July 2017 Convocation Newsletter
A Pastoral Address to the People of God of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
[Episcopal News Service – Brussels, Belgium] Etched on a sign outside a makeshift refugee camp in north Brussels were the words “Et si c’était toi?” For the Rev. Sunny Hallanan and her parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church in nearby Waterloo, Belgium, that question – “What if it were you?” – has been a constant reminder that those escaping conflict and persecution need to be treated with compassion and respect rather than suspicion and fear. After a month volunteering at the camp in Maximilien Park, Hallanan got to know many of the refugees. Although she didn’t speak much Arabic and they had yet to grasp basic French, just to sit with the refugees and to share the few words they did know seemed to be enough to form friendships and build trust.
The camp has been called ‘the Jungle,’ an apt name considering the conditions that exist there. Thousands of refugees have gathered in the Jungle, just outside of Calais, each with a story of hardship and horror. They are trying to reach the UK by crossing the Channel. Some try to stow away in lorries headed for the Eurotunnel, others in people’s cars or even find a way to hide on the trains. Their desperation mirrors the disturbing images we have seen of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels. Here, too, in the Jungle some have died for their efforts, though their numbers are not to be compared to the thousands that have died at sea.
The letter of James is something that we hear only once every three years, and it is worth remembering that two of our sacramental practices are based on this Scripture: the anointing of the sick, which when I was a boy was called Extreme Unction and was supposed to be reserved only for the dying (but is now much more the sick), and the other is the sacrament of reconciliation also known Penance. If you will take your Italian books and open to page 253 in the BCP, you will see this title, Ministration to the Sick, or if your prefer, 'minister per i malati.' This is based on this letter of James that we read today.
The Convocation of Episcopal Churches of Europe has long been on the front line of the Episcopal Church’s mission with refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, reflected in our Vision 2012 Commitment to Ministry beyond our walls. At its meeting on September 12, members of the Bishop's Council of Advice passed a resolution calling on the churches of the Convocation to redouble efforts to support the needs of refugees and displaced persons finding their way to our communities.
The children of Abraham have ever been reminded to care for the widow and orphan and the sojourner in their midst, who were the refugees and homeless of the time. Jesus charged his followers to care for the least of these and proclaim the near presence of the Reign of God – in other words, feed the hungry, water the thirsty, house the homeless, heal the sick, and liberate the captives. We cannot ignore the massive human suffering in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, nor in Asia and the Americas.
[St. Paul's Rome] Every day, hundreds of men and boys make their way to our church, descending the steps that lead into the crypt, and looking for answers and assistance in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. Once inside, guests may receive a nutritious breakfast, have a chance to rest in a safe place, access a supply closet with clothing items and basic necessities, and play foosball, ping pong, or chess. Many guests take advantage of services and programs like language classes (Italian, French, and English), navigation assistance (where an experienced refugee guest helps new arrivals “navigate” the various immigration, medical and legal appointments required for integration, or access the services of psychotherapists, who help guests cope with what has often been a chaotic and traumatic journey between their countries of origin and Rome. We receive daily anywhere from 100-225 guests in the JNRC, depending on the season. A growing number of dedicated volunteers give of their time and talent to help ease the burdens that accompany each guest.
I am a former Sanctuary seeker. It’s something I don’t usually write or speak about very often. It’s not that I am embarrassed about my sanctuary seeking past or lack deep gratitude to the country that received me – I am and always will be grateful to this country for its compassionate heart and generosity of spirit. Having spent 41 years of my life in this country - more than in the country of my birth, I have become more than what I once was – a sanctuary seeker from a country torn apart by a brutal dictator, driven by power, greed and regional ambition. Idi Amin was religiously delusional and he treated people as pawns in his political ambitions with a complete disregard to the rule of law.
Scripture says that God is endlessly involved in active, intimate love with us. According to the psalmist, God formed us in the womb and knows our every thought before we speak; we could fly to the uttermost parts of the universe, and God would still be with us. God spoke through Jeremiah: "I alone know the plans I have for you; plans for your well-being..." If God is indeed so closely involved with our lives, more intimate than a mother with her unborn child, the idea of "seeking" God seems paradoxical. Yet Scripture affirms our search for the Holy One who is even closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are created, Paul says, for the very purpose of seeking God. "If you seek me with all your heart," God says through Jeremiah, "I will let you find me."
What is your understanding of sacred space? Is it merely a spot conducive to relaxation and rest? Is the sacredness of a space dependent upon how much you enjoy your time there? Is there any difference between the sacredness found in cabin get-a-ways and golf-course greens, and that which is to fundamentally define the church? Our life with God has become so individualized in contemporary society that I wonder if we downplay the understanding that church is the house of God. Truth be told, when talking about sacred space, does ‘church’ even enter our minds?