Gathered in a Bangkok hotel conference room among university-inspired emblems and banners, a small group of leaders from the Anglican Communion in South and Southeast Asia recently prayed, communed, and rested.
“We are too often blinded by trivial matters. Lord, may our attention be diverted…may we cross bridges that we have not crossed in the past.”
Trinity Church Wall Street convened heads of church and their spouses from this region for the first time in November, including representatives from the Philippines, South Korea, Jerusalem and the Middle East, North India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Barbados, and members of Trinity’s staff and Vestry. As an opportunity for learning together and building connections with one another, the Bible studies and workshops provided time for self-reflection and growth, including ways the leaders are working to empower their communities to care for vulnerable populations.
“We’re thinking about our neighborhood,” said the Rev. Winnie Varghese, as she reviewed Trinity’s strategic initiatives. “We are imagining what our city needs, and bringing together the homeless, young people, and vulnerable people to help them with their needs. The Gospel is the transformation of our world. We are called and compelled by it. We can be on the side of justice and make change. We can lead and teach. Our role is to transform the world.”
Echoes of this purpose were heard throughout the four-day conference, with each region discussing ways in which they reach people through schools and hospitals, disaster relief and a focus on women’s empowerment.
“We come from many places, each with our own challenges, but we start by opening schools, and then churches,” said the Most Rev. Suheil Salman Dawani, Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. “As people become educated, they can have more influence. This all takes patience and practice, but we present our Christianity through healing, through our works.”
Schools and health clinics managed by the Episcopal Church of the Philippines also aim to break the cycle of poverty, particularly following a disaster like a major earthquake. “Everyone is our neighbor in the Philippines,” said the Most. Rev. Joel Atiwag Pachao, Prime Bishop of the Philippines. “We commit to long-term aid, taking care of people until they are fully rehabilitated and restored.”
Dr. Song Woo Hur, wife of the Most Rev. Moses Nak Jun Yoo, Bishop of Daejon and Primate of the Anglican Church of Korea, offered that the Church’s work in Korea serves to reconcile groups as well. “We have sixty social projects run by forty different denominations of churches for runaway youth, the elderly, the poor, and others. Students of all faiths come to our schools because they are good schools. Our institutions can be used as tools for reconciliation.”
In New Zealand, the Anglican Church fills a similar role by mediating across religions, particularly related to the harmful legacy of colonization. “As a Church, we’re assisting in the process of reconciliation. Faith can be a powerful vehicle for moving people from the margins to the center,” said The Most Rev. Philip Richardson, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
Emory Edwards, Trinity Vestryman, concurred. “Trinity too is a diverse congregation, and there are many opportunities to work with people outside of ourselves. We work with others toward a common purpose.”