The mission and ministry of Anglicans in the Americas is as varied as the geography of the region, but during the five-day Conference of the Anglican Churches in the Americas in Mutual Responsibility and Mission here, participants have found they have much in common.
"We spoke about our hopes and dreams, and shared a vision of our future together as Churches in the Americas and Caribbean," the conference participants said in a communiqué issued at the end of the gathering. "We acknowledge that there are tensions within our beloved Anglican Communion, yet we know that there is much more that we have in common. Our unity begins with our baptism which makes us ministers of God's grace in the world.
"We share a world, but know that God's mission has no borders. Our communities are challenged by the world's economic crisis, the degradation of creation, the alienation of our youth, and the growing disparity between rich and poor. In the midst of these challenges, God calls us to proclaim in both word and deed the Good News of the Kingdom to all whom we encounter."
'Our unity begins with our baptism,' participants say in communiqué
The communiqué is available in English here. It will soon be translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
The San José meeting was meant to foster networking for mission among the provinces.
"We need a united America, compassionate and committed to the values of the kingdom of God," said Anglican Church of the Central America Region Primate Martin Barahona during his sermon at the opening Eucharist on February 23.
Forty-three lay and clergy delegates from the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of the Central America Region (IARCA), the Anglican Church of Mexico and three dioceses, as well as the Episcopal Church, participated in the February 22-27 gathering. It was the first time the provinces had met together.
When the primates of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of the Americas and the Church in the Province of the West Indies chose not to send official delegations, the planning team asked for and received their permission to invite the individual dioceses in the two provinces. The Southern Cone dioceses of Peru and Uruguay decided to participate. No West Indies dioceses accepted that second invitation, according to the Rev. Gregory Straub, the Episcopal Church's executive secretary and a member of the conference design team.
Visa difficulties prevented delegates of the extra-provincial Episcopal Church of Cuba from traveling to Costa Rica.
Strengthening future mission
"Now that the American people make a special effort to build alliances in the economic, social, political, ecological and geographic strategy, we Episcopalians [and] Anglicans of this continent and the Caribbean have come … to reaffirm that we are one continent and we are here to strengthen our faith and hope," Barahona said during his sermon, adding that "strengthening the church in America is to strengthen the unity of the Anglican Communion."
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told ENS February 26 that "the people who have participated in this conference have built friendships and learned a great deal from each other, and we certainly expect that as a result of this conference relationships will be strengthened."
"Opportunities and mission needs are different in this part of the world and we hope and expect that they will be very present around the communion as a result of this conference," she added.
"We share a history in this part of the world that is not well-known" to those outside of the Americas, she said, noting that the voice of American Anglicans "is often missed or ignored in communion conversations."
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, a member of the conference design team, said the conference participants "spent time together informally, to share meals, to develop relationships and to make commitments to support each other in our mission work going forward."
During the formal conference sessions, each participating province and diocese described the successes and challenges in their mission and ministry, how they work within the Five Marks of Mission framework and what other attributes of mission they might like to see added to those five marks. (Uruguay Bishop Miguel Tomayo, who is also the interim bishop in Cuba, described the church's mission and ministry to the participants.)
The Five Marks of Mission, agreed to during meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984 and 1990, are: to proclaim the good news of the kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform unjust structures of society; and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The conference also included two sessions during which participants could join a discussion about mission and ecumenism, political and economic implications of mission, opportunities for mission after the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops, ecology, aboriginal/indigenous people, or urban ministry.
The conference concluded February 27 with a Eucharist at which Brazil Primate Mauricio de Andrade presided and Mexico Primate Carlos Touché-Porter preached.
Costa Rican church's ministry
On Ash Wednesday (February 25) most of the participants spent the day observing parts of the host Diocese of Costa Rica's ministry. The day began with an Ash Wednesday service in the chapel of at Hogar Escuela Episcopal, a day-care center in the Barrio Cuba section of San Jose. Jefferts Schori preached and presided at the service, and conference participants were greeted by some of the 110 children who are helped by the center.
Barrio Cuba, one of the poorest sections of San Jose, is a mix of industrial, residential and retail. The day-care center, which began in 1968 in a house, is open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day for children from ages 6 months to 12 years. The center receives government money to help pay for about a third of the cost for 80 of the children, Costa Rica Bishop Hector Monterroso told ENS.
The children come mostly from single-mother families, about one-third are homeless, and many receive most of their daily food from the center, according to Paul Tunnell, a member of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of North Carolina, who is working with the church in Costa Rica. (North Carolina has had a companion diocese relationship with Costa Rica since 2000. More information is available here.
After eating lunch at the diocese's oldest church, Good Shepherd in downtown San Jose, the group traveled to Guarari in the Heredia section of the city to help lay the first foundation stone for a similar day-care center. Tunnell described Guarari as the poorest neighborhood in Costa Rica. Many of residents are squatters and even those with better living accommodations are being squeezed out by the encroachment of a nearby shopping development.
The group gathered on a bare, sloping site dominated by a cross made of tree branches. The Rev. Jorge Urrutia, from nearby Church of the Risen Christ, led the dedication service. The congregation is working with the Costa Rican diocese and the North Carolina parishes of St. Alban's in Davidson and Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte to create Hogar Escuela Anglicano. The center will work exclusively with single mothers and their children who are often left home alone. The mothers also will receive training at the center, Tunnell said.
As Monterroso, Jefferts Schori, Bonnie Anderson and other bishops and primates shoveled dirt to seat the stone in the ground, a rainbow grew over the hills beyond Heredia. The beginning of the center, Monterroso said, shows "that when we work together, God provides."
ENS coverage of the conference's opening sessions is available here.
Article from ENS by The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg national correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.
A Spanish translation of the Commmunique can be found here (PDF)