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Caribbean and North American Churches: ‘On the Move’ Together

A Letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean Region, serving in the Dominican Republic

August 2019

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The ideas fly around the circle as delegates from nine countries and 12 Presbyterian and Reformed denominations respond to an action plan for the next two years. We are on the island of Curaçao, in the eastern Caribbean Sea, at the biennial meeting of CANACOM — the Caribbean and North American Council for Mission.

Conceived as a roundtable or a circle, each member church sends the same number of delegates and has the same voice and vote. It doesn’t matter the size of the country or the church membership figures — each voice carries. Money is pooled into a common fund as each is able. Funds are used for common projects and for empowering mission activities conceived by one of the member churches.

Over the years, CANACOM has engaged in mission in a variety of ways and has found that moving out together, rather than alone, has produced some unique results.

CANACOM provides a platform for learning from and being inspired by each other.

In Curaçao, we were inspired by the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Arise! Shine Light in the Darkness program, which is coordinated by delegate Deb Rapport to assist victims of human trafficking and to raise awareness in churches and in society about this often-hidden form of enslavement. A Trinidadian delegate shared her church’s work to combat bullying in schools and the anti-bullying resource they developed for children.

CANACOM provides means for churches to accompany each other in church and societal challenges.

Our member church in Grenada has three Presbyterian congregations and one pastor. Imagine! Through CANACOM, several member churches have shared their human resources to provide an extra pastor for a specific time period assignment. The Rev. Osbert James, the lone Presbyterian pastor, describes how pastors from the United Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands have all shared pastors with the Grenadian church, bringing fresh insights and life to these congregations and some respite for an overworked pastor.

CANACOM generates models of collaboration that can go in any and all directions.

Mutuality is a common thread in the CANACOM concept — all give and all receive. Collaborations can be south-to-south, as when the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba sent workshop leaders to the Dominican Protestant Church for developing liturgical and Bible study materials on gender-based violence. These resources emphasized God’s loving concern for all people.

Or we can engage in mission together, like the Young Adults in Mission (YAM) Work Camp, a two-week mission opportunity held every three years for 18- to 30-year-olds. Or this year’s trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to participate together in a worship symposium of the Calvin Institute, an annual conference for the study and renewal of worship.

Or they can be south-to-north collaborations as well. In the late 1980s, the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands collaborated with the two Canadian member churches to provide care and accompaniment to Caribbean farmworkers living in Canadian rural areas. It’s a model for today’s immigration issues — collaborative ministry south-to-north, churches moving out together.

It is a circular way of churches moving out together: a “church-in-the-round,” to use theologian professor and author Letty Russell’s idea. It is a circle around a communion table, sharing together as we take nourishment from our God and from the love and shared commitment of one another. In a circle, we can see each other. And, in a circle, we learn that we need each other to be the full richness of God’s vision for the church and for the world.

The Caribbean churches give us a model that can work not only across countries, but also within communities. Have you given any thought to working ecumenically in your own communities? How might the congregations in your town move out together? Can you find common ground to work on problems that your whole community faces and work together on these, as each is able? Are there marginalized groups in your community with whom you rarely work or interact? How might you partner with them on important issues where God has planted you?

I thank you, friends, for your continuing support of the ministry I attempt to do with our friends and neighbors in the Caribbean. It is only through your supportive prayer, encouragement, friendship and financial resources that I — and other mission co-workers like me — can minister where God has called us. YOU are also part of this grand circle that expands ever-outward, including more and more people in the loving communion. I am grateful for your love and support. I am grateful for the love and support of our partner churches and institutions in the Caribbean. May God continue to lead us in new ways to BE the Church together.

Jo Ella Holman

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