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Covenants of Love and Renewal

A letter from Chenoa Stock serving in Bolivia

October 2015

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I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and I hadn’t even walked down the aisle. The days leading up to this special moment of becoming a “Señora” and committing to live my life in covenant with my now-husband, José Luis Claure, were days of last-minute errands, of catching up with close friends from all over the world, some not seen for years, of visits and city wanders around Pittsburgh, Pa., with present and future family members, of eating delicious food, and of embracing the peace within the joyful chaos. Before walking down the aisle my bridesmaids and I shared a moment of prayer and then, there I was, my arm around my father’s, awaiting my brother’s trumpet processional call, filled and ready to enter into covenant.

During our service we not only emphasized our marriage covenant of abiding love, symbolized by a ring, but we also invited our guests to recognize their covenant of baptism, the gift of life and renewal through water and God’s unconditional love. This was symbolized by a scallop shell (Christian symbol of baptism) that each one took with them as they exited the church’s outdoor courtyard, where we were married.I can only say that this Holy Spirit simply flowed throughout each thread of the marriage celebration. This was surely God’s unconditional love surrounding us—in our loved ones present, in the music, sung in Spanish and English, in the candle lighters, in the Scripture readers, in the words spoken by my father, in the homily, in the vows, in the Communion and breaking of bread together, in the blessing, and at the reception in the toasts, and in the dancing that occurred on all decks of the boat that sailed throughout the night along the three rivers of Pittsburgh on a gorgeous and balmy August evening.

There is no greater love than that of worshiping and celebrating in fellowship and service.

Jose and I continued our celebration of union in Blackwater Falls, a West Virginia state park. There we were reminded of the flowing and mighty waters of baptism, of renewed life, of justice. We were in the presence of Creation as guests passing through the forests and trails of those whose habitat this has been for centuries upon centuries. It was a pristine land that called to us to nurture, protect, walk lightly, and to listen to our fellow living beings. We were in covenant, not only with each other but also with all that surrounded us.

Many holy covenants have been made throughout our Christian history—promises that God has made to our ancestors to remind us of the love and grace that embrace us. Thankfully, we continue to be blessed to have the opportunity to renew those covenants throughout our own lives in different circumstances. I have exchanged vows with Jose, new vows for us that call us to commit to our lifelong marriage together and to our community. We have also renewed our baptismal vows with God, a recognition of the sacredness of life.

But in these celebratory days, I would also say that we renewed our covenant with and to care for God’s Creation—that precious gift that we cannot take for granted. This covenant has been further affirmed for us with Pope Francis’ call, throughout his North and South American visits and his recent Papal Encyclical, “Laudato Si,” for us to protect our “Casa Común,” our “Common Home.” He tells us: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

I am reminded of this covenant and call every day throughout my work with the Bolivian Joining Hands Network, UMAVIDA (Joining Hands for Life), and in our connection with the other eight Joining Hands networks around the world. We are working in solidarity with the people in our country of service and with presbyteries and individuals in the U.S., such as yourselves, to address the root causes of hunger, poverty and injustice in order to create systemic change that will improve thespiritual and physical quality of life of not only our fellow community members but also for the Creation—the land, the water, the air—on which all depend to survive. As Pope Francis states, “Hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

As we move through the final stages of our administrative transition, we of UMAVIDA have the faith and commitment to continue on in our mission for environmental justice and in our covenant to care for our “Casa Común.” In order to do that, we will be restructuring our own “casa” so we can better serve our networks, both locally and internationally. We would like to thank you for accompanying us throughout this process, through both your prayers and your financial gifts. I could not be here, walking with UMAVIDA during this process of evaluation and transformation, without you.

So as we rebuild our “casa,” I would call you to contemplate the “Casa Común” that is all around you and that connects each of us to each other. We are called now, more than ever, to join hands and begin or renew our covenant with God, that ever-present Source of love and spirit that flows within each of us and God’s Creation.

In solidarity and peace,

Exchanging of rings, the symbol of the marriage covenant. (photo by Andrew Rush, Pittsburgh Post Gazette photographer)

Jose and Chenoa taking a shell, the symbol for the covenant of baptism. (photo by professional photographer, Joe Tobiason – he was a YAV in Peru a few years ago – I forget when!)

Celebrating love and service with fellow PC(USA) colleagues (photo Joe Tobiason)

Renewing our covenant with our “Casa Común” in Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia

Pope Francis arriving in La Paz, Bolivia, on July 8, 2015 – (photo by UMAVIDA member, Freddy Añaguaya)

UMAVIDA Strategic Planning workshop, attended by various network partner organizations, to work on restructuring the network and its mission.



For more information:
Joining Hands Program: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/joininghands/

Joining Hands Bolivia—UMAVIDA profile:
Presbyterian work in Bolivia: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/global/bolivia/
Photos:  https://picasaweb.google.com/chenoas

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 53
Read more about Chenoa Stock’s ministry

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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