Serve God and Sing God's Song
New York, NY, December 1, 2009--In an unprecedented event, a total of 113 Methodist leaders--pastors and laity--from Central America took part in a two-week experience that, in the words of participant Angie Mejiá equipped "more people to serve God and sing God's song."
"Maltiox, Maltiox," ("thank you so much" in the Quiché language of Guatemala) she wrote after reflecting on the days she spent as a translator at the Central America Training for Worship and Liturgy, held in Managua, Nicaragua, November 2-13.
Autonomous Methodist churches in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, along with the United Methodist Mission in Honduras, sent delegations of pastors, Christian educators, and musicians to the training, organized by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Maravilloso (wonderful) was the term repeatedly used by the Rev. Juan de Dios Peña, president of the Methodist Church of El Salvador, to describe not only the quality of the training but also the opportunity for Methodists from different Central American countries to bond as part of the same faith family. "We don't get many such opportunities," he said in an interview in Managua.
Months of Planning
Months of planning went into the leadership development event, with the Latin America and Caribbean, Mission Education, Mission Communications, and Global Praise programs of Global Ministries taking the lead. A 14-member leadership team came from the staff and directors of Global Ministries, the General Board of Discipleship, and two seminaries.
The idea first arose out of collaboration among Global Ministries, the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL), and the emerging Methodist community in Nicaragua.
"We were able to arrange for general theological studies at a seminary in Costa Rica, but we still lacked adequate Methodist studies," said the Rev. Edgar Avitia, a Global Ministries' staff member who relates to the region. "We organized special courses for lay pastors in Nicaragua and Honduras, then included El Salvador. This time, we decided to greatly expand, to bring in Christian educators, music/worship leaders and to invite persons from Guatemala."
The pastors, educators, and musicians first met in separate tracks for several days, then all three groups came together to work together in planning all components of worship, including preaching, liturgy, and music. "Everything was geared to the enhancement of the knowledge base and skills in Christian education, worship, and music," said the Rev. Christopher Heckert, Global Ministries' associate general secretary of Mission Communications and Marketing, and who did triple duty in Managua as guitar teacher, videographer, and photographer.
The presence of the Christian educators added "richness and power" to the worship experience through "visual aids, drama, and movement," said Jodi Cataldo, a Global Ministries executive in mission education. "The significance of their inclusion in the planning was apparent in the joint worship practicum sessions," she noted.
Many Gifts, One Spirit
The curriculum in Managua was designed to hone varying gifts in the arena of worship and education--preaching, teaching, and talents in vocal and instrumental music. The music was global in nature, a contribution brought by the Global Praise staff of Global Ministries. In trainings such as that in Nicaragua, Global Ministries and its partners consider the gifts of the students as important as the abilities of the teachers.
Pastors had an opportunity to preach in front of one another in a course under the leadership of Rev. Avitia and the Rev. Aida Irizarry-Fernández, a Global Ministries' director and pastor in Providence, Rhode Island. Christian educators had a chance to look in practical ways at the instructional contents of worship, and musicians had the joy of expanding their repertoires and skills.
"My soul is still singing and dancing," Rev. Irizarry-Fernández wrote to a Global Ministries staff member after returning to New England. "This project once more witnessed to the power of community. We all brought our various gifts, perspectives, opinions, and disagreements, and turned them to a tasty loaf of bread from which we were all fed."
Rev. Juan de Dios Peña of El Salvador was glad for the courses in preaching and liturgical aspects of the Sacraments, and also pleased he learned to play a keyboard.
Jorge Lockward, who directs Global Praise, pointed to the large number of young people involved in the training. "Central America is a field ready for the harvest," he said, "and young people are very much visible in the church. I think that the Methodist churches in that area are teaching us what can happen when the church becomes alive with the young."
Methodist and United Methodist churches in the four Central American countries represented in Managua are all themselves young in years and fairly so in membership and leadership. The United Methodist Church in Honduras is perhaps the youngest, having been established in 1994.
While Global Ministries has long provided missionaries to autonomous Methodist churches in Central America, a renewed commitment to the region corresponded to the founding of the Honduras Mission. The needs for pastoral and lay training through the area became newly visible, and the mission agency has taken an inclusive approach to leadership development.
Both President Juan de Dios Peña of El Salvador and his colleague, President Francisco Guzmán in Nicaragua, are young men. They each stated in interviews that the clergy and laity of their communities are not always well schooled in Methodist doctrine and liturgy. "We want to learn more so we can become in the future a church with a very defined identity as Methodist." Of the event in Managua, he said:
In addition to Revs. Avitia, Irizarry-Fernández, and Heckert, and Ms. Cataldo, Mr. Lockward, and Ms. Mejiá, the translator, other leadership team members included: David Ceballos, mission director for Honduras; the Rev. Mark Terwilliger, pastor of Beach Lake United Methodist Church, Beach Lake, Pennsylvania; Sara Flores, Joanna Reich, and Debra Tyree of Global Ministries; Diane Hynson of the General Board of Discipleship; Professor Michael Hawn of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; and Professor Edwin Mora of the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica. Rev. Edwin Guevara from Costa Rica played an important role in bringing the strands together for the event.
For some clergy and laity, this training will satisfy some requirements in their churches' credentialing process. Another outcome of the training is new educational resources for congregational development and ministry with the poor in Central America and other locales.
Watch Le lo le lo lai lo
Watch Neustro Padre
Watch Amen Amen
(This article is based on information provided by participants in the Managua sessions, correspondence, and interviews conducted on site by Christopher Heckert. It was written in New York by Elliott Wright, information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.)
Date posted: Dec 01, 2009