A guest post by Cate Burton
In July 2014 I had the opportunity to attend the Global Institute of Theology (GIT) offered by the World Communion of Reformed Churches and hosted by the Universidad Biblica Latinoamerica in San Jose, Costa Rica. There were 30 participants from 15 different countries, as well as administration and academic staff. We came from Europe, Asia, Africa, the America’s and the Middle East. I was the only one from Oceania, Australasia and Pasifika and found myself as the unofficial representative from our part of the world.
The catch phrase which emerged from our three and a half weeks together was ‘Many Cultures, One Family.’ It was this sense of cross-cultural community which has marked me most. I am truly privileged and blessed to have experienced something of the beauty of the Universal Church (well, the Reformed part of it anyway).
On the academic side, the GIT included one core course and six elective courses, all taught in English. The theme of the core course was Transforming Church, Community and Mission, with one week of morning lectures dedicated to each of the three components. The elective courses took place in the afternoons with the first three electives held during the first week and a half while the remaining electives were held during the last week and a half. These classes were mixed according to gender and nationality with 10 students in each elective. The electives I attended were Eco Theology and Feminism and Masculinity.
The content of the core course and the elective courses has both broadened and deepened my theology. I now have a fuller understanding the theological, ecological, sociological, political and economic issues faced in other parts of the world. With this comes an increased desire to be mindful of and engaged in these issues globally, as well as encouraging the church in Aotearoa New Zealand to respond faithfully to these concerns as they present themselves in our context.
To the class room and coffee break discussions we each brought our own perspectives and experiences, and we shared these freely with one another. Contextual theology became very important for us, with many statements beginning, ‘in my context…’ and many questions being answered, ‘well, it depends on your context…’ This was freeing as well as frustrating.
There was a chapel service every morning and evening during the week, which was another opportunity for us share songs and liturgy from our own context as well as develop our own sense of corporate worship as a gathered community. One day I led worship with Rabih from Lebanon; we prayed in Te Reo Maori and we sang in Arabic. On another occasion I led with Jacoline from the Netherlands and I taught everyone how to hongi as a way of Passing the Peace. We sang in a variety of languages and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in our mother tongues.
Once a week we visited local projects such as childcare centres for families of impoverished neighbourhoods and churches running support clinics for women with HIV and Aids. On Saturdays we would go sightseeing in San Jose or other parts of the country from the Central Valley to the Pacific Coast. On Sunday mornings we also attended local Presbyterian or Pentecostal churches, which were all in Spanish and were translated when possible.
My experience at the GIT has contributed for my formation as a disciple of Christ and as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I will continue to be shaped by the relationships which developed and the way of life we shared together.
I am grateful to St Peters in the City for allowing me to take an extended period of leave when I was so new to my ministry role there and to the Kaimai Presbytery for endorsing my application for the Best Travel Fund which made a significant contribution to my travel costs.
Muchas gracias! Tena rawa atu koe!