Laughter, common priorities, prayer and shared adventures have punctuated the trip for Liberians seeing southern Ohio for the first time.
During a two-week visit to the Diocese of Southern Ohio by a delegation for the Episcopal Church of Liberia, a visit to the post office sparked a humorous and bonding experience as Americans and Liberians worked together to figure out the best way to ship materials.
The Episcopal Church of Liberia and the diocese are considering a companion relationship and the trip is part of the discernment process. Delegates at the 2009 diocesan convention passed a resolution calling for a yearlong discernment with the people of the Episcopal Church of Liberia. Delegates will discuss the relationship again during this year's diocesan convention in November.
The delegation from Liberia represents key areas in which the two dioceses hope to share resources and expertise: Dr. Anthony Quayee (health care); Clement Kimber (education); Elaine Dunn (business and agriculture); and the Very Rev. Herman Browne, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia (formation).
The visit included a stop at the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati; the Dayton International Peace Museum; the Good Earth Farm in Athens, a community dedicated to sustainable living; and a trade and technology school. The delegation also visited Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus and met with librarians on the campus of Kenyon College, an Episcopal school in central Ohio.
A country comparable in size to Ohio, Liberia was first founded as an American colony in the 1820s as a homeland for freed slaves. It became an independent republic in 1847, but kept close ties with the United States. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Liberia was crushed by civil war, with more than 250,000 people killed and more than one million people displaced.
Liberians are now rebuilding infrastructure as well as working to increase global awareness of their country's victory of peace over armed conflict. The Liberian guests have started to educate southern Ohioans about West African history and culture. Their tremendous strengths and spiritual gifts were shared through conversation and through Browne's sermons at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati and St. Matthew's in Westerville.
Each member of the delegation received a Flip video camera to capture their journey and experiences in southern Ohio, and to use later to post videos to YouTube from Liberia to encourage two-way conversation and relationship-building.
Founded by the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 1836, the Episcopal Church of Liberia was a diocese in the Episcopal Church until 1980, when it became part of the Anglican Province of West Africa. As part of that change of affiliation, the Episcopal Church and the Liberia diocese established a covenant partnership, which pledges each entity to mutual ministry and interdependence and calls for financial subsidies with an eventual goal of self sufficiency and sustainability for the Church of Liberia.
Presently, neither the Southern Ohio nor Liberia have any formal companion relationships, but both have indicated they would like that to change.
Excitement is building as members of both dioceses continue to explore the possibilities. The bottom line, says the Rev. Canon Karl Ruttan, the diocese's canon for life formation, is: "How can we be one in Christ Jesus?"
The delegation plans to return to Liberia Sept. 28.