[Anglican World] Churches in South America have been growing at a phenomenal rate, but, according to the Bishop of Peru, the Rt Revd Bill Godfrey, and his team of lay workers, there has been a gap. “If you ask the average person in Peru if they are a Christian, the majority will say they are, but how that makes a difference in their day to day lives is much more limited,” says lay worker Paul Tester. “A lot of people don’t have the word discipleship in their vocabulary and we’ve been trying to help people understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ.”
A new programme called Christian Life and Formation was set up a year ago by Bishop Bill. He said, “We haven’t used the word discipleship because in Spanish the word formation explains it better. Our faith has got to express itself in the life we live, so we have set up a team of people to visit every parish in the diocese and help them look at where they are and what resources might help them move forward in discipleship.”
The small team of lay people including Paul Tester and Anna Sims, both working in Peru with CMS, and Peruvian lay workers Lizbeth Varillas and Sonia Chambi, have spent the past year working with a whole range of parishes from shanty towns in the city of Lima to remote rural parishes in the Andes. The team has been helping parishes look at how they are in the light of six strands which includes the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments, the Apostles Creed, a personal relationship with Jesus, Scripture and the Sacraments
Bishop Bill explained, “If you go around to many of our 17th century English churches you see the Lord’s prayer, the Ten commandments and the Apostles’ Creed up on the walls. People had to learn them for Confirmation in those days for spiritual and pastoral reasons. It was because belief equalled faith – so the way we behave is because of what we believe – like a kind of curriculum. We took those three things and criss-crossed or wove them with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You don’t have anything without that. Then Holy Scripture, which is absolutely essential, along with the sacraments. Then the Church – that’s very important. The biggest heresy in western Christianity is when people say to me, ‘I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church.’ You never found Christians in the Bible who didn’t belong to Church – Christians and Church go together – because it says in Ephesians 5.25 ‘Christ loved the Church.’ Some people don’t like that.”
Lizbeth said the huge differences across Peru meant there couldn’t be any set way of enabling discipleship. She said, “In Lima there are more churches, and clergy can share experiences and support each other, but in the regions people are more isolated with big distances between churches. Peru is such a vast country with almost 10 million people (a third of the total population) living in and around the capital, where there are extremes of poverty and wealth and also crime. Out in the rural areas traditions and culture are very strong.” One of the challenges to helping people connect their daily lives with their Christian faith is the way people have been brought up to think that religion is just about going to church on Sundays and not seeing it as affecting the way they live.”
Anna said she had however been encouraged by one family she had met in Chiclayo where she worked with Lizbeth. “Only the mother and daughter went to church in the family we stayed with when we were first there. The vicar gave them a Bible, which the 13-year-old was reading and then asking questions. When we visited again last week the husband had started going to church too and getting involved. They told us how talking about their faith and discussing it had made them realise how Christ wanted to be part of their relationships and that their communication is better and they have a better family.”
The team are excited about the future and how their work with parishes will help build up a new depth of faith and action in churches across the diocese. Anna said using the six strands as a kind of spiritual thermometer they spoke with church members, clergy and leaders and asked people to fill out questionnaires as well as conducting interviews with clergy. “It was a bit like market research, I suppose,” said Anna. “We’re hoping when we look back on what we’ve found we will be able to see some patterns that will help. But we do recognise every church and situation is different and has different needs. One thing we are finding is that people really value taking time to talk about these things and getting feedback. A lot of what we’ve done has been opening up conversations for people to think about being disciples and what that might mean.”
This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of Anglican World, the quarterly magazine of the Anglican Communion. You can subscribe here.