; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH NEWS – April : Connecting Voices
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(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC, and the Southern California conference, UCC)

EIRCAn Insight from a Global Ecumenical Experience

(The following article is by Rev. Dr. Loletta Barrett, U.C.C. minister)

The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) is a partner church of Global Ministries, our joint UCC/DOC mission.  The UCCSA is a denomination that is present in five countries (South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana).  It originated from the work of the London Missionary Society and American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and became united when the churches begun by both these missionary bodies joined in 1967 with the Congregational Union of Southern Africa.  A few years later, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in these lands united with the UCCSA.

Like the UCC and DOC in the United States of America, each individual church within this our partner denomination determines how they will answer God’s call to be a church together.  But the realities of distance, lack of transportation and educational resources and few clergy require a different approach.  Lay congregational leadership is vitally important to their continued existence.

In Namibia, there are only 15 UCCSA churches in the entire country, (with a geographic area three times the size of California, but only 2.5 million people).  About half of these churches were established as “outstations,” to a main church, usually when a member family moved to a new area for employment and found no UCCSA church there.  The size of the congregations ranges from 15 to 250 people.

Unfortunately there are only five ordained ministers of the UCCSA in Namibia (with one of these retired but filling in, and one serving as a chaplain and not in a church).  There are a couple of underlying reasons for this.  There is no seminary in the country and little ability on the part of the church members to pay ministers.   So few can answer the call to attain the education and engage in a ministry which does not support their families.   The few ordained ministers are each assigned to one congregation, but are expected to travel to the other churches to provide the services only an ordained person can provide (baptism, weddings, confirmation, and communion.)

Realistically the ministers can only be present in any given church once every couple of months.  This leaves all the other duties–regular Sunday morning worship and preaching, Christian education for children and adults, visitation, and most day to day church business to be handled by the laity.  Elders and deacons are expected to share their gifts in these important ways.  There are also a couple of lay preachers, with some special training, who volunteer their services to go to churches that do not have elders or deacons and cannot access an ordained minister on important Sundays such as Easter.

As an ordained minister serving as a missionary with the UCCSA, I truly appreciated the way the Spirit was present and the ways the members of the congregation sought to share their gifts for the sake of the life of their congregation.  I also recognized that in rural areas, none of the other denominations had an adequate number of clergy.  In Namibia, the Congregationalists and the Lutherans would invite one another to each other’s worship service when an itinerant clergy person arrived.  When it came to the Lord’s Supper, everyone was invited to the table– God’s table.  In this case, necessity is the impetus for empowerment of the laity and for real, substantial ecumenism.  But perhaps we can take a lesson from these examples for our churches here in America, where we have our own struggles to survive and to grow.

The Return of Indigenous Spirituality

Recently there was a major gathering of interfaith leaders in Los Angeles, to discuss what we could do together in the coming years.  Perhaps the most striking contribution was made by Chief Daniel Ramos, an elder of the Yamasi nation (connected with the Hopi and Navajo peoples), who made an eloquent plea for the religions becoming protectors of all the nonu-human creatures and the whole web of life on earth.   Shortly before that evening, a Disciples minister and a UCC minister had participated in a dancing and drumming circle in am L.A. suburb, put together by non-native Americans who have realized how much the indigenous religions of the world have to contribute to the human future, especially in the area of deep connection to, and sacred feeling for, the earth.

Our two clergy participated gladly in both the dancing and the drumming, the purpose of which, on this occasion, was aimed at contacting the rain spirits so that southern California could have some relief from the current severe drought.   (Rain finally came a few days later.) The native peoples have a deep respectful feeling for the spirits which inhabit the natural world.  They can greatly help the rest of us who are addicted to technological achievement and economic growth and have largely lost touch with our dependence on all the other forms of life on earth.  Another way in which modern people are discovering indigenous wisdom is through the revival of shamanic practices.  The shaman journeys into “non-ordinary reality,” the spirit world, on behalf of the person who has come to her for help.  And with sufficient training, we can begin to make such journeys on our own.  In a past time, such things would simply have been condemned by church people as “heathen”.  Nowadays we realize that God has given God’s Spirit in some form to all the religions and spiritualities of the planet, and that it is very important for our common future that we are open to this and know how to receive it.

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