This past week, Eli Woodbeck and I were in El Salvador with a group of people from around the country. Many thanks to Deacon Patti LaRosa, who filled in for me, and to Rachael Morlock who assisted her.
The most exciting thing for me on this trip was the encounter with others who are building alternative communities both here in the States, and in El Salvador. There are many common threads: empowerment of women, working with the poor, ecumenism, inclusivity, equality. Over and over we heard about living like the early Christians, about going back to our roots as church. The vision that binds us is so much stronger than our denominational differences. I believe God is doing something new in the world. A new church is being born: one where we focus on building the world God dreams of without worrying so much about our different theologies. Together we are loving God and working for justice and peace and life for all.
The Kindom of God is among us! It is already here. It is in every place where the poor are loved and empowered, where all are encouraged to be the people they were meant to be without telling anyone they’re the wrong race or gender or age or sexual orientation. We’re living it! Imperfectly, with our shadow sides always there – but it’s here, it’s now, don’t miss it!!!!
There were seven North Americans in our group: us two radical Catholics, two American Baptists, two from Evangelical communities, and our interpreter, plus several members of the Shekina community in Santa Ana. It would have been exciting to be with this group of people even if we weren’t on such an interesting journey together. The main focus of our trip was on community, and we visited several. I’d like to share some of what we gleaned from those encounters.
Our hosts were members of Shekina Baptist Church. Shekina broke away from the larger Baptist community in Santa Ana in the 1990’s, because they wanted to empower women in leadership and to be able to focus more on justice, as well as including the youth more. Sound familiar? They met in living rooms for years before hiring a female pastor, Ruth de Orantes, and building a church. They have dreams of a community center that would serve the neighborhood, and on Sunday we sat in the backyard, in the space that will one day be that center, and heard from them about what it was like starting the church. Listening to my friend Yani as she described the pain of leaving their original community, I was both sad and comforted. Hearing their experience normalized my own sadness at leaving Spiritus Christi. You can’t create a new reality and stay in your old one at the same time. Shekina is today a joyful and vibrant community, where women are strong and youth are integral to the governance of the church.
On Monday morning we went to the University of Central America, where the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were all killed on November 16, 1989. We met with theologian Soyapa Perez, and wow! – we had a great discussion. We talked about how the church should be if it wants to be founded in Jesus. Is our focus on the Kindom of God, or on the institution of the church? She spoke of Ignatio Ellacuria’s dream of “a poor church, focused on service, that includes everyone.” Soyapa said, “You need to believe in the people. You need to believe in the poor.”
In the afternoon we visited the parish of Maria Madre de los Pobres in San Salvador, where people are living the theology we had discussed at the UCA. Imagine Spiritus Christi with all its outreaches but without the budget. They have responded to the needs around them with child care, elder care, a primary school, a library, community banks for women, all on a shoestring. We heard about ecumenism, working with other churches in the area, and saw their efforts at empowering women by using inclusive language.
Tuesday we traveled to the west of the country to visit “La Pequeña Comunidad,” a non-canonical community of nuns who walk with the poor, there. Here, too, we met people whose desire to live the Gospel could not be met within existing institutions, and had branched out on their own. They had shared the risks taken by the people around them, the terrible suffering during the war, and are now experiencing life and hope as they send the young people to college, and collectively farm the land and share what is needed for the good of all.
I could talk for a week about all that we experienced and learned! On our last day, Friday, we held worship on the steps at Cuscatlán Park, where there is a memorial to the 75,000 martyrs of the civil war. We are used to the combined Catholic/Baptist Masses that Spiritus celebrates at Immanuel Baptist on Tuesdays: I think this might have been the first Catholic/Evangelical joint celebration! Barrett Smith of Carpenter’s Church in Lubbock, Texas, preached, and I presided as we shared communion with a tortilla and some tamarind juice. We felt the presence of God and broke down barriers between north and south, rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative, male and female. We are called to love and serve our God and each other, together. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. The Kindom of God is among us.
There will be another such group going in November… are you interested? It would be great to send a group from here. Keep our vision growing!
On Holy Thursday, April 21, we will meet at 7 pm upstairs in the bakery (the former Savory Thyme building) on Mt Hope Ave, for a foot-washing free-for-all and Holy Thursday Mass. You are most welcome to join us.
This Sunday we will talk about our plans for Easter: whether to have an Easter vigil service, a sunrise service, or meet at 11 as usual. Think about it, and come on Sunday with your opinion!
Please join us this Friday night, April 15, for the last of our Lenten Fish Fries for Joe. This week we will have music by Bill Welch, and afterwards Eli and I will talk about our trip to El Salvador. The fish fry is from 6 to 7:30 pm. $8 per dinner, no one turned away. Talk starts at 7:30 – hope you can join us for either or both!
It is not too late to join the people walking to Syracuse during Holy Week to protest the drones that are deployed from Hancock Air Force Base. Call Peg if you are interested: 313-6674.
Fr Roy Bourgeois faces expulsion from the Maryknoll order after 38 years of priesthood because of his support of women’s ordination. I and so many other women priests are grateful for his solidarity and willingness to suffer this indignity in order to stand with us. Thank God they’re not burning people at the stake any more. Thank you, Fr. Roy.
You might have noticed that this bulletin is now being sent by Rachael Morlock, who offered to take over the mailing each week. Many thanks to Rachael, and know that if you send a reply note to her, she will forward it on to me.
Blessings and love to all, Chava
“I hope they'll do what is just as a Christian community. But I see this with such clarity that rather than recant, I'd rather eat at a soup kitchen and live under a bridge, and do that with deep inner peace and a clear conscience.”
- Fr. Roy Bourgeois
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Church in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14603