This past week was quite productive, in an official sense. If you recall, Monday David Copply, our director from the national office, paid Audra and I a visit to help us give the mission a kick-start. The past couple of months our work had staled-out and because these things tend to be wrapped up in diplomacy, Audra and I needed an official hand in figuring out what we would be doing for the next several months. The meetings seem to have been a great success. The Bishop is amazingly open to our ideas and his involvement and availability is rare in such circumstances. The night of our first meeting Audra and I sat down and hammered out a schedule that would serve as an idealistic base. The following meeting the Bishop gave us cart-blach to follow the schedule we had created, as far as it could be realized. Our calenders are now full of hopes, goals and travel plans. I find that the simple prospect of travel and getting into projects has given me an energy and emotional boost. Although I do realize that the schedule we created is in idealistic terms. For example: we had hoped that there would be existing projects with an aids clinic in Suacha that we could work with twice a week. The reality is that the Aids program is not active yet. Sunday, Audra and I visited the church in Suacha with the Bishop and we are now needing to reevaluate our calenders. There was talk of a youth program that has already been started up that meets Saturday nights. Along with this I am hoping to make a visit once a week to do some old-fashioned door to door parish invites. I hope to be able to visit the homes of parish members and hold a bible study during the weekday. I have aspirations of doing the same for the Cathedral community and perhaps in Faca as well. Along with this Audra and I are wanting to get a couple of parishes involved in youth groups that would allow for discussion of topics that are important to the children/young adults. So pray for us that things start rolling strongly towards fulfilling work.
The question that is most poignantly on my mind is how to get a church to be filled with congregants. It is also the question on the minds of many priests here. For example: The cathedral is right smack in the middle of the city, surrounded by apartments and possible attendees, yet each of the two services might have in attendance 20 or fewer. In Suacha, this past Sunday, there was only a handful (on account of the rain?). Audra tells me the parish in Medellin has 10 members. What is going on? And what can I do to help? I know that our goal as a church is not necessarily in numbers, but I think even this would call attention for need for growth. From my observations the difference between the parishes that are packed-out vs those who struggle with attendance lies in the priest who is supported by the ministry or payed by the diocese, such as in the souther mission and Fr. Raphael in Cartagena (who's churches are full, healthy and growing), vs those who are volunteer priests such as in the Cathedral, Faca, Suacha, etc (who struggle with attendance). I have humble hopes that the missionaries from the Episcopal church can serve as intermediaries for the communities of such parishes who's priest(s) are volunteers. As of recent I feel called to meet with parishioners (including visiting them at their homes), to check in on them and to get them involved in activities during the weekdays (potentially a once-weekly bible study). I have no experience in leading community outreach projects, but this could be a start. I realize how much having Fr. Mark (my priest from St. Andrew's Birmingham) available for meetings and bible studies effected where I decided to commit my time and energy. The Episcopal diocese in South America just don't have the recourses that we have in the states to pay all of its priests. In this there is evidently a need to supplement time and energy to the community.