Delegates reflect on ‘mission encounters’ with Jamaican churches

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Jamaican Anglicans at the opening Eucharist at the National Arena in Kingston, Jamaica.

Kingston, Jamaica
The “tremendous hospitality” that they received, the concern for mission to youth and children, the noticeable absence of men in congregations, the vibrancy of worship, the ministry to the poor, strong lay leadership, and the lack of finances were among the common threads that Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) delegates picked up in their “mission encounters” with Jamaican Anglicans on May 10.

There was also a “real thirst to know more about the Anglican Communion,” said Bishop Sue Moxley, of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, representing the Anglican Church of Canada, who reported on her table group’s experience. “They wanted to know who we were, what things we were doing in our part of the world.”

ACC delegates reflected on their experiences in Bible study and discernment groups, and shared them with the larger body in a plenary.

Bishop Moxley, whose group visited an inner city parish in Kingston, also said that the issue of violence in their communities was something that both visiting ACC delegates and their local host saw as a common issue. “The violence that erupts is the same across the communion,” she said, adding that they had noted “an unwillingness (in society) to talk about it because it detracts from the image” of the country and had the potential to affect tourism. “The question that emerged is, how can the church be engaged in transforming that violence?” she said.

A particularly poignant encounter took place at an Anglican parish in the northeastern part of Portland, where the Bishop of Kenya, Samson Mwakitawa Mwaluda and other ACC delegates received an enthusiastic welcome from this area considered to have the “strongest retention of Anglicanism in Jamaica.” The Fellowship/Moore Town Cure is a church located in the highlands, and is home to the descendants of former runaway slaves known as Maroons. The ACC delegates were received by the African chief and council of elders of the community, and were met with jubilant drumming, a moment that ACC delegates described as “special and powerful.”

Delegates also noted the “strong lay leadership” in parishes, and said “without it, mission can’t happen.”

Another group talked about the “vibrancy, the colour, the liveliness” of worship in parishes they visited. Suzanne Lawson, the Anglican Church of Canada’s lay representative, reported on her group’s experience spending time with a rural church, and said that “the challenge of the listening process” became a focus of their discussions with their local host. “How to listen to young people, how to listen to different generations,” she said, noting that there were at least three generations of Jamaican-Anglicans in their midst.

A number of delegates talked about the presence of children in parishes, which is not a common feature of most Anglican churches in the West, whose congregations are dwindling and ageing.

Another group said the “question of identity” became a focus of their visit. “How are we perceived in the world? We are often viewed as being a rich and wealthy church, and not quite Christian,” a group representative said. “How does this affect what you do when the needy perceive you as ‘the other?'”

Another group was challenged by how the church can attract more young people and men and how to keep them in church. “The Anglican church here is seen as the domain of women and so the challenge is to have an outreach to men,” a group report said.

Some differences were noted – with one group noting that the worship was “overly traditional, almost like being in a time warp,” to another that marveled at how Jamaican culture is reflected in worship and liturgy.

Stephen Lyon, who helped co-ordinate the “mission encounters,” challenged the ACC delegates. He said he was certain that they could see their own churches from the experiences they had and, while it was important to see the differences, it was also good to see the commonalities. Perhaps, he said, by looking at the common experiences shared, “our differences will take on a different light.”

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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