Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Lord's Day (X Pentecost)

Brenda and I sat in the pews this morning at St Paul's Cathedral in Springfield, came up to be prayed over because our wedding anniversary is this month, and sat around gabbing with parishioners during the coffee hour. My vacation officially began yesterday, but I've been busy tying up loose ends so I can actually be on vacation. So I'll be going dark in this venue until the 29th. Be well, hold me in your prayers, and I'll see you on the other end of the tunnel--tanned, fit, and relaxed, deo volente.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday (St Joseph of Arimathea)

We are back home now--unpacked, cleaned up, and reacquainted with the cat, who isn't sure whether she missed us or not. Yesterday (Friday) we checked out of our lodging in Arequipa around 8:30 and were taken right away to the local office of LAN, the Chilean-Peruvian airline on which we were book for a flight to Lima later that day. I had gotten a message from a third party about a departure delay, and we were already concerned about a tight connection. The office assured us that all was running on time. 

So we proceeded with a day of exploring the Anglican presence in the city of Arequipa. First up was the smallest and newest mission, Holy Nativity. The church is a modest structure, even by Peruvian standards, but it is strategically located in a well-populated sub-municipality. While we were in the area, Bishop Alejandro decided it would be a good idea to drop in on the local mayor, whom he had not met and wants to cultivate a relationship with. Peru lacks the embedded suspicion of church-state relations that is our heritage in the U.S., and clergy are still held in high regard there, so the bishop's instincts were on target for his environment. 

From there we made our way, through thick urban traffic (and a driving culture that curls the hair of most Americans), to the mission of St James the Apostle. This is the church that Bishop Alejandro had direct responsibility for when we was elected bishop, and he's still trying to figure out just how to take care of it going forward. The church sits on an ample lot, with lots of room for expansion and program development. What impresses me about both Holy Nativity and St James is that that they are both located in desperately poor neighborhoods. In North America, anyone contemplating a church plant would look for a location with a concentration of middle and upper-middle class families, for obvious practical reasons. But there's something utterly Jesus-like about camping out in the midst of the poor, and trying to build community with "those kids of people." I honor that.

By then, it was time for lunch, so we drove to a lovely indoor-outdoor traditional Peruvian restaurant call La Nueva Palomino. I had earlier expressed an interest in a Peruvian version of chile relleno when it was described to me (more meat than the typical Mexican version), and the dish is featured there. It was yummy.

We continued our tour with a visit to St Luke's Church. This one is indeed in a more established middle-classish neighborhood. This parish operates a school, but the children were away on winter break, so we didn't get to meet them. Nearby is a residential facility(Holy Family) for about 15 young people between the ages of nine and seventeen. It's not, strictly speaking, an orphanage, but the kids all come from very broken and dysfunctional domestic environments. We were overwhelmed by our reception--hugs for all and from all both coming and going. For me, this was surely one of the highlights of the trip. Seeing places and things is well and good--places and things are essential for the work of the gospel--but meeting actual human beings in the flesh was inspiring. The plan is to move the children's home onto the campus of St Luke's, and repurpose the Holy Family facility for a new school aimed at the children of affluent families that would have a more rigorous (elite?) academic orientation, thus combining mission with financially smart strategy, since such a school can potentially finance some of the other outreach projects.

After seeing St Luke's Church, the school, and the children's home, we headed to the "cardinal" parish in Arequipa, Christ the Redeemer, where we had left our bulky luggage earlier in the day in order to make room in the crowded van. After a brief look at the physical plant, we did some last-minute re-packing, and headed for the airport, nearly an hour's drive through thick, Friday rush hour traffic. Not only was our scheduled flight running on time, but the LAN agent booked us on another one departing ten minutes earlier. (Why schedule two flights ten minutes apart? Beats me.) We took our leave from our new Peruvian friends, and, from then on, everything went quite smoothly. Our flight to Lima departed promptly at 9:40pm. In Lima, we had to retrieve our luggage, go literally outside one airport door and inside another, where we checked in for our 1:10am departure for Atlanta on Delta. Then we had to clear Peruvian passport control, which went very quickly, and we had time to relax for a while in the gate area. The six-plus hour flight to Atlanta put us there around 8:30 in the morning. Once again, we had to retrieve our luggage, clear U.S. immigration and customs, give our luggage back to the baggage-handling system, go through security again, and make our way from one end of the airport to the other (E concourse to A concourse). It was the final leg that actually ran about 10 minutes late, with wheels down in St Louis ar 12:15. We pulled into our driveway at around 3:30, some 21 hours after we got in the familiar white van for the last time for the ride to Arequipa airport. The three of us were tired, and in need of a shower, but grateful for how smoothly everything went.

I'm still processing everything, but, at the moment, I have three takeaways from this trip: 1) They have certainly found "the man of God's own choosing" in Bishop Alejandro Mesco. I told him yesterday that we did not make him a bishop on July 25, we sacramentally revealed the bishop who was already there. He clearly already thinks like a bishop. He is a man of persistent prayer, humility, pastoral love, deep faith, and evangelical fervor. In his context, he has the makings of a John Henry Hobart or Jackson Kemper. 2) I shall continue to ponder and discern how to make the appropriate translation between the contexts of Peru and Illinois when it comes to incarnational ("moving into the neighborhood") evangelism. We can't do exactly what they do because our population centers are much less dense, and our people exponentially more mobile. But we need to figure out how to do the same thing in our own cultural and demographic context. 3) I'm still not at a place where I can say truthfully that "I speak Spanish," but I can see that place from where I am, and it's not that far away. I'm sure I made some laughable blunders, but I was able to communicate in a way much more sophisticated than rudimentary exchanges with table servers and hotel desk clerks. Vocabulary is my biggest shortcoming, but with improved vocabulary will come, I am confident, increased ability to "hear" the language. Que bueno.







Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday

Woke up to a crisp 27°F, though it was not that cold in our unheated hotel room in Juliaca. We were picked up by our usual driver, Fr Victor, at 8am. The first stop was the parish of St Mary Magdalene, where we had visited briefly last night. This time, Fr Luis, the rector, was with us. We read Morning Prayer together, then learned more about the details of the parish's ministries and their plans for expansion onto property they already own in order to accommodate the demand for a primary school. There are also two missions in Juliaca, both of which are also taken care of by the same clergy team of Fr Luis and Deacon Justo. Both of the buildings are owned by private parties who are happy to make them available to the diocese as long as they continue to hold services. Both are located in growing neighborhoods, where the Roman Church has no presence. There is great potential in both places. Together, the three churches involve over 300 people on a regular basis. 

It was around 11:30 when we got back into our familiar van and headed south for the six hour drive to Arequipa. Much of this was through a desert plain--known as the Altiplano--that sits around 12,000 feet in elevation. I'm not happy about the fact that I don't do well at such an altitude, and the last two nights have been largely sleepless because of the need to take a particularly deep breath about every minute or two, which requires being awake. Arequipa sits at about 7,500 feet, and my lungs are grateful for the respite. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday

My excuse for missing a day this time? Not socializing in an exotic bar, but technological failure. I wrote a post last night using Blogger's iPhone app, but it wouldn't upload, due to what I assumed was a too-weak cell signal (no wifi where I was). But when I connected to wifi twice today, the app was just frozen in "publishing" mode, and when it then crashed, my work was gone. So ... a bit of a marathon here.

Yesterday we travelled--with Bishop Alejandro, his English-speaking grown son, and Fr Victor as our most excellent driver--from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, more than six hours in a modestly comfortable but smallish Chevy van. This entailed views of wild vicuña herds, desert landscapes resembling parts of Utah and Nevada, herds of alpaca and sheep under professional oversight, crossing the crest of the Andes as 15,000 feet, stopping for some coca leaf tea (it alleviates the symptoms of altitude sickness), spying a settlement far, far below the mountain road we were traversing and being told it was our lunch destination (and then waiting nearly an hour for us to actually arrive there), ordering (and enjoying) grilled alpaca for lunch (no, it doesn't taste like chicken), driving along the world famous Colca Canyon, and generally taking in some of the most spectacular scenery on which I have ever set my eyes. 

Upon arrival at the mission in Cabanaconde (which Bishop Alejandro himself founded some 15 years ago), we had a serious discussion of his missionary vision for the region-cum-diocese of Arequipa. My observation is that he is really hitting the ground running, and was effectively already the bishop of this area some good while before he was consecrated last Saturday. Our quarters for the night were right there on the grounds, where volunteers over the years have build a small guest house that is not fancy, but gets the job done. The main challenge was dealing with the nighttime and morning chill, as temps dropped into the 30s, and nothing there (or in the whole rest of the country, so far as I can tell) is heated.

Before hitting the road this morning (at about 10), we celebrated the Eucharist together, with Bishop Alejandro presiding and preaching, using the Peruvian liturgy that has been expertly crafted by Bishop Bill Godfrey. Then we were taken to an overlook area where we could get a panoramic view of some of the most rugged and gorgeous territory I have ever seen, and could scarcely begin to imagine, let alone describe. It amazes me that human beings have actually lived here for hundreds of years. Then it was back in the van and a reverse of most of yesterday's route, stopping again for lunch in Chivay, and again enjoying alpaca, this time in sandwich form. It was just past sunset when we pulled into the city of Juliaca, which, like much of Peru, is a dynamic stew of "first world" and "third world" elements. We stopped by the parish of Sancta Maria Magdalena, met the local deacon, and again had a deep discussion about mission strategy. Then, after checking in at our hotel, we (the seven of us, now including Deacon Justo) drove a short while through traffic congested by an armada of three-wheeled taxis to a mall food court, where we were able to choose from an array for our dinner. Three days ago, I hadn't even heard of Juliaca, Peru. Tonight, I found myself eating mediocre fast Chinese food in an ambience that, at first glance, could be mistaken for any number of American settings in the recent era before malls were eclipsed by strip malls. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday

We checked out of the Villa Molina, our Lima digs, in time to meet our ride to the airport at 7:30. Peru is beginning to celebrate what is effectively a week of Independence Day festivities (the actual day is tomorrow), so auto traffic was lighter than usual. But, for the same reason, "people" traffic at the airport was heavy. All went smoothly, with only minor hiccups, and we touched down in Arequipa, about 450 miles southeast of Lima, at 12:30. The first thing we noticed, and immediately welcomed, was the brilliant sunshine. It virtually never rains in Lima, but, during the winter, it's perpetually drizzly and 60-something degrees. Arequipa is true desert--warmer than Lima by day and cooler by night. We were met by Bishop Alejandro and one of his priests, Fr Ricardo. They took us to the guest house where we are spending the night, where we dropped off our luggage and immediately went back out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After the meal, Fr Ricardo was our host for the afternoon. He took us to a shopping mall, where Brenda and I purchased supplementary apparel, given that nighttime lows where we are headed tomorrow will hover around the freezing mark. With that chore accomplished, we picked up his lovely wife Karen, and we were off on an excellent tour of Arequipa, focusing on church buildings from the Spanish colonial period, of which there is an abundance. After helping us acquire a supply of bottled water (dangerous for gringos to drink tap water here), we were dropped off back at our lodging. The three of us then found a nearby restaurant for a relaxing dinner.

I was dog-tired, and here's why: My Spanish is not that good, but none of our Arequipa hosts have as much English as I have Spanish. And not only do I have to speak Spanish and listen to Spanish, I have to serve as interpreter for Brenda and Fr Mark. I'm quite out of my depth, but I'm afraid that's the way it's going to be for the rest of our time in Peru. The bright side of this is that my Spanish is going to get a lot better. It already has, thanks to Fr Ricardo's willingness to speak slowly and use simple words. But it wears me out, nonetheless.

Tomorrow we head out again by van, driving further in-country through and to some very isolated territory, including a pass over the crest of the Andes at 15,000 feet. I don't know what the wifi situation will be where we bed down tomorrow night. There may not be any. If I go silent, assume that's the reason.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Lord's Day (IX Pentecost)

It was my joy to preach twice today at both of the English language services at the Cathedral of the Good Shephard in Lima. (Attendees were mostly American, Canadian, and British ex-pats, with a smattering of Peruvians who are, for whatever reason, attracted to worship in English; there is also a Spanish service at 11:30.) After the usual coffee hour in the parish hall, we were treated to a delicious curry lunch in the deanery, occupied by Fr Allen and Deacon Rachel Hill and their two boys; Allen takes care of the English-speaking cathedral parishioners. Arriving back at the hotel sometime after 2:00, we seized the opportunity for some rest, though I used it to proces a stack of emails. Dinner in the evening for Brenda and me was with Bishop Godfrey and Judith at an Argentinian steakhouse on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. We leave Lima tomorrow morning by air for Arequipa. More from there.

Sermon for Proper 12

Lima (Peru) Cathedral--John 6:1-21

It’s indeed a great joy to be with you this morning, and I bring you greetings in Christ Jesus from your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Springfield, which encompasses about two-thirds of the state of Illinois. We have been in a companion relationship with the Diocese of Peru for nearly three years now, and as the Diocese of Peru moves toward the creation of four new dioceses from the current one, and taking its place as the 39th autonomous province of the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches, we share your excitement, and look forward to a continuing partnership with the region of Arequipa—soon, God willing, to become the Diocese of Arequipa, under the leadership of Bishop Alejandro, whom we consecrated yesterday. In April of 2013 I had already made travel arrangements to come down here for a visit then, but I discovered that I needed to have a valve in my heart replaced, so Father Mark Evans, who is with me on this trap as well, along with his wife Sandy, represented me on that occasion. And I should also not fail to mention my wife and intrepid traveling companion of the last 43 years, Brenda, who is with us here this morning. Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned, it’s exciting to be in Peru when there are new horizons opening up for the growing community of Anglican Christians in this country, in this diocese on the way to becoming four dioceses. It’s exciting to be here when serious risks are being taken for the sake of the gospel, when there’s an openness to failure, but a firm commitment at the same time to fail, if necessary, as a result of doing something rather than failing as a result of doing nothing. The mission we have been given, the Lord whom we serve, demands no less of us as disciples. In the Diocese of Springfield, we face challenges that are at the same time astonishingly different from the challenges that you face, and also amazingly similar. Most of our diocese is quite flat, and sits around 600 feet above sea level. We have some decent hills in the extreme southern part of Illinois, but a Peruvian would find it laughable if we called them mountains! In all the churches of our diocese, English is the only language that is spoken, which means that we are presently doing nothing by way of mission or ministry among the growing population of Spanish speakers in various corners of the diocese. Our economy is based on agriculture, and education, and health care. In those respects, our environment is very different from yours (and by “yours,” I mean the whole territory of Peru, not just Lima).

But, among the things that we have in common is this: We are starved for resources. Opportunities abound, but we lack both the human resources and the financial resources to take advantage of the opportunities for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. This weighs on me, as I know it weighs on you. I know it weighs on you all because I know it weighs on your bishop! I admire Bishop Godfrey’s tenacity in picking up the phone and banging every drum and looking under every rock in order to find resources to support the work of this diocese. So, despite the mountains of differences between our contexts, we are both communities of Christians, parts of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church of the creeds, communities who are constantly wondering how we’re going to get the means to accomplish what we believe God has called us to accomplish.

In that, we can empathize with what Jesus and his close disciples might have felt when they got out of their boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and saw a different kind of sea—a sea of humanity, gathered there in eager expectation of hearing the words of Jesus’ teaching and feeling the touch of Jesus’ healing. It was a large crowd, in a deserted area—not an actual desert or wilderness, but, we might say, rural; there were no fast food franchises nearby. And the people were bound to get quite hungry quite soon. There was a great opportunity for mission and ministry right there in front of them. But they apparently lacked the resources to take advantage of the opportunity. One of the disciples, Andrew, said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Bishop Godfrey and I, and others, might look at the tithes and offerings that come in from our people to the parishes, and from the parishes to the level of the diocese, and compare it to the work that needs to be done, and be tempted to say very much the same thing: “That’s nice, but what good is it? It doesn’t even come close to meeting our need.”

And here, precisely here, is where it become relevant that Jesus is Lord, and I’m not! Here is where it becomes relevant that Jesus is Lord and Bill Godfrey is not! Because Jesus, in that moment, never wavered in his confidence that God will never leave his own work unresourced. God will always provide what is necessary for the disciples of his Son to fulfill the mission that has been assigned to them.

Of course, when all we see are five barley loves and two fish, it’s a challenge to maintain an attitude of optimistic faith. But the lesson here is that God does not always or necessarily resource his mission in the precise way we would expect or desire. A year ago at this time, I was busy trying to drum up enthusiasm and support in the diocese for creating a new staff position—a Canon for Mission Development, somebody who would get down in the trenches with our parishes and work out mission strategies for reaching the people in their neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus. I thought it was the right thing to do, and even had somebody in mind to potentially fill the position. And when our annual synod met in October, they officially endorsed the idea. But it required all the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese by an average of 12%. And when the pledges from the parishes actually arrived in January, it was painfully clear that our income was not only not going to go up by 12%, but was actually going to decrease a small amount. I had 5,000 people to feed—which, ironically, is roughly the number of people we have on the rolls of our churches in the diocese—I had 5,000 people to feed, and still saw only five loaves and two fish available to me.

But I still believe the Lord is going to provide for us, to enable us to engage the mission of the gospel in central and southern Illinois. It’s just not going to take the form of a new staff member! Instead, there are smaller initiatives and programs that are cropping up organically in various parts of the diocese—a parish in a desperately poor community that is showing great signs of new life, a vigorous youth ministry venture that has gotten off to a great start, gifted lay people moving into the diocese and taking up important work—I could name others. I am more optimistic now about our work in the Diocese of Springfield than I’ve been since the day I was elected bishop. It’s not always happening according to my plan and my timetable, but it’s happening. God never leaves his own work unresourced. I would wager that if Bishop Godfrey were given the opportunity to corroborate what I’m saying about the work of the Diocese of Peru, he would do so.

When the people on that isolated grassy hillside had eaten their fill of barley bread and tilapia, Jesus commanded his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” And they proceeded to gather up twelve baskets of leftovers. This is a sign that not only does God provide, but he provides in abundance. God is not stingy. Sometimes we only see the abundance retrospectively, but it’s there. So this is why I am so thrilled to be here, in Peru, right at a moment of transition when something quite new and quite exciting—quite historic, potentially—is happening: the birth, or at least the conception, of a new Anglican province. I shall hold you in my prayers, and hold you in my memory, as we give thanks to God for the vocation we have to be heralds of good news and harbingers of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Amen.