Saturday, 28 June 2014

SS Peter & Paul & Guyana visit debrief 29th June 2014

The double commemoration of Peter and Paul represents two streams in church life, institutional and charismatic. As we heard in the holy Gospel Christ made Peter the ‘rock’ man of the institutional Church - you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16:18). The papacy survives to this day and Anglicans look to its renewal for a primacy over the institutional Church. It is encouraging to see the good chemistry between our Archbishop and Pope Francis (show Tablet)

The Church of Rome, historically the leading authority in Christianity, has a double foundation as the graves of both Peter and Paul are in that city. Our second reading reminds us of the charismatic- evangelical stream of the church Paul speaks for with great passion. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed he writes to his assistant Timothy (2 Timothy 4:17). Though Rome and the Reformation are put as opposites the foundation of the Roman Church has both Catholic and Evangelical patrons in SS Peter & Paul whose joint martyrdom we celebrate today. An evangelical papacy such as that of Pope Francis is an exciting recovery that has an effect upon the whole of Christendom.

I want to use that underlining of the institutional-charismatic or catholic-evangelical to frame a debrief of my visit to Guyana earlier this month and to point us forward as a church here at St Giles with our Mission Action Plan to grow in faith, love and numbers.

It was my sixth visit to Guyana following my term as theological college Principal 1987-1990 at Yupukari, where Anne and I were married, three return visits for Sabbaticals in1995, 2000 and 2007 and my last visit with Anne in 2010 just after Bishop Cornell's appointment. The visit three weeks ago included the honour of being formally installed as a Canon in St George's Cathedral following my appointment as the Bishop's UK Commissary last year.
Over the fortnight I was in Guyana I was able to visit the new Duke-Edwards Anglican School and present an illustrated greeting folder prepared by our own Beech Class to the children there, who presented me in return with folders of their work (at the back of Church) to help build links with our school. It was a pleasure to see the computer room stocked with machines and its assigned dedication to St Giles.

My visit was timed to coincide with the Synod of the Diocese which draws in once a year the interior clergy and lay leaders. Guyana is just above the equator and mainly jungle. Communications and travel is costly and difficult so we always make the most of the annual Diocesan Synod. I was able to attend part of the pre-Synod clergy and treasurers’ conference and two training days post-Synod for the new deacons. My first weekend I celebrated Mass on the east coast. My second weekend took me on a six hour jet boat journey over rapids up the Mazuruni to Issano to stay with Fr Allan Alfred and his people. I also said Mass at the Transfiguration Church in Georgetown where I stayed in the Rectory with a new privilege since last time - an air conditioned bedroom!

High point of the visit was the Pentecost Mass with Bishop Cornell that in word and song, dance and solemnity captured the institutional – charismatic tension of today’s feast. We had a successor of the apostles in his Cathedral, the largest wooden cathedral in the world, along with 500 folk much set alight and literally moving with the Holy Spirit. There was a blend of expectancy upon God to act with a caution to patient discernment in the life of church and nation: 'God desires to lead us but he will only do so when he is ready and on his terms...’ the Bishop said ‘it's time for us to tidy up our spiritual lives so we can walk in holiness and righteousness, saying yes to him and no to the devil'.

During Synod Mass I was installed as Canon. I had a second privilege in giving Holy Communion to the Prime Minister, Sam Hinds who is an Anglican. With me he heard the Bishop warn how forgetfulness of God was at the root of moral decay in Guyana. It was good to see some form of partnership between political leaders and the torch bearers of religious vision. Bishop Moss is a real torch bearer! At one point on my visit I heard him use an analogy from his love for Bluebell Railway of himself as an engine driver: When you hear the horn get on board because I'm out to move forward, not looking back as there's so much to do.

Synod meetings continued in a Georgetown hotel Monday to Wednesday at which I presented arguments for and against the ordination of women using a modification of the Rochester Report we used in Cuckfield deanery synod two years ago. Bishop Cornell plans to build from my presentation beyond the group sessions on it at synod by encouraging each Archdeaconry to reflect on female ordination before a vote next year. 

Once again I was aware of the institutional-charismatic creative tension here Guyana is seeking to resolve with reference to the three-legged stool which Anglicanism is built on: scripture, tradition and reason. The lack of Catholic consent for women bishops and priests tells significantly in the Diocese of Guyana, as it does for many of us in the Church of England, even if others see the Holy Spirit moving the whole church that way in the long term.

After Synod I sped by Jet Boat to Issano up the Essequibo River and then, over sometimes perilous rapids, up the Mazaruni to the hub of the mining industry in the heart of the rain forest. Formerly a peaceable Amerindian settlement the gold rush has taken all peace from Issano with loud music day and night from its bars and brothels where miners find solace. I trained the priest there, Fr Alan Alfred and baptised two of his ten children. It was a pleasure to catch up with everyone and sling my hammock in his home. I went down the road to send greetings to Anne via the wifi at - Di Di's bar – probably a brothel - and a rival to our Anglican music making at St Martin's Church which still stands well 40 years on, though the priest's house at its east end is dilapidated. 45 people came to Trinity Sunday Mattins and Mass after which there was a well taken up call to confession and prayer for the Holy Spirit. There are some 20 confirmation candidates awaiting the Bishop's visit. Well schooled in the Alleluia native Christian tradition of the middle Mazaruni Fr Allan incorporates their songs within the Anglican liturgy, as in a special incantation by a female member over men called to the altar that morning for a Father's Day blessing. (Play chant) Following reminders at Synod about care of buildings I appealed for help in restoring the priest's house, for more cohabiting couples to welcome marriage and for vocations to the sacred priesthood.

Talking to people in the village I became aware of how most village dogs had been recently eaten by a tiger from the forest, as well as how many villagers had lost tomatoes and maize from their farms following raids by local monkeys. Over my visit Fr Allan took me on a tour to Mararbusi waterfall and we went round a typical gold mine. I praised God for Immodium, the priest's Godsend, effective counter to what the locals call 'loose belly'!

On my return to Georgetown I led training for three new deacons on parish management, sermon preparation and organising structured bible studies at Diocesan Office. I was able to pick up with life on the coastal strip where most Guyanese live. Things always seem to be looking up visit by visit with individuals more and more part of the connected generation with mobile phones all over as well as wifi. I manage a Facebook group for Guyana Diocesan Association involving over 100 including many young people in Guyana who made themselves known to me directly over my visit – do join up! Over my visit I conducted the Last Rites for a lady I have known for 28 years in the presence of her son and with her daughter on speaker phone from New York. Guyanese are stretched, at times painfully, right across the world. It is this diaspora, caused by the historic difficulties of living in the developing nation of Guyana, that GDA cares for and builds from.

Since our last visit in 2010 I saw there’d been significant progress in the Diocese, which our funding through GDA has impacted, progress both in the development of structures and in the drawing in of personnel that make for new buoyancy in the Diocese. The momentum of this has not been too affected by the Bishop's recent indisposition from which, God be praised, he is slowly but surely recovering. Unfortunately for St Giles a decision has been made to shorten his UK tour which takes out his visit advertised in P&P for 8th-9th July.

My visits to coastal parishes gave me a sense of a vital membership and of how derelict buildings are being restored. The Cathedral restoration - I met with the new Dean Fr Andy Carto - is advancing well with the east end completed and somehow symbolising the spiritual renewal that is abroad in the Diocese as a whole.
The joint celebration of SS Peter and Paul represents two streams in church life, institutional and charismatic. In Guyana I saw how the apostolic teaching ministry of Bishop Cornell and the institutional development of the Diocese, with its new structures of accountability for property and finance, are being balanced by a revitalising of the laity, not least the youth. As I left I was aware of plans for the annual camp involving 400 young people and all the churches I visited had a good number of young people attending and serving at the altar.

Though Bishop Cornell is returning to Guyana early there is still a chance for you to meet with him if you want to join Anne and I in travelling to St John the Divine, Kennington on Saturday week 5th July to be with him for the Guyana Diocesan Association Festival. We also have opportunity to give to Guyana Diocesan Association through the two monthly charitable collection on 27th July. Do take and return an orange envelope from the back of Church to serve this.

The two streams in church life, institutional and charismatic were evident to me in Guyana and they’re evident here at St Giles. We’re an institution ten times older than the Diocese of Guyana with an ordered structure – bishop, priest, PCC and so on – that complements the charismatic-evangelical elements of vitalisation flowing from the spiritual formation of each and everyone of our members. We have a Mission Action Plan as you know – or should know – to grow in faith, love and numbers. Last week at 10 o’clock we saw a number of baptism families back among us through the work of a group that invited them and prepared an imaginative all age eucharist. Next on that plan is Back to Church Sunday 13th July about which we’ll hear more later. St Giles, like the papacy and the Diocese of Guyana, is a structure always in need of revitalisation.

Praise God with St Peter this morning for order and structure in God’s Church! Praise God with St Paul for the revitalising that comes generation by generation in answer to prayer and mission action!

Peter and Paul pray for us, for the Diocese of Guyana that Bishop Cornell be upheld with his people and for St Giles Church, Horsted Keynes, its priest, PCC and buildings as well as its spiritual revitalisation and evangelistic outreach!

May those living without a sense of purpose or belonging come to find with us, in Horsted Keynes or Guyana, the purpose and belonging to be found in Jesus Christ to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory now and for ever. Amen.