September 29, 2009
By Suzanne Rumsey
PWRDF Homily St. Aidan’s, Toronto: June 7, 2009
Hablo con Uds. en el nombre del dios de la SantÃƒsima Trinidad: creador, redentor y sÃƒ¡nctificador. I speak with you in the name of the god of the Holy Trinity: creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Amen.
Good morning and thank you for the invitation and opportunity to speak with you this morning about The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, the development and relief agency of the Anglican Church of Canada, known by that catchy acronym that just rolls of your tongue, PWRDF! (Say that 10 times fast! I’ve been working for almost 8 years at PWRDF and my husband still can’t spit that acronym out!) I bring you greetings this morning from my colleagues at PWRDF and from my home parish, the Church of the Holy Trinity.
As you may be aware, PWRDF was established by a motion presented to General Synod in 1959. This followed the generous outpouring of Anglican support to the community of Springhill, Nova Scotia after the disastrous mine explosion in the fall of 1958. Since its founding PWRDF has been the expression of Canadian Anglicans’ care and concern – YOUR care and concern Ã¢â‚¬” for the world, through development projects, emergency relief and support for refugees. This year we are celebrating our 50th anniversary and Bishop Philip Poole is chairing a national committee that is planning and coordinating a number of exciting anniversary events.
In the Diocese of Toronto, your financial support comes to PWRDF through FaithWorks, as PWRDF is one of the identified outreach ministries of the diocese for which funds can be designated by those of you who support the FaithWorks campaign. However, designated donations responding to specific emergency situations and appeals can be made directly to PWRDF. In the case of major emergency situations like the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China last year, application is made by PWRDF to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to match those donations. Indeed, about 20% of PWRDF’s annual funds for development work come from CIDA and the remaining 80% from Anglicans in parishes throughout Canada. That steadfast support, over 50 years, has and continues to be essential and very much appreciated. Thank you.
This morning I would like to reflect with you on our gospel reading and introduce you to a few of those people and communities you support when you give to PWRDF.
PWRDF works in “partnership” with approximately 100 church-based and secular organizations in 30 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and with Indigenous communities in Canada. As PWRDF’s Latin America-Caribbean Program Coordinator, I am responsible for working with partners in Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. For me, it is both challenging and extremely humbling work as, on your behalf, I encounter and seek to support those on the front lines of community development and human rights advocacy.
The stoles here on the lectern were woven by the women of the Ecumenical Women’s Network in Guatemala. They were woven to celebrate PWRDF’s 50th anniversary and have been made available for sale on our website. Three weeks ago I received an email from Miriam Iquique, the coordinator of the Network. Miriam is a Maya-K’akchiquel Indigenous woman, a weaver, the mother of nine children, and a dynamic, spirit-filled force of nature who can talk a blue streak! The Network she heads brings together 13 Indigenous women’s organizations from throughout the country, offering training, or what we call, “capacity building”, in everything from organic agricultural production to women’s rights, to political participation in the network of state-supported Community Development Councils. On a recent visit to Guatemala, I was struck by the changes that the Network has been able to realize among its members. It has taken a generation, but the original members of the Network, many of them illiterate, are now the mothers of young women who are becoming the leaders and teachers in their communities.
In her email Miriam wrote to tell me that on May 16th, her 19-year-old son, Axel had been kidnapped and a ransom demanded within 24 hours or he would be killed. With the help of family and friends, Miriam and her husband managed to scrape together the majority of the funds demanded and Axel was returned with clear signs of having been beaten up. Two days earlier, in a neighbouring community, a female cousin of Miriam’s and the cousin’s daughter were found tortured and assassinated. Although Guatemala has experienced 12 years of “peace” after a brutal 36-year civil war, random, organized and political violence is rampant and growing in the country. Community leaders like Miriam are regularly targets of this violence. Miriam herself has suffered two assaults in recent months, as well as receiving anonymous death threats in the past. As Miriam wrote to me, “In spite of all our struggles, impunity in Guatemala continues.”
In March, Miriam was among a group of partners that PWRDF gathered together in Matanzas, Cuba for a consultation on partnership, development and future directions for PWRDF. Also at the gathering was Lucha Castro, a lawyer, Catholic theologian and women’s rights advocate from the Centre for Women’s Human Rights in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. One evening, a group of us wandered out in search of a drink. In the Matanzas central plaza, under a full Cuban moon we sang, and shared stories and laughed in English and Spanish and something in between. The following day, during a presentation about her organization, Lucha said through tears, “Today I feel happy again…you don’t know what it means to me to be able to go out and walk in the streets without fear for my life. PWRDF has been very important in supporting me and this work that we do…”
Lucha and her colleagues at the Centre have in recent months also received anonymous death threats as they have sought to defend and promote the rights of women who are not only victims of violence, but of disappearance and brutal assassination. Lucha and the Centre have been at the forefront of efforts to seek justice for the over 400 women who have been brutally murdered over the past decade and a half in Chihuahua. These efforts have resulted in important changes to the justice system and the bringing to justice of some of the perpetrators of the violence. There have been significant advances in the identification and return of the murdered women’s remains to their families. The Centre has also established a growing network of women, former victims of violence who now counsel and accompany other women through the legal system. All this has made Lucha and the Centre the target of those individuals and institutions such as the police, the army, politicians and government officials who have been identified as the perpetrators of violence against women.
Today we mark Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Trinity Ã¢â‚¬” God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit Ã¢â‚¬” developed as a way of putting into words the experience of early Christians. God was clearly God, and yet God came in three ways that were distinct but not separate. They knew God as Creator. They had met God in the flesh in Jesus. And after he was gone, they were aware of his all-pervasive Spirit: they encountered this living presence whenever they met together to break bread. In the gospel reading Nicodemus, a Pharisee encounters God in the flesh in Jesus. Pharisees taught strict observance of the written and oral laws of Judaism and yet Nicodemus seems attracted to and wants to understand what Jesus’ concept of being born anew, of spiritual birth, is all about. We read that it is an assertion of radical love: God loves the world. Not just some of it, but ALL of it. It is the affirmation of powerful and empowering love: that God in Jesus is the saviour of the world.
Where do you and I encounter God the creator, today? In these warming, blooming days of late spring. In my five-year-old son, Robin, who prefers to be superhero Robin’s “sidekick”, Batman! In the children who gathered here this morning to hear about a “tepescuintle”, and in the children whose tiny hands and feet peek out from the shawls on their mothers’ backs in Indigenous communities throughout Latin America.
Where do you and I encounter God in the flesh, today? In our families, friends, neighbours, in those who come to this parish’s “Out of the Cold” program, in people like Miriam and Lucha and those women and men that they seek to support and empower.
Where do you and I encounter God in the spirit, today? In the breaking and sharing of the bread, here in this place. In fact, the word “companion” or, in Spanish, “compaÃƒ±ero”, comes from the Latin “cum pane”, and means “with bread”, “to share bread with”. As we share bread today, as you share bread with those less fortunate in this city, and as I share bread Ã¢â‚¬” and tortillas Ã¢â‚¬” on your behalf with our “compaÃƒ±eros” and “compaÃƒ±eras” in Latin America and the Caribbean, God the Holy Spirit is with us and among us.
My father, Gavin Rumsey shares two 50th anniversaries with PWRDF. In December, 1958, my father was ordained a deacon at All Saints Anglican in Vernon, British Columbia. One year later, in December 1959, he was ordained a priest at his home parish of Christ Church in Creston, B.C. Throughout his ministry, my father Ã¢â‚¬” now retired Ã¢â‚¬” shared bread with so many in whom he encountered Jesus: his parishioners, street people, the differently-abled, and through PWRDF, with people like Miriam and Lucha.
Last December my family gathered at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, B.C. to celebrate my father’s 50th anniversary of ordination as a deacon. He was invited by the Dean to preach, and he began his sermon this way: “In the Christian tradition we know that doves are a sign of the Holy Spirit. Doves are a sign of the spirit of Jesus amongst us; they are a symbol of divine presence and activity. Will you imagine these four Holy Spirit doves fluttering into this cathedral? They want to settle in our minds and hearts, calling us, calling us to be gentle and generous, to be hopeful and peacemakers.
“Here comes the first one, wanting to settle in your heart, calling you to be gentle. But friends it’s a special kind of gentle, it’s gentle and strong. We are called to be gentle with ourselves and gentle with others, especially children; but strong because you may face people through your life who may want to throw their weight around. We usually call them bullies…
He goes on: “Gentle and strong. In the wider world we are plagued with super-bullies. Do you remember the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”? Bible scholars say that the Greek text lends itself to be translated as Ã¢â‚¬ËœBlessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth’. Well, over the centuries the so-called strong ones, the super-bullies, have poured scorn on the idea that the gentle would inherit the earth. But you and I know something in such a time as this; you and I know something that the super-bullies will simply not accept: that if the gentle soon do not inherit the earth, there will be no earth to inherit.”
I leave you with some words of wisdom from Miriam, who told us in Cuba, “We do not all serve for everything, but we all serve for something.” Let us go from this place to be gentle and strong with those closest to us and those in the wider world who we call partners, companions, compaÃƒ±eros and compaÃƒ±eras, on the journey. And I ask your prayers for Miriam and Lucha and for all those partners of PWRDF for whom accompanying Jesus in the flesh, comes at tremendous, personal cost.
Suzanne Rumsey is the PWRDF Latin America-Caribbean Program Coordinator