Tuesday, August 22, 2017

General Update

The following updates are not necessarily in order and where written at different times.

The Tale of the Bi-Annual Diocesan Council:

Back in April:

Today I return to work after an intense weekend in which we held the biannual diocesan synod As I left my house, I took in the weather for the day.  It reminded me of one of those days in September when summer is giving way to fall.  The air is cold enough to convince one to wear a jacket, but memories of summer still ride along the gusts of wind.  It is a rainy, drizzly, blustery day with moments where the wind flies and thrashes through the tunnel that the buildings on either side of me have created.  The rain from yesterday and last night have pelted the trees and their battered leaves lay on the ground. Unhooked doors fly free and the dumpster lids flap frantically. For a moment I start making plans to go apple picking and corn mazing until I remember where I am.  It’s strange to be thinking about fall while my mom sends me pictures of the crocuses we planted last year. 

I would have no problem staying at home today, wrapped up in blankets with tea and a book but since that is exactly what I did yesterday, off to work I go to take care of wrapping up things left over from the Synod.  And here I am in the church office, writing this being the only thing I really can do since the wind has knocked out our power and internet, I would like to update you all on what I have been doing here since I've mostly been writing about my feelings and challenges.  Since the most recent project has been the synod, I will begin with that.  As I only have (almost) three years forming part of the Episcopal Church, I have never attended a diocesan synod.  I actually wasn’t entirely sure what it’s purpose was initially, but after having prepared, participated and supported the event I have a much better understanding.  For those of you non-Episcopalians reading this, the synod is basically a management meeting of the diocese where next step decisions are taken, new officiants are elected and grievances aired.  

My principal role was to help prepare for the meeting and then run around during the meeting to make sure that it ran smoothly.  It was the first time I had ever done such a thing for a large event.  The weekend was a rather chilly one, similar to what I have described earlier which made for some uncomfortable evening gatherings.  The one main thing that I was in charge of was to stuff the
welcome folders with various papers and items such as the programs, liturgy, and voting cards.  Before the synod, Bishop Fransisco had given me a list of the items he wanted to include in the folders, which I promptly took care of.  There were several papers that he wanted left out, for example the pastoral letter, as he wished to distribute this after he delivered it in speech form.  There were a few other documents that were supposed to be inside the folder, but were not printed until last minute for a variety of reasons. 

For some reason, instead of handing the folders out at the beginning of the conference, we were told to hand them out at the official opening ceremony which would happen in the evening of the first day.  Within an hour of the ceremony, we were told that the opening liturgy should be removed from the folders (which were in cloth bags) because we would be going through that before handing them out.  Frantically, we created an assembly line to accomplish the task quite quickly.  We also realized that I had forgotten to bring the pens that were supposed to be in the bags we were giving out. Jonas ran back to the church quickly to get these.  Again, we quickly stuffed the bags with the pens. 

After this, we were made aware that the handout of the program of events for the whole weekend had a few rather significant mistakes, or that something had been changed last minute.  Again, we rushed to the folders to first take out all of the programs while someone else made the appropriate adjustments and printed the new programs.  The assembly line formed again to re-stuff the folders.  

That evening, we had two other instances regarding the folders.  First, Bishop Fransisco opened up the night by reading the pastoral letter.  The original plan was to hand out the letter while he was reading it so that everyone could follow along.  We all waited, poised at the signal to hand out the letters but it never came.  After reading the letter Bishop Fransisco announced that a copy of the letter would be in the folders that we would hand out shortly.  Also to be found in the folders, was the list of commissions and positions that people had been nominated for within the church.  This, we were also previously instructed to keep separate.  At this point we were cracking up about the whole situation and again rushed to at least put a letter and list on top of each folder for the time we would hand them out.  Unfortunately, we were not quick enough and the announcement to hand out the folders arrived.  Joelma ended up handing out the folders and I handed out the loose papers and in the end all was well but I was grateful to not have to deal with those folders any more.


Truth be told, that was the worst thing that happened during the whole weekend.  As my first synod ever in the church, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of meeting and sharing moments of unity with people from all over the Diocese.  It was also neat to see the very democratic process that unfolded even within a hierarchical type church structure.  At one point during the meeting everyone had a chance to speak and air grievances.  There were even two representatives in place to make sure that even the most hesitant voice was heard.

The Exploits of the Youth Group

Cleaning up one of the rooms at the building
Approximately two years ago, the diocese put together the first youth conference that it had had in several years.  As a result, the youth group of Santa Maria was formed (the term “youth” is used loosely and the ages range from 16 to 36).  They began to meet regularly and in the summer of 2016, they discovered the existence of the property in the Montanha Russa neighborhood (Montanha Russa is in fact the name of the main street in the neighborhood).  The cathedral in Santa Maria, RS currently owns a property in this neighborhood.  At one point it boasted a thriving church and a many faceted center for the community.  The center housed a bakery, community garden, sewing classes, computer classes and after school activities.  Over time the church gradually dwindled and so did participation in the center.  The last year of center operation was 2009 and the church closed it’s doors on around the same time. The current youth group saw the possibilities, grew excited and with the blessing of the church in Santa Maria, began to formulate a plan to resurrect the center. Last December when I arrived, I was introduced to the youth group and we began to brainstorm how to tackle the project.  As of now we have formulated many ideas of possibilities for the center.  Plans for a structural evaluation are in progress as well as a neighborhood wide survey to see what the community itself might want or need.  The plan is to have the community take ownership of the program, working with the church for support in order to have a better chance of success. 
Room cleaned!
Aside from that we are working on several side projects such as collecting donated clothes, selling them for fund raising and donating what we don't sell, the resurrection of the youth choir, educational discussions/debates on different social topics among other things.  


Traipsing Across the Cow Pastures 

In mid May, I was invited to accompany Bishop Fransisco and the secretary, Jonas, to visit the northern region of the diocese on pastoral visits.  These happen every two years and the Bishop preforms any baptisms and confirmations that are also scheduled around the same time.  The countryside is very beautiful, green with many mountains and hills, lakes and rivers.  The area has a strong German heritage and many communities continue to speak German to this day.  My blue eyes were not out of place at all.  

A dish called entrevero I learned to make.


We were welcomed with an enormous amount of delicious food.  (Upon returning, I ate vegetarian for a week because of all the meat we consumed on the trip).  Each community welcomed us with a cook out and on one occasion, with a pig roast.  At one particular cook out, I had the pleasure of sitting next to two older men who were sitting across from each other.  After attempting unsuccessfully to chat with the mother and child to my right, I began to notice that these two men were communicating with each other using only hand signals.  I didn't know what they were saying and I wasn't sure that they even understood what the other one was saying but it appeared that they were joking with each other.  For several minutes I watched them converse, very entertained, when one of the men started signalling to the kitchen.  The second man turned around to see what he was pointing to and when he did, the first man stole the piece of garlic bread of the second man's plate.  I let out my signature loud laugh (to which the entire room turned to look at me) because it was the last thing that I was expecting to see.  I'm sure most people have played that trick on someone or had it played on them and I thought it extremely fun to see these older men still so playful.  As I was recounting the story later to someone else, I was informed that they were brothers and one of them is deaf so they have their own invented sign language to communicate.

We traveled all over the place.  Even though the different communities are relatively close, the roads are often dirt and full of potholes.  It also rains 
 fairly often which doesn't make conditions better.  In the ten days that I was there, we lost two tires. Even so, it was worth the trouble.  Each village we visited was exactly that, a quaint village with cobblestone streets and neighbors who all know each other.  One night the bishop felt that his blood pressure was rising, so we popped into the local pharmacy to get him something.  By the next morning, the whole town knew that a religious figure, two men and a girl with blue and orange nails (me) stopped in the pharmacy the previous night.  The church members easily identified the bishop and entourage and the bishop was reprimanded for not letting anyone know about his blood pressure because they surely would have helped.

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and relished being in the countryside, meeting new people and getting to know others better.  This region of the country in fact has many active churches but very few priests with one priest attending to 14 different communities.  While discussing this with one of the priests and the bishop, it was decided that I would go up to help out.  The current plan is that I will spend the month of October there most likely helping some youth groups to form more officially or in what ever capacity they need me.  I'm really looking forward to it; and as it is a farming community I may just start my days by milking cows!


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hula Hoop Prayers


 Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling

One of the parts about traveling and living in other places that I love most is that it always seems to tap into my spiritual self.  I am forced to completely trust and rely upon God because the comforts of home are gone, my loved ones are far away, and I am stripped down to just me.  Upon arriving in Brazil, that burst of spirituality shot through me and I felt a new zest for life...actually that did not happen at all.  Instead of this complete surrender I felt distance and even a wall rising up between me and God.  For example, while in church I looked at the beauty of the building and could not draw out that same sense of wonder and joy that I usually do from being in a holy place.  Prayer did not seem authentic and I did not feel particularly missionarish.

About two months in, this "spiritual feeling" started to come back and I'm not sure why or how.  Since then it has hit highs and lows, to the point that I had begun to write this several months ago and never finished.  A few weeks ago I again experienced everything that I've written about above and and continue below.  I began to write about this experience of spiritual awareness again only to discover that I had already started. 

While reading on of my social work books, I came across this quote: "My spirituality has become  a call and challenge to be who I am and to become who I am meant to be" My vision of what spirituality had begun to evolve.

My vision of spirituality and prayer was further amplified after a conversation with one of the brothers from Holy Cross Monastery.  He advised that I think of my capoeira practice as a form of prayer.  This was something that I hadn't considered and vaguely remembered from our orientation over the summer.  That night, I didn't go to practice but the following day I was invited to go to a hula-hoop class.  I was expecting a fun class and hoping to make new friends; what I encountered was a beautiful spiritual experience in a place I wouldn't have expected to find it.  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense as we are using the bodies that God has given us to create beautiful movements, test its limits and use it creatively in his presence.  I offered up a few words of thanks as I was learning to manipulate the hula hoop around my hands, arms, head and waist.  Positive energy radiated from all five of us women there and I was able to appreciate the loveliness of each one of them.  All extremely different, but equally glowing.  We each supported each other's efforts to gracefully move and sway.  We learned new stretches and how they can each support our bodies.

The end of the class was particularly moving as we all sat in a circle to exchange massages.  We each offered our left foot to the person on our left and massaged the foot of the person on our right.  Immediately, I thought of the symbolism of the feet.  During the whole class we had been barefoot and the floor in the building where we practice is far from clean.  Basically, I was handing over my repulsive foot to an acquaintance so that she could take care of it and preform a rather intimate gesture.  I also had to embrace the foot of someone and manipulate it as if it were my own foot so that she could experience some relief and healing.  Our teacher walked us through the massage and soon, I didn't care that I was massaging a dirty foot. It reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples which must have have feet equally as dirty as our own.  Here I was with a group of people who were of diverse religions or spiritualities and we were doing something very similar to what Jesus had done. Upon massaging the first foot, we exchanged feet and massaged the person on our left.  After we had finished, the love and positive energy continued and we all began hugging each other and giving each other even more massages on the head, the back, neck and arms.

After arriving home that evening, I continued to reflect upon this experience and another moment where I felt a similar prayer and spirituality came to mind.  About a year and a half ago, I was visiting friends in Puerto Rico and one of my friends organized what she calls a "blessing." Usually it is done for pregnant women in lieu of a baby shower in which her most intimate friends bless her and her pregnancy.  But as my friend was noticing that her group of friends were running around stressed, she organized a Blessing between friends.  It was really lovely.  We lit candles and turned off the lights.  We each took turns washing the hands of our neighbor in scented water afloat with rose petals.  This practice relaxed all of us both mentally and physically.  My friend then lead us to each speak.  While I can't remember exactly what words she used to prompt us, we each began somehow to let fall our largest and most intimate burdens.  I don't think that there was a dry eye in the room after all had shared.  We completed our time with an activity of support by writing down the strengths of the others in the group to create a banner for each person.  The evening was filled with vulnerability, laughter, tears and solidarity.

Because of these experiences and conversations, I have begun to see prayer and spirituality in new ways.  At first it seemed odd and I stumbled through but now it seems natural.  I hope to continue to create these sacred spaces in unexpected areas as well as look for opportunities in the ordinary.

A special thanks to the following donors:
The Laudone Family
Courtney Wolfe.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Women

My response to participating in the Women's March on 8 March 2017:
 
Today, I am trying to focus.  I cannot.  I am still filled with the fervor, excitement and strength from yesterday's woman's march. It left me with a feeling of energy and empowerment, as if I could do or accomplish anything right now (except write type up the minutes from last Saturday's meeting). So, I must write about my experience.

Yesterday afternoon, two members of the youth group and I met in the church office. I wearing my purple shirt that our social work student federation in Puerto Rico had made up several years ago in recognition of the inequality between women and men in society. The other two women were dressed in red as this was what some countries deemed the official march color.  Excitedly, we searched for markers to decorate our faces in preparation to find the rest of the marchers in the main city plaza.  As we were leaving the office, it began to rain cats and dogs.  We paused, and deciding that water was not going to keep us from demanding to be treated as human beings; we left our cellphones behind and ventured into the deluge. Vitória, one of our little clan, had seen a group of women moving up the main street on their way to the plaza as she had been arriving.  As we didn't yet see anyone in the plaza, we set out in search of them.  While walking, we received several negative comments from passers by based on my shirt and the decorations we had on our faces.  I will comment here, that I do not usually receive cat calls in Santa Maria. I can count on one hand the number of cat calls I've received since arriving, and we had more comments yesterday than I've had in all my time here.  We walked all the way down the street, and upon finding no one, we returned to the plaza quite disappointed that all these women apparently had abandoned the march because of the rain.  I was feeling quite disillusioned with my own sex.  Upon returning to the church to check for any updates on our phones, we discovered that everyone had taken shelter on the steps of a bank in the plaza; so away we went.

Image may contain: 5 people, outdoorThe beginning of the gathering was not as organized as I had anticipated. Because of the rain and because many of our sisters had to work, not being able to take the day off in order to maintain their families, we were waiting for them to arrive.  As the group grew, the youth group and I tentatively followed several women who appeared to be the organizers over to the sound truck hoping to find out what would happen next.  We formed a small circle, a few pounding on make shift drums and everyone else began to sing, chant and dance.  The rest of the crowd began to drift over and I saw women of all shapes and sizes: young, old, poor, wealthy, different sexualities, different skin tones, different clothing styles, hair styles.  Seeing all these women united and together and not tearing each other apart based on sexist principles filled me from the belly up with strength.  God's creation is beautiful!  The songs started out quietly and I could only participate singing in as much as I could understand the lyrics, but I danced with all my heart!

We began the official march heading through a major commercial section of town, our destination being another large plaza where the film, "Fight like a Girl" would be shown.  For me, this first part was the most motivating and inspiring.  Everyone jumped on board now and sang, clapped, played drums and danced as we moved through the streets blocking traffic and attracting attention. During time of year, the freshmen at the local university participate in some mild hazing activities and as we passed several groups of them they let out a cheer of strong support.  Most of the women from the freshman group came out to meet us in the street and danced right along with us.  Up above, in the balconies of the houses we passed, women waved to us and cheered showing their support.  Because procession seemed so loud all of a sudden, I looked behind me expecting to see a long stretch of marching women, but it was not as expansive as I had imagined.  Nonetheless, it was a good size crowd for a small city surrounded by farmland.  We were definitely a large enough group to be noticed.  The penultimate stop was in front of the office of the Police Delegate for the Woman.  Here we paused to reflect in an open mic style about violence against women, reciting various statistics and pleading with the city to open this particular police office 24/7 as it is currently only open during business hours.  To continue the conversation, other women spoke out against phobias relating to lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and different races.  This part finished in yet another powerful chant which again allowed me to see the strength of all of us united.

The march ended in the Fireman's Plaza.  This is where we had the most trouble because the cars behind and the crossing traffic were not happy that we were blocking their way.  Yet, we maintained strong and held up our signs as we moved into the plaza.  I rode the high all the way home and am still floating happily on the remaining waves today.  In this new country, I felt united and strong with the women around the globe as I watched marches unfolding in Puerto Rico, Argentina, Urugauy and other countries.  We were all simply demanding to be treated as human beings, no better, no worse.  The beauty and strength I saw in the women walking along side me yesterday left me in awe and the pictures I saw from around the world did more of the same.  I pray to God that this sense of awe and wonder never leaves me and that I can continue to see the strength and beauty in my sisters as I am again caught up in the daily routine.