Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey,
On March 4, I traveled to Ecuador so that I could see and better understand our relationships with our companion dioceses. Susan went with me, along with Fr. Pedro Guzman, Chair of the Companion Diocese Committee; his wife, Dr. Odeida Dalmasi Guzman; Fr. Mark Van Sant and Deacon Emily Holman, Companion Diocese Committee members.
We began in the Diocese of Ecuador Litoral where we were hosted by Bishop Alfredo Morante and his lovely wife, Olga. During our visit we took a two-hour drive to Iglesia Santisima Trinidad (Holy Trinity Church) in the town of La Libertad. We were joined by Fr. Cristobal Olmed Le�n who planted the church there.
When we arrived, more than 150 people were waiting for us in the half-built church. Sheets of tin suspended above bare cinder-block walls provided the most basic outline of a sanctuary. Never mind--the Spirit was palpable. Deacon Carlos Villacis has been doing powerful ministry in that community. Included in the crowd were children, youth and adults. We held a prayer service during which the children and youth performed dances. People "witnessed" to how important the church was in their lives and in the life of the community.
Among the many important ministries engaged in by Santissima Trinidad is their outreach to the recovery community. Drugs and gangs are a major problem in Ecuador, as they are here. Santissma Trinidad includes many members who were able to defeat the demon of drug addiction by the grace of God and with the support of a faithful church community. Following the prayer service, the community feted us in the home of one of the members with an incredible meal of shrimp, rock lobsters and rice.
On Friday, we visited the diocesan offices and had lunch with the bishop and members of the clergy. Later that afternoon, we participated in the Convention Eucharist which was held in the Cathedral. The celebration included the ordination of Edgar Giraldo, a clergy person of the diocese, to the sacred priesthood. The cathedral is not air-conditioned and the day was hot and humid. I felt like I was back in Florida, but all went well and we cooled down after the service with refreshments in the courtyard of the cathedral.
On Saturday morning, March 7, we were guests at diocesan convention which was held in their diocesan offices. The Diocese of Ecuador Litoral is small. There are 31 congregations served by less than a dozen priests and a handful of deacons. The Convention was made up of about 50 or 60 people. Despite the size of the diocese, they are faithful Christians doing vital work in their communities, often in very challenging circumstances.
On Saturday afternoon, we flew to the city of Quito to visit the Diocese of Ecuador Central. There, our hosts were Bishop Victor Scantlebury and his wife, Marcia. This diocese has been struggling with internal conflicts for many years. Bishop Scantlebury was appointed by the Presiding Bishop to try to stabilize the situation. It has not been easy, but he is optimistic and has been determined in his ministry. It is another small diocese with 31 congregations, many of them small missions. There are 14 priests.
On Sunday Morning, I joined Bishop Scantlebury and concelebrated at the Church of Buen Pastor in Quito Sur (South Quito). The church was filled with people of all ages. I was pleased to be shown a new meeting/classroom building which had been built with funds donated by the Diocese of New Jersey.
As with Santisima Trinidad in La Libertad, Buen Pastor is a church that is engaged with its local community and making a real impact under the leadership of their rector, Fr. Juan Carlos Quino�ez. It was a joy to be with an excited and exciting worshiping community. Fr. Guzman and his wife Odeida had a similar experience at the Catedral del Senor. Fr. Van Sant and Deacon Holman joined the congregation at the Mision Cristo Liberador led by their pastor, Lourdes Inapanta. According to Fr. Van Sant, there were 50 to 60 people in congregation, of all ages. Of these, 15 or so youth and an equal number were children. Fr. Van Sant described the music as "home grown" and the worship service was supported by PowerPoint throughout. Everyone in the church was encouraged to be active in study and ministry. There was even a Bible study for grandmothers.
Most memorable for Fr. Van Sant and Deacon Holman: youth brought a woman in a wheelchair from her home to church. After worship they took her home and gave her and her brother and sister food they had collected and proceeded to clean their home, make their beds, fold their laundry, chat and pray. As Fr. Van Sant observes, "INCREDIBLE!" He wrote to me about this: "They are the incarnation of a vital faith community rooted in ministry among one another and throughout their community."
While both the Diocese of Ecuador Litoral and the Diocese of Ecuador Central face unique challenges, vibrant and vital ministry is taking place. It is my hope that we can begin to find ways of building relationships between congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey and congregations in both dioceses in Ecuador through our Companion Diocese Committee. We have a great deal we can learn from the church in Ecuador. We also have much we can share with them.
I am grateful to the members of the committee for their dedication to this work and especially to Fr. Guzman who coordinated this, my first visit to Ecuador.
Please remember to pray each week for our companion dioceses and for their bishops, Alfredo and Victor, and also, please know that they are praying for us.
Blessings and peace,
The Right Reverend William H. (Chip) Stokes, D.D.
Bishop of New Jersey