Our Neighbors in El Salvador by Dr. Westina Matthews

Dios está aquí

Tan cierto como el aire que respiro

As the candle was lit and the cedar wood essential oil passed around to apply to their wrists, forty voices began to sing, “God is here, As true as the air I breathe.” Traveling from Usulutan, Sonsonate, San Miguel, San Ana, La Libertad, and San Salvador, clergy and lay leaders from the Diocese of El Salvador—as well as from the neighboring Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches—were gathered under the covered patio at El Seminario Episcopal Anglicano of El Salvador.

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I had been invited to co-lead a one day workshop, called A Contemplative Approach to Spirituality and Sexuality, for the clergy, second-year seminarians, faculty, and lay leaders at this relatively new seminary serving the Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador. “We believe that the clergy and the laity need to be aware of the various facets that the human sexuality entails,” explained Rt. Rev David Alvarado, Bishop of the Diocese of El Salvador, “and the different concerns and issues that we face in our society today in order to confront prejudices and injustices,”

Thanks to a grant from the Episcopal Evangelism Society, A Contemplative Approach to Spirituality and Sexuality was developed in 2017.  This is a dynamic, contemplative approach which draws upon the rich resources of Christian contemplative tradition to influence one’s own interior life and spiritual practice to address issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, and spirituality. With additional funding from the William S. Conant Grant Funds, we were able to travel to El Salvador in August. Co-leading the workshop with me was the Rev. Dr. Tommie Watkins Jr. (‘16), Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, AL. The Rev. Miguel A. Hernández (’13), Adjunct Professor of Liturgics at General Seminary, served as our liaison and translator. Because the attendees had limited English proficiency, our presentation utilized a PowerPoint in Spanish that intentionally reflected Latin American theology and culture. 

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My heart overflowed with the gracious hospitality offered by the small but dedicated staff who serve this seminary: Rev. Irma de Alvarado, the director; Adriana, the administrator; Rev. Luis Serrano, the Dean; Guillermo, a faculty member; Maura, the effervescent greeter; Mercedes, who prepared the meals; and William, our guide and driver. We had an opportunity to meet separately with the five second-year seminarians in this four-year program—Claudia, Ernesto, Vilma, Esmeralda, and Jesus—who each pay $20 a month for tuition and supplies. Many of the seminarians travel great distances to attend the weekend classes (Claudia, a mother of four, rose at 3:00 a.m. to prepare meals for her children in order to arrive on time for our workshop opening at 8:00 a.m.). Annual operating costs are a meager $10,000, which the Bishop struggles—but is committed—to meet.  

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A highlight was accompanying the Bishop, Mother Irma, and Father Mario to the Oscar Romero Church in Nahuizalco where a small group of faithful indigenous people worship. There we celebrated the 101st birthday of St. Oscar Romero, the fourth Archbishop of El Salvador who was assassinated in 1980 for his fight for social justice for the poor.

The tent for our neighbors is both wide and broad, including all people irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, age, culture, country of origin, or ability. As we continue to spread the good news of the Gospel, let us not forget that El Salvador is also under this tent.

Dr. Westina Matthews, Adjunct Professor of Christian Spirituality