Monday, 14 March 2011

Ghana - 50 years of Partnership!

This year, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the United Reformed Church will celebrate 50 years of the London Ghanaian Chaplaincy/Ministry! The partnership grew out of a concern for the many Ghanaian Presbyterians living in London and over the years many Ghanaian Ministers have offered Pastoral care and oversight working in partnership with the United Reformed Church and formerly the Presbyterian Church of England.

With the ending of this way of working together comes the possibilities of new things developing between the E.P Church, PCG and the URC. And so, Michael Jagessar and I travelled to Ghana to continue discussions about the future.

We first travelled to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana headquarters in Ho. Here we met with the Moderator Revd Francis Amenu (himself a former chaplain to London), The Synod Clerk Rev. Godwin Kwaku Osiakwa and the Synod executive Mrs Lydia Aku Adajawa. It was a fruitful meeting and laid the foundation for the later discussions with both denominations.

Travelling back to Accra we visited the Akosombo Dam - which creates power for a lot of Ghana and was responsible for creating the Volta lake.

We also saw families of baboons along the side of the main road - quite amazing!

The next morning Fred our driver picked us up and took us to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana to meet with both the EP Church and the PCG. Here we had the opportunity to talk with the Moderator of the PCG, Professor Marty and the Clerk to Assembly Revd Herbert Opong alongside former chaplains to London.

This was an incredible meeting where we gave thanks for the past and looked to the future! A new memorandum of understanding is to be drawn up and will be signed at the Partnership celebration on May 15th at Methodist Central Hall! It is going to be quite an occasion I think!

Geneva - World Church Ecumenical Relations!

I wrote this a little while ago but it never got published!

I've spent the last few days in Geneva - famous for Jean Calvin and home of the Ecumenical Centre! This trip originally had two purposes - to meet with Rev Lala Rasendrahasina (President of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar - Council for World Mission family member and Global Synod partner of the National Synod of Wales) and to plan a church leaders' visit in June.

A group from the United Reformed Church was due to visit Madagascar this week but Rev Lala Rasendrahasina informed us he would actually be in Geneva for the World Council of Churches Central Committee so could we postpone our visit (it will now take place in October). Linda Elliott (Convenor of the International Exchange Reference Group) and I decided to take advantage of this and come to Geneva to meet with him!

The Church Leaders programme was also postponed after tickets bought and hotels booked but we still felt it was right to visit the officers of the World Communion of Reformed Churches - a good decision I think!

We arrived on Wednesday and spent the afternoon talking about the aims of the visit and what we wanted to achieve. On Thursday we went to the Ecumenical Centre, the home of the World Council of Churches, World Communion of Reformed Churches and various other international ecumenical organisations.

Talk about small worlds...

We walked into Patricia Sheerattan's office (Pat is WCRC Officer for Justice and Partnership) and there sat Collin Cowan, the new General Secretary for CWM)! CWM is facing difficulties over visas and we were able to speak with him about potential solutions - a useful but unexpected meeting! Arranging to see Pat later in the day, we went back to reception for the coffee break of the WCC Central committee... This is where I realise how many people I have met with over the last 18th months! I was greeted with hugs by Ophelia Ortega from the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba, and then Solomon Sule-Saa from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, and then Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the WCRC. We met Prince Dibeela, moderator of CWM and former Mission Partner of the URC. We also encountered David Thompson, Jane Stranz, Tony Coates and Lindsey Sanderson (who represents the URC on the WCC Central Committee) from the URC! And, of course we met Lala! We also visited the Chapel to see the Stitching Peace exhibition. 

We arranged to meet that night for supper so we could talk more!

After lunch we went to meet Setri Nyomi up in the WCRC offices. As we approached we bumped into Douwe Visser (Officer for Theology and Communion and friend!). He asked about two URC students who had taken part in the Global Institute of Theology last summer and told me that they were planning on a second school next year.

In our meeting with Setri Nyomi we heard how the new Communion was taking shape and over the joys and concerns in developing a new organisation with limited resources. We talked of how to involve young people and how we nurture potential leadership. These are exciting and nervous times in the life of the ecumenical movement and Setri is trying hard to offer leadership within the Reformed churches across the world. We left promising to keep in touch over developments and ideas!

Later that night we met with Lala and Lindsey, sharing food and stories and learning how the Church is struggling in the face of political turmoil. We made arrangements for a visit in October and shared how our churches could work together and renew the relationship with the Synod of Wales. We laughed and enjoyed each other's company.

On Friday Linda and I decided to go and seek out our Reformed roots by visiting the Cathedral de St. Pierre and the International Museum of the Reformation. The Cathedral offers amazing views across Geneva from its towers and also boasts 'Calvin's chair!

That evening we had supper with an old friend of mine Rev Terry Macarthur. I first met Terry when he was the worship consultant to the World Council of Churches and came to teach ecumenical worship and world church music at Tainan Theologicalcollege. I was a CWM student there at the time and so attended his classes! I must say that it was Terry who first instilled in me a passion for World Church Music and liturgy and opened up new horizons and possibilities! He also became my counsellor during the dark days following an earthquake, sitting with me for hours listening and comforting, bringing me chocolate icecream! I will never forget the love and concern he showed to me - he was a rock when all around was shaking.

I last visited Terry in Geneva about 6 years ago and so we had much to catch up on! We laughed (and anyone who has met Terry will know his 'distinct' laugh!), we remembered, we caught up on the news and we ate fondue! Another memorable evening where I am thankful for the life God has called me to!


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

'October - January'

It seems like ages since I last updated this - and indeed it has been 3 months!

Firstly, I was privileged to lead a group visit to our friends in Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. This Church is the Belonging to the World Church Global Partner of the Synod of Scotland! The group was made up of Church Related Community Workers and also one of the Moderators of General Assembly, Revd Kirsty Thorpe. We were primarily there to learn about how the Cuban Church relates to the local community and about the projects they have set up! We gained much more than that!

Travellers to Cuba!

It was such an amazing journey, both physically and spiritually for the group and we discovered much about the people of Cuba, their life and their faith! We started our journey in Havana visiting Churches in the region before visiting different congregations for Sunday Worship. Due to the visa problems we had encountered I was the only person allowed to preach and so I was able to share with the congregation of Guanabacoa Church which is to the east of Havana. The Pastor there is lead guitarist of a rock band who gave the group our own private concert! He uses music as a way of working with the community around him.

Our Jesus bus!

Our group then travelled (on our 'Jesus' bus!) to Matanzas about 60 miles east of Havana, along the northern Coast of Cuba. We stayed at the Theological Seminary and again were able to visit the churches around the area. One Church is in Varadero, which is a huge tourist resort - attracting visitors from all over the world - it is famous for its white sand beaches! The Church here is again using music and the arts to work with the local community.

With Varadero being a tourist centre, we heard stories of young people giving up their education to work in the hotels. looking for the big dollar tips! The Church has English speaking services in order to try and work with the tourists as well as local communities!
Varadero beach

After a few days in Matanzas we travelled on to Santa Clara for our final few days of visiting Churches. we heard about the church and their projects but we also got to visit the Che Guevara Memorial - which left me with many questions. 

Che Memorial
I think it is fair to say that in Santa Clara we were much more confident in engaging with the congregations and were treated to two evenings of entertainment , laughter and fun! The party games we played at Santa Clara Church took me back to the days of my youth at Church family Christmas parties in my home church! We laughed and mad fools of ourselves and had a really good time!!!

We then moved onto our final visit of the trip. To a church which moved me to tears, tears of joys!

Taguasco Church is an 'open and affirming' church. it proudly displayed its rainbow flag alongside the flag of the church and the Cuban flag! it's minister, the Reverend Miriam Naranjo is breaking the normal rules of both society and church in declaring that God accepts everyone. She and her congregation is working with Gay and Lesbian community to offer a place of welcome and love! I never expected to encounter such a church in Cuba and to hear their story was a delight, and a challenge!

It was an amazing end to a wonderful journey! I will never forget the people of Taguasco Church!

So, that was Cuba, well, brief highlights anyway!

In November I was privileged to travel to Stellenbosch in South Africa to hear about the work of NetACT, the Network of African Theological colleges. They are a pan-African organisation offering the exchange of students and teachers between Reformed Church colleges in places such as Angola and Mozambique. The United Reformed Church sponsored one such student from Angola who has now completed his studies! Stellenbosch is beautiful and surrounded by vineyards but I didn't get the opportunity to sample much! Although the trip was successful, I had my laptop stolen from my hotel room on my final day and it left me frustrated and angry!

From here I travelled up to Mozambique to meet with my dear friends. This was a bridgebuilding visit and I was accompanied by Richard Mortimer, the Deputy General Secretary. You may remember from an earlier blog that we were involved in a security incident in Mozambique in September.

We had a group of young people from Northern Synod in Mozambique on a Global Partners visit. While they were there, there was some civil unrest in Maputo and we took a decision to get them out. This involved sending in a security team from South Africa overland (the airport was closed!) to ensure there safety and take them back to Jo'Burg.

Young people after their return from Mozambique
Although our partner church were understanding of our need to evacuate our young people, it was felt that we had to pay a visit at the earliest opportunity to offer our support!

I LOVE MOZAMBIQUE!!! There is not much more to say! We were looked after extremely well and heard more about their hopes for the future of their church. We heard Children sing as we visited on of the churches, we heard about the women's sewing project and the support they are receiving from Northern Synod! The last question I always get asked in Mozambique is 'When are you coming back?'

The Sewing group (and Bart!)

The rest of the last few months has been back in the office - having cancelled a trip to Myanmar due to the elections.

Looking forward - I am visiting Geneva in February to meet with the President of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar. We were due to visit Madagascar but as he will be in Geneva that has been postponed! I am also taking the opportunity to visit the World Communion of Reformed Church staff to plan a visit later in the year!

Then it's back to Ghana to look at the future partnership after the ending of the Ghanaian Ministry in London.

So, that's been my few months! Happy New Year!