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 

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