A letter from Donald Wehmeyer in Mexico
September 6, 2010
Greetings from Yucatán
We are starting the new semester at San Pablo Seminary: 14 new students in the theology program and 10 in sacred music. It is always a joy to see these young people come in with their high expectations of serving our Lord. This semester I will lead two retreats for first- and second-year students, carry on with weekly counseling of third-year students and teach a new course, Diaconia, to fourth-year students. I think this course will be a lot of fun and very useful. Originally Reformed theology had a very high regard for diaconate ministries but this was lost almost entirely during the Puritan years. So when North American Presbyterians planted the Church in Mexico, no diaconate order was taken south.
In addition to the seminary work we have invited eight missioneras (women who have gone to Bible school or seminary) to come to the Gethsemane Retreat Center for a six-week course in Christian Spirituality. Our prayer is that some of these women will decide to continue on at the Retreat Center as a permanent religious community. We will be learning Spiritual Direction and living by a modified Benedictine rule. Unlike the American Presbyterians, the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Europe did preserve the diaconate order. The Scots, Irish, Dutch, French, etc. all have orders for women religious called deaconesses. This year we have a deaconess from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland coming to live at the community in Chablekal. I am very grateful to the Irish Presbyterians for this wonderful support and ask your prayers for Sister Roberta Irvine as she helps the women here during the six-week program. The impetus for this work is coming from the new nonprofit organization, “The Diaconate Society of the Presbyterian Church in Mexico.” The Society was formed by a small group of pastors who believe that evangelism is done in large part through service to others. There is as yet no Web page, but we hope to have one before the end of the year. The Diaconate Society will be a means of creating a space for men and women in Mexico who want to serve the Lord full time but not as pastors in local churches.
In this regard I would like to tell you about maestro Antonio Gonzalez. He is a nationally known pianist and choral director who would like to serve the Lord full time. The Diaconate Society is trying to raise support for Antonio and we believe he will have a very influential ministry. In addition to his music Antonio is an evangelist and retreat leader. He will be living full time at the Retreat Center in Chablekal and traveling to offer piano concerts and share his testimony of conversion to Jesus Christ. If you or your church would like to pledge support for Antonio, please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can explain how you can do that. Antonio is planning a trip to visit supporting U.S. churches in 2011, so your church may want to schedule a piano concert and hear his testimony. I am certain it will be a blessing for those who can attend. Please pray about this ministry. Even small donations are very helpful because Antonio will live on a very modest stipend — and the support is tax-deductible.
For two weeks in August I had the privilege of visiting three Anglican Church monasteries in England and attending a conference of the Liturgical Society at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England. Thank you, World Mission in Louisville!!! The weather could not have been better and I had fun listening to English English for the first time in 20 years. For example, you don’t get off or down from a train. Passengers “alight,” so I alighted too. We also ate prawns. I was a bit reluctant at first—after all, what is a prawn? But once it was served I was happy. Prawns, it turned out, are small shrimp—so why didn’t they say so in the first place? The monasteries, all Benedictine, are having great difficulty in attracting new members, and yet they all were full to capacity with visitors looking for a quiet retreat and asking about the Christian faith. This I believe is something the Presbyterian and Reformed Church in the Americas needs to learn. Religious communities have an important role in supporting local churches in serving the needy, providing sanctuary, and teaching the faith. Life in community is a powerful witness to God and this powerful testimony is needed today when there is such confusion about Christian spirituality.
The Liturgical Society Conference, the principal reason for my trip to England, was very interesting. There was a wide variety of papers read, from fifth-century Syrian collects to a report on a new Mennonite book of morning and evening prayer that was given very high marks, to an evaluation of what they call Café Church (where people drink coffee or tea and eat snacks throughout the worship time). This particular Café Church was led by a United Reformed Church congregation, and they had seen a large number of new visitors. Overall I was impressed with the creativity of the research methods and encouraged to see just how much the Anglican, Reformed and Methodist churches are doing to reverse the downward trend of church attendance. At the same time it was clear that respect for the liturgical heritage of the Western Church was held in high regard as the common template, but this love of what we have received from the past was informing, not smothering, new creativity. The Liturgical Society meets every two years; maybe you would like to attend in 2012? It will be a great trip — in addition to learning a lot we can alight wherever we go and eat prawns!
Just a note about Martha. She is starting to give quilting or patchwork classes in our house. We are thinking this may also be a way some of the sisters of the retreat center can begin to support themselves. If you have cloth that you think might be useful to quilters, please save it and let us know. We will try to find someone who can carry it down here with them so we can save the postage costs.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 275