Executive Council learns from covenant partners

Mission and ministry in Brazil, Central America, Liberia, Mexico, Philippines inspires members
October 26, 2007

Members of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council spent a large portion of the second day of a three-day meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, October 27 hearing about the mission and ministry of its covenant partners in Brazil, Central America, Liberia, Mexico and the Philippines.

The Council, the church's governing body between meetings of General Convention, also elected the Rev. Canon Emily Morales, Diocese of Puerto Rico program missioner, to succeed the Rev. Miguelina Espinal of the Dominican Republic. Espinal resigned to become the Episcopal missioner with the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort (PLSE).

The Council has the prerogative in Canon I.4.2(c) to elect people to replace members elected by General Convention, until the Convention elects a successor.

The members of the Council also heard from their colleague Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench of Central Ecuador who will host the Council's next meeting February 11-14, 2008 in Quito. Ramos-Orench said Council members would "see and observe a diocese recovering from a devastating trauma." The diocese had a difficult relationship with its previous bishop that included alienation of some diocesan property.

Ramos-Orench told the Council that he hoped the members would be able to engage in mission work while they were in the country and meet with Latin American theologians and other experts who can talk with them about the social and political transformation in Ecuador.

Conversations with covenant partners
The Primates and provincial secretaries of Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de American (IARCA), La Iglesia Anglican de Mexico, Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, along with Bishop Edward W. Neufville of the Episcopal Church of Liberia and Sandei Cooper, Liberian diocesan treasurer, addressed the council during its October 27 afternoon plenary session.

The international visitors are attending the entire three-day meeting and also spoke earlier during the meeting with the council's Administration and Finance and International Concerns committees.

Those present, in addition to Neufville and Cooper, included Mauricio Jose Araujo de Andrade, primate and bishop of Brasilia; the Rev. Canon Francisco de Assis da Silva, Brazilian provincial secretary; Martin de Jesus Barahona, IARCA primate and bishop of El Salvador; Hector Monterroso, bishop of Costa Rica and IARCA general secretary; Carlos Touché-Porter, primate of the Episcopal Church in Mexico and bishop of Mexico; the Rev. Canon Habacuc Ramos-Huerta, the Mexican general secretary; Ignacio Capuyan Soliba, prime bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines; and Bishop Miguel P. Yamoyam, Philippines provincial secretary.

The Episcopal Church has "covenant partnerships" with these churches. The partnerships include promises of financial subsidies for certain amounts of time, as well as mutual ministry and interdependence.

The Rev. John Kafwanka, research and project officer in the Anglican Communion Office's Department of Mission and Evangelism, is also attending the Council meeting.

Jefferts Schori told Episcopal News Service prior to the meeting that she hopes the conversations during Executive Council will help "reaffirm our commitment to covenant partnerships, and work to discover ways to make those relationships more effective and helpful to all parties."

During the October 27 presentations, Jefferts Schori said that the domestic members of the Episcopal Church can learn lessons in creative ministry from their covenant partners. "We are very grateful for the examples you are giving us," she said to the partners.

Episcopal Church of Liberia
Neufville described the state of the Liberian church after years of civil war that ravaged the church and the nation. He said that the church, which was founded by the Episcopal Church in 1836, is working to rehabilitate people lives, to reconcile people and build peace, and to rebuild the infrastructure of the church and country.

He described how children aged five to 15 years were "recruited, trained and drugged to fight during the war, killing, looting and destroying," but now are in their 20s and have the future of the church and the country on their shoulders. In addition, he said, AIDS and malaria are "two kinds of terrorists that are hunting the country" and being fought by the Liberian church.

Cooper said the diocese has nearly $3.9 million in fixed assets, including an office building and much farmland. The farms are being re-habilitated after war damage and are now growing rubber, cocoa, and pineapple. The diocese is about to begin building two high-rise apartment buildings in order to rent to the growing number of people who are coming to work in Liberia.

While the church in Liberia is not yet self-sufficient, Cooper said that is its goal and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the Council members that such a goal is something that is needed in many parts of the domestic portion of the Episcopal Church.

Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil
Andrade said the church in Brazil has nine dioceses and one missionary district covering the entire country comprising about 120,000 Anglicans. He said the church has engaged in a deliberate expansion plan over the last 20 years, and has companion diocese relationships with domestic dioceses including Atlanta, California, Central Pennsylvania, Indianapolis and Massachusetts.

"We are a living church," said da Silva. "We are a church that is relevant in the Brazilian context and a church that has its own way of being that is very unique within the Anglican Communion."

The provincial secretary called the Brazilian church "a place where we respect all individuals" and diversity including that of gender and sexual orientation. He also said that the church must be a "firm and strong witness" to a country "on the cusp" of becoming fully developed.

The Brazilian Church "rejects any attempt to introduce into the Anglican Communion any practices that are foreign to our traditions, our historical tradition, our evangelism, and our inspiration in God," Andrade told the Council.

Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de American
IARCA Primate Barahona said he looked forward to working with the Episcopal Church to create an Anglican Communion "in which no one is excluded."

IARCA consists of the dioceses of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama, and provincial secretary Monterroso described the vast diversity of the region.

"We are a missionary church," he said, but "we need more churches, more people involved with us."

Monterroso added that IARCA wants to grow by five percent each year and that those who want to become priests must first start a church. "They must prove that they can do it," he said. Priests must submit their Sunday sermons on Thursday, not as a punishment but as part of the work towards a "common mission," he said, adding that he often learns from his fellow preachers.

Education, both theological and secular, is very important to IARCA, he said. Church buildings are used every day to help educate area children. The buildings are "not just for drinking coffee on Sunday," he said. The churches also have set aside Wednesdays as the time for theological study and a common curriculum so that "all Wednesdays, all churches reflect about one issue," Monterroso said.

IARCA churches also work to alleviate the extreme poverty of the region, he said, adding that much of their work is done among immigrant populations. And the churches also minister to women, children and youth, including the large number being raised by single mothers. IARCA has influenced some countries to enact laws to ensure gender balance in secular governance, Monterroso said.

The province is challenged by the need to raise more money and recognize that, despite large cultural differences, "we are all one in Christ," he said.

La Iglesia Anglican de Mexico
Mexican Primate Touché-Porter said he was happy to be "back home" with the Episcopal Church, noting that it was the first time representatives of his church have been invited to attend a Council meeting.

"Our challenge is to grow spiritually and numerically," he said. "We are all missioners by virtue of our baptism."

The church in Mexico operates under "very awkward conditions," he said, describing a total separation of church and state, but a high level of regulation of how churches may use their properties, unlike the effort of the Liberian church, for instance.

In addition, Mexican culture assumes that those who want to become Anglican have betrayed their religious heritage and their families, and in some cases have moved downward on the social scale by joining a minority, Touché-Porter said.

"We have a good number of what I call 'closet Anglicans,'" he said.

He called the province "diverse and plural," adding that it is very Anglican in the way it avoids extremes, but he said it needs to develop a "sense of unity and identity as a national church" as opposed to a collection of independent dioceses which feel more related to the Episcopal Church.

The province also needs a sense of why the Anglican Church is in Mexico, he said.

Touché-Porter said he believes that the reason for his church's presence is "in order to give witness that there's another way of being catholic" and to show a catholic tradition that "respects reason and human freedom and the dignity of every human being."

Mexican general secretary Ramos-Huerta outlined the Mexican Anglican Church's 25-year plan to achieve financial autonomy from the Episcopal Church, including how the payments to the province's five dioceses have been equalized. Such a plan causes "great pain" to some dioceses and "great joy" to others, he said. Ramos also discussed how progressive reductions in the subsidies will be handled.

"There are different kinds of level of income that are coming from some of the dioceses" to complement the Episcopal Church subsidy, he said, adding that "the dioceses are doing their best."

Touché-Porter said the province needs a "realistic plan for self-support and growth."

Episcopal Church in the Philippines
Provincial secretary Yamoyam told the Council that many of the world's greatest challenges in terms of security, economics and politics are present in the part of the world that is home to the Philippines.

The church in the Philippines has achieved financial autonomy through austere budgeting and determination, he said.

"Autonomy was very difficult but it was very fulfilling," he said.

Soliba said he urges the covenant partners who are not yet autonomous to set that goal for themselves. "It is very, very good if you can risk financial autonomy," he said. "It has really been a blessing for us."

At the end of the presentations, Jefferts Schori told the Council that the primates of the covenant partners met October 26 and, in part, discussed the possibility of a covenant among themselves "that might be an example to the rest of the Communion of what an Anglican covenant could look like."

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods, plus the Presiding Bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.