After an intense, busy but fascinating few days in Argentina, I've finally found space to write my first blog update, so here goes.
After recovering from the 13 hour flight we spent the first full day learning about the history of Argentina, the present financial and political climate, and the Anglican Church. There will be much to share about the political and financial situation and its impact on daily life when I return. Suffice to say there's much anxiety and fear about levels of crime and violence. But the people of Argentina are resilient and optimistic and I experienced that in the people I have met.
90% of population still have some vestiges of faith, enough not to abandon it.
The dominant church is RC and this impacts enormously on how society thinks and disables other churches in their mission and evangelism including Anglicans. The Anglican Church in Argentina is asking serious questions about how it engages with a changing context and culture and there are many similarities with the issues we face in Sheffield. They're focusing on mission shaped church, being salt and light to the community and a Holy Spirit filled people of God. I'll be speaking about this at their Synod next Sunday.
Anglicanism is two centuries old and respected. For a long time Anglicanism meant British. It developed in the first instance as a chaplaincy to those who came to work in Argentina particularly on the railways. Although some churches reflect a more traditional model of Anglicanism, they have over the past thirty years become more Spanish speaking, and the services more reflective of their culture. There's still great respect for the British and for the Diocesan Link.
As we address pastoral re-organization in the diocese and the need for parishes to work together more fully across traditions and cultures, we might be mindful of the example of the church in Argentina. On Saturday I made a ninety minute flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza accompanied by Hernan, the parish priest of Belgrano. Hernan makes this trip every month to be with the local congregation, to lead them in worship and study and work with the lay ministers who lead the church in the intervening weeks. I heard stories of other clergy making long journeys to support mission in other parts of the country, released and supported by their own congregations in the belief and conviction that it's important to grow the church and make disciples everywhere. I witnessed Christians traveling many miles to worship, unfazed by distance and time because worshipping God is more important than the often self imposed boundaries we make for ourselves. The church and clergy appear to work well together across boundaries and traditions though there are latent tensions and challenges to be addressed.
On Saturday and Sunday Mike Reeder, Jane and myself were given a very warm welcome by the local congregation in Mendoza. I spoke to them about how to develop ministry and mission in a pluralist society and many found this challenging. Mike spoke about his role in hospice chaplaincy which was powerful and moving. On Sunday we shared in worship and after my sermon Mike and I prayed for healing with individuals. We have been involved in a number of pastoral situations and have learnt a little about some social outreach projects such as that addressing the needs of the wives and families of prisoners in what must rate as one of the worst prisons I have ever seen.
Overall, there's a real sense of expectancy about what is happening in the Anglican Church in Argentina, hope for the future and a sense of God's presence, but they have many deep and searching questions to ask and face honestly. They mustn't avoid them or be distracted by the present political and financial climate. I hope my reflections and presence will, in some small way, give them an opportunity to begin addressing them. Please support our friends in your prayers as we continue our visit praying especially that God will give them strength to face the changes and challenge ahead.
Bishop Greg's home