Early last month I traveled to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, for a meeting of the planning committee of the Anglican Encounter scheduled for March 29th – April 3rd, 1992. The proposed Anglican Encounter grows out of an ongoing concern to support both the United Nations and the World Council of Churches’ Decade In Solidarity with Women.
The theme of the gathering, to be held in Brazil, will be “The Celebration of Life for the Reign of Justice and Peace.” The conference is being planned by men and women from the various provinces of the Americas and will encourage participation from all dioceses in the Anglican Communion.
It is hoped that a minimum of five persons per diocese will attend the one week event and participate in the various workshops, worship experiences and reflection groups that will address five main themes of:
• Breaking Down Barriers
• Latin American Today
• Justice and Peace
• Human Sexuality and Health
• Perspectives of Hope.
Each of these issues will be a theme for the five working days of the conference. Keynote speakers will address the issues with workshops and worship highlighting each of the five areas. It is hoped that this Anglican Encounter will bring us closer together in recognizing our interdependence as Anglicans and world citizens. It is the further hope of the planning committee that such an encounter will bring with it new understanding, sensitivity and cooperation between the various provinces within the Anglican Communion in working toward economic, political and environmental solutions that enhance the sanctity of life.
The selection of Salvador in the state of Bahia, Brazil, was not an accidental choice. Last year when the committee met in Puerto Rico, it was decided that this world-wide Anglican Encounter should take place in a Third World nation where participants would have a first hand opportunity to confront the problems and issues that underdeveloped nations face and how the Church can best minister in prophetic and caring ways.
Salvador was selected because it represents a rich mixture of the various cultures of Brazil, to include the Indian, African, Portuguese and European people. Salvador is also a city of contrasts – productivity and wealth coupled with extreme poverty, unemployment and despair. With 80% of the population poor and an average income of slightly over $200 per year, it is difficult to propose ready solutions or any simple course of action to remedy the suffering.
The most profound encounter for me personally was not in the planning of the “Anglican Encounter,” but the encounter with a young child during a visit to a favela.
Prior to the actual meeting, I asked the local priest, Antonio Carlos, if he would accompany me and serve as a translator on a trip to a favela in the southern section of the city. After talking with some of the residents about the conditions, to include living in tar paper shacks on stilts over the raw sewage of one of the bays in Salvador, a woman shared with me her concern regarding the deaths of children and older people through disease spread by rats that roam freely throughout the slums. Tugging at her skirt and peering out from behind her a young child looked at me with curiosity and anticipation.
This was not one of the many children who beg on the street or sell curios in an attempt to survive in whatever way possible by raising a few cruzados for their family. This child appeared too tired, feeble and weak for such strenuous activities. This was a child unto death. It was written in her eyes.
Her mother’s words provided another sort of encounter. “Many politicians and church workers come here to this place and are upset by what they see. They come once or twice but then ever return.”
Her words provided both a challenge and a warning. A challenge to those who will gather in 1992 in Brazil to address the factors that give rise to such conditions. The warning is to heed the words of the mother’s gentle admonition. If we come only to observe and register platitudes and concern, it would be best if we came not at all. The haunting eyes of the little girl best expressed this without any words; a mixture of timidity and expectation. Who are you? Why are you ere? Will anything change?
As we prepare for “The Celebration of Life for the Reign of Justice and Peace” over the next year and a half, I ask your prayers, support and commitment for this event. It is my hope that we will have five representatives from South Dakota attending and that they will be able to bring back to our diocese an experience that will help us better understand our mission and ministry as a Church and as God’s people.
It has been my experience that when I encounter something different or new, that encounter leaves me changed. It is our prayer in planning this event that we may encounter something within ourselves as we encounter one another. That something being an acceptance and openness to the cry of the distressed and the grace of God in our lives to respond with dignity and care.