It’s after lunch, post worship on Sunday, and we’re all sitting around Fr. Hippolito’s table, having just eaten a load of flan to prove how grateful we are for the invitation. The afternoon seems long and stretches out into a haze of humidity and heat, making me feel lazy and languid. For a few minutes I have been following the conversation between Fr. Hippolito and our translator, Ernesto, listening particularly for how it is we’re getting back to the hotel, but the conversation is mostly about church. I’ve been learning Spanish fairly diligently, so I am following along ok, but I find myself stuck on one word. Finally I just ask what it is.
‘Oh,’ says Ernesto, ‘the word is templo.’ I am slightly confused because this sounds a lot like the word I just learned meaning earthquake. Surely this is not the word. ‘Um, what does it mean?’ I ask, Ernesto looking at me like I am really slow today. ‘Templo, you know, the church building?’ No wonder he’s raised his eyebrows at me like I’ve lost it; that
should have been easy. ‘Riiiiight!’ I chuckle with him. ‘But wait, Ernesto, I learned iglesia means church.’ ‘Yeah,’ explains Ernesto, ‘Templo is the building but iglesia is the people. You know?’
The laziness flees from my body as I sit bolt upright. ‘For real?’ I say, totally captivated by this superb theology expressed linguistically. ‘Yes.’ Ernesto says in a voice that is meant to convey his authority but also that he thinks I am slightly silly for the question. ‘That is the best ever!’ Because it is. Because think of all the time in English spent trying to parse the difference between the church where I attend and the place it physically occupies and
the church as the body of Christ, the gathered disciples. The iglesia is what matters; templos are completely secondary.
This week in Santo Domingo is an iglesia experience, the one church gathered for kingdom work. We talk a lot about being one church in our diocese, partnering together to do more and to support one another, and this relationship with the iglesia of Christo Salvador in the DR is an extension of that. There is only one iglesia of Jesus Christ, and we’re all part of it- Americans, Dominicans- any Christ follower. Being one church is what this is about. It is not about running the perfect VBS or experiencing a new culture; it is not about ‘going on a mission trip’ or even holding a vision clinic. It is
about partnering to bring the kingdom, to be Christ in the world.
For one week, we get to witness how the kingdom is unfolding in a different place and be part of it, to see what Jesus is up to in an entirely different barrio than our own. We have the joy of supporting our brothers and sisters who work diligently and faithfully despite issues of poverty and development. We have the privilege of developing relationships with people who seem so different and yet are so similar, people who like us pray for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.
Why partner and visit the DR? Because we’re all one church, that’s why. Because we are all in this together. But we easily forget that, we even forget to be one church in the
diocese, as each templo gets consumed by parochial affairs. This week reminds me that the Jesus movement is a global movement. That the Spirit is loose, not only in my backyard, but all over the world, stirring up new things and overturning systems and inviting us to be part of her dance. Being here opens my eyes, extends my vision, and sends me back differently. We are one in Christ, we are the iglesia.
– Melinda Hall