Monday, May 5, 2014

My Conversation with Rev. Chris Duckworth

On April 22, 2014, I spoke with Rev. Chris Duckworth, who currently serves as the “de facto” chairperson for the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory’s Companion Synod Relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile (or IELCH).  Rev. Duckworth assumed this leadership role at the request of Rev. Bill Gafjken, who served as the chairperson before he was called to serve as synod bishop.  Rev. Duckworth now leads the effort to continue the relationship with the IELCH.

As chairperson, Rev. Duckworth traveled with a delegation from the ELCA’s Western Iowa synod to Chile and met with the IELCH president and other leaders.  The IELCH showed the group many of Chile’s historical sites, especially those related to the dictatorship of Pinochet in 1970’s and 1980’s.  The IELCH split from the other Lutheran denomination in Chile over differing reactions to this dictatorship, so the visits to museums, former detention centers, and survivors of the dictatorship served as ways to tell the stories of both the nation of Chile and the IELCH.  The delegation also visited several congregations and spent a day with a community health ministry.

Rev. Duckworth also believes that the accompaniment model is the best model for the Indiana-Kentucky Synod’s relationship with the IELCH.  The accompaniment model calls for a relationship based on walking in mutuality with our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than approaching the community and saying “we have the resources and we are going to help you do your thing.”  The two church bodies are working to develop a series of connections around certain ministry areas.  Ideally, groups in Chile, Indiana, and Kentucky who shared interests in sewing, camping ministries, or non-traditional stewardship practices would connect with each other through social media platforms, e-mail, and occasional visits (although such visits are expensive).

Although he believes that there is much work to be done to complete the transition to an accompaniment relationship, Rev. Duckworth provided several examples of how the two church bodies are already practicing this accompaniment.  He pointed to the IELCH’s history as a German church within Chile before transitioning into a truly Chilean church in the 1960’s.  Because many of our congregations still carry the marks of being German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, or other nationality churches, we can learn from the IELCH about their transformation from a German church to a Chilean church.  In the meantime, the IELCH has asked the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory for assistance in developing new accounting practices and teaching these practices to local Chilean congregations.  As the IELCH reforms the bonds with the other Lutheran denomination in Chile, the IELCH may also draw from the ELCA’s experiences during its merger in 1988.  These examples stand in stark contrast to the expectations of going to Chile to build churches or wells.  When the Indiana-Kentucky Synod travels to Chile, it goes with the intention of learning and forming relationships.

This accompaniment model has a “nice synergy” with missional theology.  The accompaniment model assumes that God is doing something in Chile and that the Kingdom of God is breaking into both Chile and the United States.  The goal is to observe this breaking in of God’s Kingdom, to learn from it, and (when asked) to participate in it in appropriate ways.  Rev. Duckworth describes this as a “more dynamic understanding of the church.”  He also credits the IELCH with making this shift from the congregation/parish model to this dynamic understanding of the church before the ELCA and hopes that the IELCH can teach us as we catch up.

Although he had not read the article about ELCA World Hunger and its rejection of the child sponsorship model, Rev. Duckworth understood the concerns about the model.  He called the model a “very paternalistic relationship.  We have resources and we can help you.”  He believes that this approach perpetuates the idea that these people need our help and creates a transaction rather than a relationship; the sponsor can feel good because the sponsor has met needs while the sponsored child can eat.  “The World Vision model tends to say, ‘We can help these people,’ rather than ‘These people are people of God and God is doing something among these people, and this is a way that we might be a part of it.’”

The Indiana-Kentucky Synod and the IELCH have first-hand experience with the weaknesses of this sponsorship model.  In the past, each conference within the Indiana-Kentucky Synod sponsored a congregation within the IELCH.  Some conferences were very active and supportive of their congregations.  Other conferences were not very active or supportive.  Still others provided their congregations with inconsistent support.  Finally, the IELCH bishop asked the synod to end this system because the differences in financial support were causing a division between IELCH congregations.

In the interests of full disclosure, Rev. Duckworth shared that his family does sponsor, through World Vision, three children in Peru and Bolivia.  The organization does do great work by serving these communities, and “we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the pretty good.”

Recently, Chile has been rocked by an 8.2 earthquake and a huge fire in the city of Valparaiso, Chile’s main port.  So far, the IELCH has not asked the synod for financial support in connection to these events.  The earthquake, which occurred off the northern coast of Chile, did not impact the IELCH, which is located in central and southern Chile.  The local Lutheran church in Valparaiso was not damaged by the fire and the congregation is responding to the disaster by collecting materials for those who lost their homes and offering worship services.  Four years ago, when an earthquake struck the southern portion of Chile and impacted several Lutheran congregations, the IELCH asked for more direct support.

As the synod restructures its Companion Synod Relationships, Rev. Duckworth offered individuals and congregations several things which they can do now to participate in the relationship with the IELCH.  As the synod creates a global mission team, the synod will look for volunteers to serve on this team.  Rev. Duckworth invited people to pray for the IELCH and add news about Chile to their regular news readings so that they can learn more about both the nation and the IELCH.  Bilingual individuals can offer their services as the two church bodies communicate with one another and establish bonds between groups with mutual interests and affinities.  And, with synod assembly approaching, individuals and congregations can pay special attention to the reports from our Companion Synods and the committees working within these relationships.

How do some of these ideas strike you?  Would you be interested in sharing conversations with others who live around the world and share your interests in particular ministry activities?

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