“Reconciliation is the ultimate test of Christian mission." Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
These were some of the provocative words we heard at the recent GEMN (Global Episcopal Mission Network) conference in Puerto Rico. Even more provocative was the question addressed to a group of missionaries sharing their own stories of mission in a small group, "how does a missionary do reconciliation?"
Little did we know that 2 days after returning from this conference would we be witnesses and part of one of those missionary moments of reconciliation.
A community who experienced a schism 12 years ago in the northeast of Brazil, a community divided, wounded, church buildings, or I should say, spiritual homes, taken and then left abandoned, ruined, brought a people to this moment in time.
After 12 long years of struggle, legal battles, waiting, they finally won their properties back just 2 months ago. Finding the structures in ruin at first was overwhelming, how do we move forward in the midst of this? Something not unfamiliar to The Episcopal Church, and even to our own Diocese of Virginia.
But the Bishop of Recife, Dom João Peixoto, did not skip a beat in celebrating the realm of new possibilities and was never daunted by the challenges ahead. His enthusiasm, leadership, and vision led the way forward to jump in, roll up his sleeves, and start rebuilding.
Rebuilding not just the damaged physical structures, but rebuilding the body of Christ.
And the excitement, pure joy (beleza pura) was palpable in the church on the Feast of Corpus Christi, extremely apropos.
At the end of the XXXI Diocesan convention, and the end of the closing Eucharist at the parish of Bom Samaritano, Recife, the closing song "A New Moment", singing a new song, could not keep this community from jumping out of their seats, pouring into the aisles and singing and dancing around their church, their home, hands uniting them in this celebration of life, community, a true reconciliation moment we could only witness to. One in the Body of Christ. Rebuilding the body of Christ together. Moving forward together.
We had the honor as missionaries to be invited to this diocesan moment, offering as a sign of these bonds of affection a cross of St. Damian at the opening Eucharist. This cross tells the story of St. Francis, who while praying and pondering the challenges ahead, received a message from the Lord, "Francis, don't you see my house is crumbing apart? Go, then, and restore it."
Our parish of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA offered this small gift, this icon of the Cross of St. Damian, which was graciously received by Bishop Peixoto and the community at the offertory as we brought it forward. He immediately placed it on the altar where a similar one once stood many years ago and was lost during this painful period of division.
Our love is tested when we are at odds with someone else. When we feel hurt and angry for something someone has done to us. We were witnesses and bridges of how true reconciliation is not cheap. It cost God the death of His only Son. How far do we follow?
May this cross of St. Damian remain and remind all of us that we are all given the glorious ministry of reconciliation, wherever we may be. From far away lands to our own backyards.
Heidi Schmidt and Monica Vega are missionaries of The Episcopal Church serving with the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil