Global Mission in the 21st Century
In 2019, the Global Mission and the Christian Formation Commissions partnered together for a diocese-wide summer youth mission trip. On August 5, 32 teenagers and ten adult chaperones from across the Diocese of New York traveled to Puerto Rico, where our “music and mission” work took us to the southwestern mountains of the island. Over ten days, we installed an ultraviolet (UV) water purification system at Quinta Tranquila, the retreat center of the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico in Yauco, and solar panels at churches in Maricao and in Lares.
Every morning, we split into working groups, which traveled to each of the different churches. We worked with local professionals, learning from their expertise as we assembled and installed solar panels. Back at Quinta Tranquila, a chaperone guided a group of teens through building the UV water purification system—similar to those used in Episcopal churches in Cuba.
During the community Eucharist at the end of the week, the Rev. Carlos Vélez and the Rev. Javier Rivera preached about how caring for God’s creation is interwoven with loving our neighbor. While the water purification system and solar panels were first steps in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria, there are also long-term environmental implications. The water purification system provides a source of clean drinking water and reduces the community’s plastic consumption. The local churches also experience frequent power outages, so the solar panels would help to reduce their reliance on generators, the amount of fuel they use, and their overall carbon footprint.
Some of our teens were from Young at Arts, a non-profit performing arts organization that connects young people from across Westchester County and the Bronx. They were especially excited about combining their love of music with service. They spent the week rehearsing and held a joyful concert for the congregation in Yauco as an expression of our thanks and love. That weekend, we headed back to San Juan, where we worshipped at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The Young at Arts students then held a concert for a full cathedral in the afternoon. They performed with Bernie Williams and Young at Arts’ instrumental director Kat Rodriguez—both Puerto Rican musicians who spoke powerfully about their love of home and about their experiences in the Puerto Rican diaspora. The concert benefitted the diocese’s aid efforts after Hurricane Maria.
The Rev. Yamily Bass-Choate, diocesan Liaison for Global Mission, was an indispensable companion and mentor throughout the planning process and trip. She connected our parish with the work already underway on the diocesan level to build relationships with the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico. In April 2019, she, along with the Rev. Michael Bird (then chair of the Christian Formation Commission) and Sharyn Pyrtle (Young at Arts’ founding director), made a 26-hour round trip to Puerto Rico to meet with the Rt. Rev. Rafael Morales, Bishop of Puerto Rico. Making connections across local contexts and listening to where the Holy Spirit is already leading the diocese were foundational to planning the trip together, and will continue to shape our partnership and work in the future.
Through these existing relationships, we were invited into the work of water justice and economic justice that local religious communities were already discerning and beginning. These issues also have particular resonance with our teenagers, who readily name the inequalities they experience and see clearly in their various school districts, neighborhoods, and the world. The diocese-wide trip connected teenagers from New York City, Westchester County, and the Mid-Hudson Region. Some of them grew up together, while others just met, but their friendships made tangible God’s grace in their lives. God’s grace calls them into community with each other and expands their naming and striving for justice and peace from their own contexts in New York to the world.
Then, during the first week of March 2020, individuals from our diocese joined in celebrating the reunification of the Episcopal Church in Cuba and the Episcopal Church after 54 years. The reconciliation was the joyful fruit of the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, Bishop of Cuba, and years of friendship between siblings in Christ. Where there was no precedent for the initial separation, there was also no path for what readmission would look like. Yet people who enter into relationship are changed by each other. By seeking good for each other, we begin to live into existence the reconciliation which God wants for all of us. Joining the witness of other Episcopal and Anglican partnerships, our diocese has served and formed relationships in Cuba over the last ten years. Our friends have truly become a part of our extended family, and our institutional reunion was wonderfully joyous and deeply moving.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic put a pause on some of the rhythms of our diocese’s global mission work. This included the annual Spanish-language classes in the Diocese of Cuernavaca, Mexico, and the installation of water purification systems in Cuba. However, this public health crisis has exposed how interconnected we all truly are and how deeply we feel the physical separation from each other. The Global Mission Commission looks forward to virtual opportunities which will open up new ways for connecting and sharing resources across the Anglican Communion.
In the 21st century, the colonial history of Christian mission cannot be denied. My family’s history with Christianity can be traced back to Rhenish missionaries from Germany. American imperialism shapes the context for socio-politico-economic conditions in Puerto Rico and for the initial separation from the Episcopal Church in Cuba in 1966. My own relationship with Anglicanism is always held in tension with the history of British colonialism in my native Hong Kong. Yet I have been humbled to experience and participate in the Diocese of New York’s commitment to transforming what “mission” work is and can be.
In reckoning with our history, we have the responsibility to mend relationships we have broken and to live into Jesus’ commandment to love all our neighbors in the expansive neighborhood which is the world. When we understand what it means for the Church to truly be the Body of Christ, we understand that God yearns for justice, love, and community with all creation and all people. God is truly at work in making everything new.