Argyll and The Isles-Delaware: Walking together in companionship

December 17, 2007

Starting in 1950s, the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware has had a series of active, rewarding companion relationships with three African and three Caribbean dioceses. These connections culminated with the experience of being twinned with the Diocese of Pretoria, South Africa, through the demise of apartheid and the historic elections and inspiring reconciliation process that followed in its wake.

Parishes were successfully joined, diocesan representatives eagerly exchanged, and mission trips readily organized, as sharing such an intense experience gave the dioceses something intimate and tangible with which to form their bond and build their connection. The people even chose to extend their relationship to correspond to the tenure of then Delaware Bishop Cabell Tennis, who helped to forge it.

When it came time to choose a new companion diocese, Delaware parishes expressed a particular interest in forming a relationship with a diocese that was relatively easily reached, so that parishioners could travel back and forth with a virtually unlimited opportunity for exchange. Scotland's Argyll and The Isles met that criteria and was enthusiastically pursued after Delaware Bishop Wayne Wright and Argyll and The Isles Bishop Douglas Cameron struck up a friendship at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

While there were some wonderful opportunities for exchange, such as an early mission trip by a group of Delaware clergy and laity to Scotland and a few parishes that formed warm, active companion relationships with others, it became apparent that having this kind of friendship was different for the Delawareans -- and maybe a little difficult to get their minds and hearts around.

"People find it easy to respond to others' needs -- like helping them recover from a natural disaster or helping them build homes; but we don't always know how to just be friends and enjoy each other," said Sister Barbara Jean Brown, who served on Delaware's companion diocesan committee.

With time, the people of Delaware and Scotland are beginning to figure that out. And beyond the enduring friendship of the bishops -- which is still realized as Cameron and his wife come to lead the annual retreat of Delaware's clergy spouses each year -- music is leading the way to each others' hearts.

It started with a few Delaware parishes supporting Argyll's music ministries by sharing hymnals and choir robes. Then George and Libby Bayley, a couple of church musicians from St. Peter's Church in Lewes, Delaware, who were particularly committed to finding a way to kindle a connection between the two dioceses, began getting busy. George twice exchanged organ benches with Alastair Chisolm, director of music at Cathedral of the Isles. And when Bishop Martin Shaw, Bishop Cameron's successor, met with the companion relations committee, the Bayleys asked what Delawareans could do to further the relationship. "Bring your choir, and go to the more remote parts of the diocese," Shaw replied. They organized a choir mission trip, taking 36 musicians and friends from Lewes and beyond for a tour of Argyll and The Isles, and they commissioned Shaw to write an anthem for a 300th anniversary celebration in their parish and to come and participate in the festivities by performing a vocal concert in the seaside town.

The folks who went on the Bayley's trip returned with ebullience for the people of Argyll and The Isles and the value of the diocesan connection. Since then several other parishes and individuals on both sides of the Atlantic have been making plans to visit and to gain invaluable insights into our common life as Christians and Anglicans. Shaw and his wife, Elspeth, have also extended an invitation to Wright and his wife, Holly, to join them in Scotland before the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

In the end, when the traditional duration for the companion relationship came and went, somehow the Spirit was wise enough not to remind the people of the two dioceses that it was time to move on. God may still have a few things for them to learn and to gain from each other.