The yearly Synod meeting took place May 25-29, at the Monte Sion Camp Center alongside beautiful Lake Amatitlán, outside Guatemala City. Close to 300 delegates journeyed from presbyteries across the country to attend. The IENPG is a diverse church ethnically, geographically, and theologically, with its fair share of strong-willed personalities and internal alliances. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that sparks flew early in the plenary, with heated exchanges over procedures and denominational priorities. Afterwards, God answered prayers that the session take a kinder, more thoughtful direction, and the final days were marked by a more conciliatory spirit.
Here are some noteworthy developments, especially from a partnership standpoint:
• A proposal to divide the Synod into 4 smaller synods was well-received. According to the plan, the new synods will be named Western, Central, Southwest (Pacific coastal plain), and the North. The Synod of the North would comprise the 8 Q’eqchi’ presbyteries, with Cobán as base of operations. Before final approval, the plan will be discussed in the presbyteries, and come up again at next year’s Synod meeting.
• Delegates also agreed to split the Presbiterio Occidente (Western Presbytery) into 2 new presbyteries—Altiplano and San Marcos.
• I reported on the progress of the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán, including the new Presbyterian congregation. Although some delegates questioned certain steps taken to advance construction at the complex, the assembly reaffirmed its full support for this mission project.
• Delegates debated a proposal to break ties with the PC(USA) over its allowance of same-sex marriage. In the end, the body affirmed the partnership, while declaring its unwillingness to receive gay/lesbian mission workers. PC(USA) Regional Liaison Amanda Craft assured the Synod that Presbyterian World Mission would respect the position of the Guatemalan church.
• There was a report on the development of Presbyterian University at the former site of the Maya-Quiche Biblical Institute. This project has stalled for lack of funds to upgrade facilities to meet requirements for government accreditation.
• A new moderator was elected to a 2-year term—Pastor Aurelio Cárcamo, from Champerico, Retalhuleu. The 23 new members of the Synod’s executive committee also were elected and installed (see photo of installation).
• Power-point presentations by 4 PC(USA) mission co-workers were warmly received by delegates. Amanda Craft also gave an explanation about the availability of Walton funds for theological education for the indigenous presbyteries.
• I was supposed to give a presentation about my work with PRESGOV and international partnership activities, but time ran out before it was my turn.
• Although the agenda included a proposal to issue a pronouncement about the current political crisis in Guatemala, time also ran out before it could be considered.
• On Friday I preached at the morning devotion about seeking lost sheep, and the dilemma of choosing between management and mission as a church.
• A called Synod meeting will be held in June in Quetzaltenango to take up unfinished business, including election of officers to church-wide committees. Recognizing the financial hardships that Q’eqchi’ delegates face in traveling so far, the assembly waived the Q100 registration cost for them.
Driving back to Cobán in the PRESGOV van, I enjoyed the company of 9 Q’eqchi delegate passengers. As we reflected on the session at Monte Sion, I mentioned the lack of indigenous participation in floor debates, even about matters that effected them directly. Their reluctance to speak out, they replied, is due to their limited grasp of the issues caused by language and education barriers. Most haven’t benefitted from involvement on IENPG committees where they’d gain more familiarity with the wider church, and many leave the plenary early to get to their distant homes before Sunday. As part of an all-Q’eqchi’ Synod, they hope these obstacles can be more easily overcome, and they understand that they’ll no longer have the option of being mere observers.
Forming the new Synod of the North will be a daunting undertaking, since economic resources are few, and physical infrastructure, experience and education is so lacking. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the Q’eqchi’, with their passion for the Gospel, their readiness to sacrifice, and their belief in the power of prayer. Also, no one should discount the willpower of the IENPG, which took up the challenge of Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex well before proposals for a Cobán-based Synod took shape. Above all, if the Synod of the North has God’s blessing, we can trust in God’s power to provide what’s needed so that it will glorify God’s name as an advance in Christ’s kingdom.