Honduras 5, Maine 1: Pastors retreat together
The Rev. Oscar Murillo of the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Honduras and the Rev. Susan Stonestreet, pastor of United Christian UCC in Lincolnville, Maine, compare pastoral experiences. David Anderman photo.
Two footballs on a chair, one round and one oblong, symbolized our unity and our differences. We were pastors of the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Honduras and the Maine Conference, gathered at the China Lake Conference Center in Maine, Oct. 7- 10, around the theme of our calling as ministers.
The event included 15 Maine pastors, 17 Honduran pastors, five Honduran women active in the church, plus translators and national staff.
We worshiped and prayed together, broke bread around dining and communion tables, and shared our stories—with the help of interpreters. We found that we all struggle to find enough time for private study and sermon preparation in the midst of the details of congregational life.
We experienced the contrast in our worship styles: the cool, rational, quiet, reflective style of Maine pastors and the exuberant, emotional, moving style of our new Honduran friends. Through both styles, the Spirit moved us and united us.
The first evening, it felt awkward talking through interpreters. We tended to stay in our language groups. But music and games provided a bridge for building relationships without words. Not surprisingly, the Hondurans won the soccer game 5-1. We were not able to explain American football. After a while, Mainers began to pick up a few Spanish words and Hondurans learned a little English. We became less shy about grabbing an interpreter to help us out.
Sharing stories of call
In groups of about 10, we shared stories of our calls to ministry. To the Rev. Bruce Burnham, pastor of Alfred UCC and North Saco UCC, these sessions were "the most memorable and meaningful time." The Rev. Jim Fletcher, State Street Church UCC, Portland, agreed. "There was a lot of laughter and not a few tears as we told some of the most intimate stories of our stubbornness and ultimate yielding to the call of God in our lives."
The Rev. Alice Anderman, First Congregational, UCC, Waterville, had a similar report from another small group: "God pursues us and calls us to ministry in many different ways and often it is hard to say yes to God's call."
As we developed trust in the group, we began to touch on sensitive issues.
Maine pastors asked about the role of women in ministry in Honduras. The Rev. Rolando Sanchez, president of the E&R seminary in San Pedro Sula, responded that there were no formal impediments to ordination for women and a few women had been ordained over the years, but because of the culture, they had not been able to be successful pastors. During this discussion, one of the women in the Honduran group, Reineria de Ayala, president of the E&R Women's League, announced her intention to go to seminary and seek ordination for a pastoral position.
The Hondurans could not understand why we Maine pastors only had worship services on Sundays. The Rev. Oscar Murillo and others told us that their congregations gather three, four, and five days a week for worship, in addition to the usual rounds of committee meetings and Christian education. We hung our heads.
Embarrassment of riches
Through our time together, we Maine pastors began to get a picture of life in Honduras and in its churches and gradually realized how privileged we are in material terms. We also realized that material possessions do not correlate with the movements of the Spirit.
"The Hondurans have no trouble espressing their love of God and we did our best," said the Rev. Jim Fletcher. "I was humbled by the openness and disarmed by the warmth of these wonderful Christian brothers and sisters."
Pastor Marco Castro, of El Progresso, spoke for all the Honduran visitors when he excitedly described the retreat as "a wonderful, life-changing experience."
The Rev. Susan Stonestreet, United Christian Church, UCC, Lincolnville, captured the feeling of all the Maine participants. "Our week with the Hondurans reconfirmed for me, once again, the importance and the absolute necessity of our coming together with those from another culture as friends and followers of Christ," she said. "If we are truly interested in international peace and fellowship and understanding in the midst of the world's chaotic state, we must continue building these relationships with face-to-face interactions.
"I now have new friends from Honduras whom I'll never forget," Stonestreet said. "My congregation has grown stronger because of our extending hospitality to someone who might have been a 'foreigner' before, but who is now a friend and no longer a stranger."
After a day enjoying Acadia National Park, the Honduran pastors were weekend guests of various Maine congregations before they headed home.
At their final lunch, our new Honduran friends proudly shared stories of their time in local congregations.
The Rev. David E. Anderman is Senior Minister of First Congregational UCC in Waterville, Maine.