Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Challenging the Empire

Yesterday evening I went on the march for peace. For more details see:

This morning´s workshop focused on Christians and Muslims working together to challenge the way imperalism divides and destroys communities. We heard from activists in various countries and contexts, often speaking directly about the impact of American imperialism but recognising that America co-ops other countries (including Britain).

We were urged to learn to think critically about world events and to learn to see the connections between economics and political rhetoric. We reflected on how security and ´clean living´ are achieved for a few at the expense of massive destruction of the environment and abuse of other people. Of course, we also spent a lot of time talking about the ´war on terror´ and were encouraged to challenge ways of talking about violence that hide the violence of American and western imperialism. One example given by a European group training people in non-violence was of an application for funding that the group discovered was supported by Shell. The application asked for support in retraining Nigerian women to be ´less aggressive´in their demonstrations against Shell activities in Nigeria!

Above all, we were encouraged to keep together, and offer solidarity to Muslims and groups that are victimised and demonised in the current political climate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Stories of transformation

Hello everyone, I thought I´d write earlier today to try to be coherent for once! Also tonight there is a peace march through Porto Alegre to mark the Decade for Overcoming Violence.

Here´s a link to another blog (in spanish) on the assembly, by Andres, a Uruguyan young person who is part of the group connected to ISEDET and the World Student Christian Federation - there are photos of some of the group too.

Today´s plenary sought to bring together insights on the assembly theme gathered during the past week or so. we heard stories of transformation from different situations, including a Bolivian woman living with HIV AIDS and a young Canadian indigenous woman who had been encouraged through conversations at the assembly to bring together her Christian and indigenous identity. She encouraged local churches to support local indigenous languages through supporting teaching, using local languages in church etc.

Continuing this theme, at a workshop on contextual worship, we sang songs in numerous languages including one from Norway in Sami which translated went:
Sunshine and rain
water and wind
flowers and fields
reindeer calves and children
God has made all
Heaven and earth
all that there is
Creator, we thank you

We discussed the importance of hearing and singing languages long ignored or suppressed by the church and other authorities. We reflected also on how theology is shared through the rhythm and sounds of the music, not only the words.

We finished with a hymn by Pablo Sosa from Argentina that was developed with a transgender congregation in Buenos Aires meeting in a Methodist Church. It was really interesting to sing as it is in a cabeart ( i can´t think how to spell that!) style. It talks of how Jesus also transformed his body - coming from heaven to earth:
Tell me how you did it
Jesus of the night
to transform your body
you who are the light
So how is it that nobody told you
´What a crazy plan!
Honey, look at God come from heaven,
where he´s going to land´

So on that note of radical transformation, I´ll go and make space for the next person in the queue for the email!

Monday, February 20, 2006

God's love for all

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

After all I said about bishops, here's one I was delighted to see! As was the whole assembly who greeted Desmond Tutu with a standing ovation. He spoke of the importance of international support for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa:
We too can only make it together - we can only be safe together. We can be prosperous only together. We can survive only together. We can be human only together.

He went on to remind us that every person belongss to God's family and thus our enemies are not God's enemies:
Bush, bin Laden, all belong, gay, lesbian, so-called straight - all belong and are loved, are precious.


Continuing that theme of God's inclusive love, one of today's workshops considerered how churches can better welcome gay and lesbian people. Some of the practical suggestions where to include stories of gay and lesbian people in sermons and prayers, to display signs of welcome, such as the rainbow flag or a statement of welcome in the church notices, and to develop a culture of inclusion in the congregation.

I'm v tired again from the day so no more for now.

sunday celebrations

There have been two things so far that have got assembly participants up on their feet, cheering in appreciation. One was the arrival of Desmond Tutu on Monday (more of him in a moment) and the other was the Cuban choir singing on Sunday. The choi's performance was greeted with shouts of Cuba! Cuba! and demonstrations of solidarity.

Appreciation for the Cuban choir

Sunday was Latin American day at the assembly and after church in the morning, the day was a feast of Latin American music and dance culminating in a concert in the evening.

For Sunday worship, I attended the Igreja Methodista Central in Porto Alegre and passed on greetings from Beckminster to the congregation. It was good to be able to worship with local Christians and I sat next to a lovely Brazilian couple who had spent some months in Stafford it turned out! Talking with them went some way to helping me recover from the shock of being asked to stand for a procession of Methodist bishops at the start of the service, after which they all stood at the front and we sang a song of praise - I hoped to God, and not the bishops. On the postive side, it was good to see Methodists represented from around the world and at least there were three women leaders amongst the fifteen up front, including a simply dressed El Salvadorian woman who was the president of conference and was at first not going to go up as she wasn't a bishop but was encouraged to by those around her.

overcoming violence

Women's centre at the assembly.

Saturday at the assembly focused on violence. I attended a workshop on violence against women and heard accounts of work being done across latin america to support women suffering from domestic violence. These included outreach workers talking to women admitted to hospital, men's bible study groups reflecting on male violence in the Bible, and a women's centre in Bolivia. One of the facilitators encouraged to reflect on Luke's image of God as a woman searching out a lost coin, who when she finds it, invites the neighbours round to celebrate with her. We were reminded that God iamge is reflected in the face and body of every woman.

Prayers at the end of the day ended with a blessing:

May God's spirit, who dwells among us calling us to witness to God truth and justice, guide us, so that in God infinate grace we may be instruments for the transformation of the world.

Friday, February 17, 2006

in the place of Christ - neighbours and strangers

The assembly routine was disrupted this morning with the arrival of Lula, the President of Brazil. More on Lula at

My two highlights of the day -

A children's dance group from Brasil who beat drums, sang and clapped while two at a time, members of the group moved into the circle to dance an acrobatic form of shadow kick boxing and cartwheels. The group were from a social project working on education for justice, dialogue and solidarity in Rio Grande - the state Porto Alegre is in.

The second highlight was the plenary on Christian Identity in plural contexts. The plenary included two contrasting and complimentary presentations by Rowan Williams and a woman Baptist theologian from Myamar (formally Burma) - Dr Anna May Chain. The Archbishop reminded us that Christians are called to stand in the place of Christ and to see the world from such a viewpoint. He cautioned agains seeing the world as a territory to be divided up by the different religions. No Christian, he said, can have a map of the boundaries of the place of Christ. The place of Christ, rather is the place from which Christians can work to transform the world, keeping faithful to God and also to the other, the stranger.

In response to the Archbishop, Dr Anna told her story of surviving religious conflict in Burma through the efforts of her Muslim, Buddhist and Catholic neighbours. She went to to describe movingly the death of one of her group of friends - 2 Christian, 1 Muslim, 2 Buddhist - women she had known from school, and how each member of the group had responded. She talked of the value the Buddhist women place on each day because life is limited and precious. She went on to describe how for her as Christian, it would be unbearable, she said, not to continue to walk and talk together with her friends even beyond death.

You can read her full speech at:

Sorry for spelling - the typewriter is tough going! more tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sunflowers - signs of resurrection

Sunflowers filled the worship tent this morning (Thursday 16 Feb) and throughout the day, bright nodding heads peeped out of bags or from the courner of a workshop. The sunflower has become a symbol of resurrection within Latin America and its use in worship reminded us to seek out colour and light in our lives.

Angelious Michael, with P. Nadar and Dr. Sarojini Nadar - participants from South Africa.

Today I attended the Spanish Bible study group where we reflected on the reading from Isaiah 65 and Rev 21 (I think) about the new heaven and earth. Nestor Miguez (from ISEDET) reminded us that both texts emerged from a people under imperial rule - Persian or Roman and asked us to think about how these texts challenge imperial structures that order society into rulers and subjugated. The theme of the earth was picked up later in a workshop on Amaryan - Andean spirituality in which we discussed indigenous beliefs that human beings are born from the earth - Pachamama (mother earth).

The plenary on economic justice reiterated the need for the church to challenge neo-liberalism and support alternative models of economy.

I enjoyed the first of several discussions on ecumenism - beginning today with time to share stories within a small group about how we began to become involved with other church denominations (I reflected on my time at STETS and the practical realities of working with different denominational structures and expectations) on our ecumenical saints (for me, those who have held before me a very different model of Christiantiy and been willing to share this honestly , who I am glad each Christmas and Easter to remember celebrating elsewhere so differently but nevertheless still able celebrating the life of Christ) and one more questions which I can't remember at this stage in the day!

Amongst all the new faces and ideas, it was wonderful to be able to share lunch and dinner with good friends from England and New York.

Tomorrow will bring more for me to share. until then.

Voices of Central America

The second day of the conference (15 Feb) began with worship and bible study. It's not often you have opportunity to discuss Luke 4.16 - end with a Dalit from India, a Kenyan , two Australians and a New Zealander, all from different churches and theological traditions. The real insights for me were achieved when we stopped talking about whether Jesus was refering to spiritual or material poverty (some disagreemnet in the group!) and got down to specifics. From each of our contexts, we named one marginalised or impoverished group these included people with mental health issues, so called 'illegal' immigrants, business people who lacked spiritual and moral values. We each then offered a suggestion of what action the church could take to support and transform these situations and gathered up our thinking into a simple prayer -

God transform your world, beginning with us
Give us strength and courage to agitate for changes
that proclaim your kingdom.

Later that morning, I attended a workshop on reconstruction in Central America. The leaders of the workshop didn't make it, so instead a number of people from Central American countries talked about the situation in their country and the role of the church, as well as offer signs of hope for reconstrcution. Many stories came from the civil conflicts and violence that plagued Central America for many decades. One young man from El Salvador spoke of walking as a child down streets littered with rubbish and bodies of the dead. Talking of the current situation, a young woman from the Atlantic Coast region in Nicaragua broke down in tears describing the three fold experience of discrimination she faces as a woman, a youth and a person of African descent. People from across the region spoke out against violence in countries where $30 buys a hitman, US influence which continues to harm the poor most recently through the Central American Free Trade Agreement, problems faced by migratants and returning migrants and much more. They called on the churches to continue to encourage co-operation between groups and countries. To work for the rights of all in concrete ways - with women's groups challenging domestic violence, against impunity, re-educating children into a culture of peace, and in all this to construct hope.

My day also included time at the Theological Cafe meeting with women theologians from around the world and discussing spaces for women and gender studies in theological colleges. Each day brings many new encounters and on this day, many of these conversations were with women from Latin American involved in theological studies, people I hope to continue to talk with over the next three years.

I hope that the pictures are appearing ok here - if not, just visit the WCC Assembly website. I won't be able to post my own pictures until I'm back in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

God in your grace, transform the world

Sorry for not posting last night - it was a long day - full of riches.

Here are a few of my reflections on the assembly. There is more information updated throughout the assembly on the official website:

The tremendous diversity is a great privledge to be part of. Yet, I´ve been amazed to discover within this huge gathering of close to 4000 Christians from around the world, there are many familar faces, names (i´m trying not to be too star struck!), and shared experiences. The assembly is full of colour and conversation. During the opening worship, symbols from around the world were brought in and beautiful music from Tahiti, South Africa, Iona, Brazil and elsewhere sung with passion in many tongues. We offered prayers for the different regions of the world. Part of the prayer from Europe read:

We come aware of our rich heritage of civilization, culture, knowledge and spirituality - a tradition of life...but also are fully aware that we carry a tradition of death: war. conquests, exploitation, racism and genocide. Today (..) Europe stuggles to be a better place for all people

Pre-assembly conferences for women, indigenous people and youth helped increase the range of participants and helped those groups often marginalised to become comfortable in the surroundings and more willing to speak out once the assembly began.

The theme of the assembly was reflected in the opening words and greetings from church leaders who talked of grace and transformation. In his address during the opening worship, Archbishop Dr Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania commented, ´the term ´grace´ in Greek denotes, amongst other thingd, the brilliance of beauty and goodness..God did not create the world with truth, beauty and goodness seperated from one another.´

more later, and again, many thanks for your greetings and prayers for the conference.

Monday, February 13, 2006

journey to Porto Alegre

Hi everyone

I've arrived safely in Porto Alegre and checked into my hotel (a shrine to Seventies brown). The journey here was amazing, beginning with an early ferry crossing to Colonia in Uruguay - sun shining and water sparkling. From Colonia to Montevideo the bus travelled through gentle countryside - palm trees, cattle wading, beautiful horses, and isolated farms. The next stage involved an overnight bus (very comfortable though) from the Uruguyan capital along the coast. We stopped at various holiday towns along the way before heading out further east where the coast is less commercialised. This morning I woke to views of lush green forests and fields, before crossing several of the 5 rivers that surround Porto to arrive. From a distance the city skyline shimmered over the water, up close it's busy with street sellers, business workers...and many WCC Assembly participants. Off now to read through my handbook and meet up with friends. Thanks for all from Beckminster who sent greetings to the churches here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

San Jose de Flores

On Sunday I was one of many worshippers at the local Catholic church, the Basilica of San José de Flores. The church celebrates its 200th anniversary this year and festivities have already begun. It’s a huge, impressive church on the south west side of Plaza Flores. Most impressive for me was the size of the congregation at this the eighth and last Mass of the day. It was heartening to see people of all ages and backgrounds flooding into the church for a time of celebration, reflection, and thanksgiving.

I've just started Elizabeth Johnson’s book Friends of God and Prophets (1998). In her introduction, she suggests veneration of the saints began to fall out of fashion following the Enlightenment in those countries most affected by this movement. She notes that in other cultures, including Latin America, observation of local saints’ festival days and dedication to particular saints continued, alongside liberation theologies reclamation of saints as companions in the struggle for justice. The members of San José appear to demonstrate both these spiritual practices. I observed a couple praying together in front of a statue of one saint, each with a hand raised up to touch the statute, creating an intimate group of three, each members of the communion of saints. Johnson reminds us of the potential power of this belief, connecting living and dead, those close to God and those with far to travel.

She includes a quote from the sixth century Dorotheus of Gaza:

Imagine a circle marked out on the ground. Suppose that this circle is the world and that the centre of the circle is God. Leading from the edge to the center are a number of lines, representing ways of life. In their desire to draw near to God, the saints advance along these lines to the middle of the circle, so that the further they go, the nearer they approach to one another as well as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another…Such is the nature of love: the nearer we draw to God in love, the more we are united together by love for our neighbor. (cited in Johnson 1998: 30)

In their jubilee year, the people of San José de Flores are seeking to draw close to God and each other through their renewal of their church as a centre of worship and mission in the neighbourhood. Already, church activities include after-school clubs, choirs and worship planning, bible study groups, and a project called Casa de Todos - Home for All – which provides health care, showers, food and advise for the homeless.

You can visit their website at

As for me, I'm having a busy time of it. Last week I finished my first month's course in Spanish and because I won't be around for all of February, I have switched the individual classes for this month. Two hours of one-on-one Spanish grammer is hard work but i hope to see improvement soon! I'll miss my classmates from the course but have been meeting up socially with several. Since February began there has been a marked increase in activity around college. Yesterday I met the Dean and we talked a little about my course and supervison. I have to do some further research into options before my initial 'caht' with the academic panel in March. Tomorrow I'm off to the immigration office to complete the process of registering my visa. I'm also still holding out for broadband to be installed in my flat - it's suppost to be happening on friday but I'll wait to see what happens...

I'm leaving for the World Council of Churches Assembly over the weekend so will be reporting from Porto Alegre next time. I'm really looking forward to the trip, the assembly and meeting up with friends from around the world who are also attending. Until then.