Actually, it began in April, with the pre-Assembly Latin American/Caribbean Consultation, hosted here in El Salvador for four days. It became evident that the major concern of the majority of the delegates and the churches which they represent, is the "globalization" of the economy. Of the ten Village Group themes offered within the Assembly program, more than half of these 40 delegates selected the one on economic globalization. Many of the presentations and much of the discussion focused on this urgent theme, as well as the strategizing toward the Assembly, to be held in Winnipeg, Canada, July 21-31.
The pre-Assembly Visitation program took me to Vancouver, where a small delegation of visitors was hosted by pilgrimage leader Pastor Don Johnson and friends, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The focus during this week in mid-July was on cultural and religious diversity. Lutheran immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia, who have established themselves in this area over the past century, are becoming more and more aware of this diversity which increasingly surrounds them, and are seeking faithful and creative ways of responding to their new neighbours.
Buddhists, Moslems and Hindus especially are settling in Vancouver with a concentration which leaves one wondering whether he or she might not actually be in Asia. The main difference between, say, a Buddhist temple complex here and one in Sri Lanka, is about 2,495 years. Two and a half millenia can't be imitated and reproduced with authenticity in five years. We were warmly welcomed into the worship and cultural centres of each of these groups. What is evident is that their budgets are much more sumptuous, and their tastes much more extravagant, than those of the ELCIC.
But even the ELCIC is wealthy compared to other local residents. Street priest Brian Heinrich and the Lutheran Urban Mission Society devote themselves to enriching the lives of those who live on the streets of the downtown east side. An autographed copy of their anthology, Boiling Over—Writings from the Heart of Vancouver, is a treasured memento of the memorable day we spent with them (one of several I've enjoyed previously with this ministry).
While one of these brothers or sisters may be enthused about finding a quarter on the sidewalk, just a block over, their Chinese neighbours may be spending $800 for a couple hundred grams of seaweed (well,it has a more glamoursous name, but it has slipped my mind, both in English and Cantonese), or $700 / kg for abalone. And just a block over in the other direction, enthralled tourists are wondering just how much their credit cards can handle as they browse through the exotic shops of Gastown.
Another day was spent with the Squamish First Nations folk, first around their classy, artistically-carved council table for some more formal introductions and orientation, and then at the beach for a traditional welcoming ceremony, as weary but excited paddlers arrived by canoe at the North Shore, after several days of travel from northern British Columbia.
Bounteous German hospitality and cuisine, and serious moments of worship, brought us back to our Lutheran roots every few hours—except that sauerkraut and smoked salmon are often served alongside sweet and sour squid at Vancouver Lutheran potluck dinners these days. A long walk and talk around a diverse organic farm in Chilliwack also brought us back to our Lutheran roots.
My hopes of connecting with Africa and Asia during this week prior to the actual Assembly were only half-met. The cultural diversity—Asian, at least—was to be found in Vancouver itself, rather than in the delegation, which consisted of three German clerics, a Venezuelan lay woman, whom I knew from the pre-Assembly consultation, and myself. Africa would have to wait until Winnipeg (well, apart from friends in Alberta, whom I had already visited, between family visits). More…
-- Brian Rude
San Salvador, El Salvador