So we have spent much of this trip, I now see, listening to God to learn how we should be listening to each other. Our partnership involves distances that must be bridged, and not just the flight from Miami to Port au Prince. They are distances of difference: different cultural norms, different conceptions of clergy and lay roles, different levels of material wealth, different degrees of power. We all agree that the blans from the States can’t just come in and tell their Haitian “partners” what to do. Instead, we have to ask questions – but it matters how those questions are framed. Do you ask your partners, “What do you want?” – as if their responsibility is to write a grocery list and yours is do the shopping? Do you ask your partners, “What can I do to help you be successful?” – as if their current situation is failure?
We’re listening for the Spirit’s guidance in how to listen because a major change has taken place in the way Episcopal schools are to be run, at least among Pere Colbert’s schools in southern Haiti. In September, he informed the parish vestries that the schools associated with their churches were now the vestries’ responsibilities. Previously, the priest basically had sole authority over the schools; but Pere Colbert is seeking to guide his parishioners into living out their calling as members of the first order of ministry, the laity, by practicing collaborative leadership. To those of us at St. Andrew’s, this should sound familiar. For us, it’s certainly been a transition to move toward a model of collaboration and empowerment among clergy and lay leaders. For Haiti, it’s an ecclesial earthquake, potentially. This is a hierarchical church in a country deeply rooted in hierarchy. So moving toward a collaborative model will mean breaking free of things that have bound us. The new life of resurrection comes with the cost of hard changes along the way.
To unbind us, like Lazarus, and let us go will mean change for the American partners, too. Previously, we collaborated by conferring with Colbert about what he thought the school in Maniche needed and how we could help the quality of education improve there. Now, our partnership will need to branch out to include St. Augustin’s vestry. And if that’s true, then the idea of partnership implies that our vestry will want to take a more committed role, too. It sounds like we’ll need to do a lot more listening all around. So for now, we’ve discerned, the questions for our vestry colleagues at St. Augustin's tomorrow are these: “How does your vestry function to run your church when your priest only comes up the mountain for services once every six weeks? And what do you imagine it might look like for you to have a school under your purview, too?” From there, later, we’ll move to thinking about what they might need, as well as identifying how they’re already well-positioned for that change. And we’ll hear what thoughts and questions they have for us.
And that’s a good thing. Because (to give a glimpse of tomorrow morning’s sermon) we are members of the same body, the Body of Christ, no matter what distances of difference separate us. As members of the same body, we have to be in relationship for the body to function in a healthy and holy way. And relationships change over time as more voices come into the family. So we have to listen to each other, attentive to the Spirit’s prodding coming from those new voices – and we have to be willing to empty ourselves of some control over the outcome.
On a more concrete level…. Today was difficult in that two of our members (Cindy Obenhaus and Carolyn Kroh) were sick and needed to stay at the guest house rather than taking part in the second day of the teacher seminar – which was troublesome because it was largely Carolyn’s project, and she should have been able to see it come off so successfully. The teachers were very positive in their evaluations of the material, indicating they learned things they can turn into more engaging learning for the kids. Carolyn and Cindy are better now, the day of rest having served them both well.
Tomorrow, we’re off to 7 a.m. church in Les Cayes – likely a two hour service – followed by the drive up the mountain and another service at Maniche. After that, it’s out to the beach at Port Salud for a swim and dinner. Let’s just say I’ll be grateful when the second sermon tomorrow morning is finished....