanese in Barbados, and Nicaraguans in Costa Rica.  Nearly all of the churches were using ministry resources to respond to the universal Christian call to care for the stranger and foreigner, even in contexts were resources are limited. I was struck again how the movement of peoples across borders is a growing global phenomenon and will require many to dig deep into a Christ-based compassion to learn and respond.  The impulse to build walls will certainly grow.   

A gift of a conference such as the one Trinity organized was that we did not gather to legislate or resolve conflict. With many of the official Anglican meetings centered on finding the least common denominator to hold this vast and complex Communion together in a post-colonial age, participants in Panama were invited to build friendships, deepen ties and imagine a network that goes beyond institutional provinces and jurisdictions. 
I was assigned note taker for one small group on migration 
As the conference concluded  after Sunday preaching engagements in some of Panama’s Episcopal churches and a tour of the world famous Canal, there was a shared commitment to stay in communication with one another.  To share what is energizing them in their ministries and contexts.  To draw inspiration from the Gospel to stand up for and walk with the marginalized of the world.  As Trinity Church hopes to go deeper in the areas they are defining that they do well, I imagine that future gatherings of this group will also want to go deeper as they continue to build trust and friendships. 
After preaching at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Panama City

I conclude with some of the questions that guided our daily Bible studies: 
What are we looking for as a Church?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today?

Here do we identify the presence and need of Jesus in our ministry?

What is our mission today?

Where do we find the Holy Spirit in our mission?

How are we imitating the mission of Jesus to bring good news to the poor?

How we empty ourselves to become like Christ?

What does leadership mean in our church today?

Where do we see the crucifixion of Christ today?  

Who are the crucified people?

Where do we need healing in our church and world?

How is Jesus calling us to new ministries and new places?

Where are we looking for Jesus and where will be find him?

How are we called to preach today?
My Bible study group in Spanish and Portuguese