Monday, 29 April 2013

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


BBQ held in our honour whilst in Mendoza


Friday, 19 April 2013

I last visited Argentina shortly after the economic crisis of 1999-2002 which witnessed a major down turn in the economy.  Many will remember the images of people being unable to access savings from the banks; there was widespread unemployment, riots and the rise of alternative currencies.  Eventually it led to the downfall of the government.

During the visit I stayed with a couple who had been severely affected by this.  They lost their business and were struggling to make ends meet or pay the mortgage.  The poor became increasingly poor and the marginalised even more so.  However, I was impressed by the generosity of my hosts who gave 10% of their income each week to the church, partly towards church funds and partly to provide food for those in greatest need.  They also gave food parcels to those who called at their door in the evenings looking for enough to see them through the next day.

They were, in some respects, as much in need of what they gave away as those who called.  When I asked them why they did this they said it was because God still gave them more than they gave to him.  Many say this but I suspect few really practice such sacrificial giving and therein lay’s an example of generosity and graciousness which is what God has shown us on many occasions.

It would seem that today’s government is edging towards a crisis and there has today been rioting in the streets of Buenos Aires as tens of thousands of people protested against the government.  This time the crisis has been sparked by proposals to reform the judiciary but there are financial concerns about inflation and crime.  There have even been calls from some for President Kirchner to resign.

Once again the country stands on the edge of uncertainty and crisis but from my experience I know that the people of Argentina are resilient and confident in God.  I hope and pray that the present crisis will not get worse and trust that the people of Sheffield, the link diocese, will hold Argentina in prayer.

I am sure I will learn more next week and I will keep you posted with developments.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Argentina 2013 - The First Post!

Only one week to go until my visit to our Link Diocese in Argentina.  I am looking forward to meeting new and old friends in Argentina, and to deepening the Diocesan and Cathedral links.  It is going to be a busy two weeks and the itinerary includes flying to Mendoza to lead a retreat, some bible studies plus a Sunday service.   The theme will be based on this year’s Lent course -  The Beatitudes, a Blueprint for Discipleship.


On my return to Buenos Aires, I am visiting a number of projects, including a social outreach project at the Cathedral and various churches across the city.  I will also be catching up with an old acquaintance, Agustine Marsal in the parish of The Good Shepherd Devoto.  I shall then be travelling to Lomas de Zamora to address the Synod. 

The topic for the address to Synod is how the Church can witness in a pluralist society, which is something that is beginning to impact on the Church in Argentina.  I will be speaking about Britain as a pluralistic society, about religious pluralism andpost religious society and how we – as a diocese – are responding to this.

One of the key purposes of the link is that we learn from each other and, whilst addressing Synod on this issue, I am also looking forward to hearing how they are responding.   It is important that we use these links as a mutual, theological and practical learning experience, as well as fellowship.

I have no doubt that I will be asked how we in Britain view the debate between Argentina and the Falkland Islands – though in light of my previous experience, it is likely that this is a mainly political and financial agenda that does not impact on the daily lives of local people.  Nonetheless, it is an important factor and politically sensitive which needs to be reflected on maturely alongside other key political and financial issues they face.

As you may be aware, Argentina recently suffered from terrible floods, leaving around 25 dead in La Plata and a number more in Greater Buenos Aires.   So before I depart, I ask you to remember those lost in your prayers.

Once in Argentina, I will refresh the blog as the opportunity arises, and in the meanwhile your thoughts and prayers will be very much appreciated.