By Matt Boulter
Just recently I, along with five leaders from the parish I serve (including the rector), returned from a week-long, missional adventure in beautiful Guatemala.
Now, if you’ve ever been to Antiqua, Gautemala, then you know that this village is the epitome of socio-political style, the suitable nerve center of a country with the largest per capita number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations, such as Oxfam International or the international, humanitarian agency CARE) of any nation in the world. Yet with its numerous swanky bars, coffee shops, and social activities, this village is also, quite simply, a great place to have fun!
Although our team’s hotel was in Antigua, our mission activity and a ministry partner were not. For that, we ventured to the blue-collar city of Chimaltenango (population of 75,000 according to Wikipedia, but according to local leaders, more like a half-million). The city is populated by indigenous folks, mostly from Guatemala’s 23 distinct Mayan tribes (also referred to as zonas or idiomas, i.e., languages). It was there, in Chimaltenango, that our team united with the beautiful saints of St. James of Jerusalem Parish, or Parochia Santiago de Jerusalén. Accordingly, it was there in Chimaltenango that our minds and hearts were blown open by blessing upon blessing, gift upon gift.
In order to give the reader a sense of this trip, and why it might be important, I venture to narrate three dimensions, and then to end with a personal note.
First, the ministries of this little parish are impressive to say the least. The youth group (“los jovenes”) made a pilgrimage to all four other nations in the province (Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) to get to know others and to invite people “from the highways and bi-ways” to attend a parish-sponsored youth camp. There was a planned after-school program for vulnerable children from the neighborhood (or the colonia), and a feminine hygiene ministry executed by Roselia, Padre Miguel’s wife. This church has its hands dirty in the life of a needy world. Each of these ministries merit the support and partnership of others in our tradition, and each of them contain many lessons to teach us (including us at Christ Church in Tyler, Texas, where I serve as associate rector).
Second, thanks to this trip I was able to do something I’d never done before: to serve liturgically and to partner in ministry, across province lines. For Santiago de Jerusalén Parish is part of IARCA, the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America. Founded less than four decades ago, it is one of the newest provinces in the Anglican Communion. Although the churches in this province worship according to the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer, it is clear that they are prospering and flourishing in their own identity, at least if Santiago Parish is any indication.
The third area of interest which captured my imagination is that of theological education. While on retreat with leaders of the parish, I learned that there is an intense hunger for deeper intellectual formation, especially among the youth, including emerging priests. For example, there has been seminary-level education offered in the past at the cathedral in Guatemala City. I do wonder what future opportunities for shared ministry could look like, in terms of equipping new leaders biblically, theologically, and pastorally. The dire, ongoing need for continued Spanish-based training in the United States, of course, also suggests fruitful, future partnership and collaboration.
Finally, a personal note. It had been 25 years (more than half my life-span) since I personally had spent any time “south of the border,” as we say here in Texas. In my “previous life” (before my confirmation and ordination in the Episcopal Church) I was heavily involved in working with Hispanic and Latino friends, people, and communities, both as a student (studying in Mexico City) and as a missionary and church planter. Much time has passed, and much change has occurred, both in broader society — my previous involvement was in the pre-internet age — and personally. Back then, I firmly identified as an American evangelical, and am now an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian.
What a personal joy, then, it was, to serve at the altar with Padre Miguel (and my rector, David Luckenbach). And yet, that sacrificial celebration was just the beginning of a fruitful week of relationships and ministry, which will hopefully blossom into much, much more.
Fr. Matt Boulter is the associate rector at Christ Church in Tyler, Texas, and a PhD candidate in medieval philosophy at Maynooth University, Ireland.