There is something very special, unique, and even sacred about a dying man’s prayer. When faced with the inevitable, the soul reaches out to God in supplication. Shortly before entering the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing full well the fate that awaited him, Jesus prayed to his Father; first for himself, then for his disciples and then finally for the entire world who would come to faith in Him. (Gospel of John, Chapter 17) Jesus’ final prayer was that we all would be one in faith, in believing that He was the Son of God; that God sent Him to this world. And even more importantly, that we all understand and believe that God is in Jesus, Jesus is in God and that they are in us.
When I came to Guerrero, Mexico three years ago, I arrived with a hope and plan to serve those within the Roman Catholic community that had been shunned, hurt and ostracized by their church. God’s Spirit guided my steps in a different direction. Today, I am co-pastor of a small church in the Historic District of the City of Puebla, in the State of Puebla. Our small church is called Nueva Esperanza Puebla (New Hope Puebla) where I minister with its founder, the Reverend David Pettitt, an ordained minister with more than 20 years experience of ministry in Mexico.
After two years of continuous thwarted ministry efforts in Guerrero, I felt that maybe it was time “to shake off the dust from my feet”. I began to consider ministry in other locations. So my search began. At a worship service that I attended in December 2013 in the city of Puebla, I met the Rev. David Pettitt. We chatted congenially and informally. I continued my search over the course of the next several months. In July of this year after returning home from another trip to Puebla, I was contacted unexpectedly by Rev. Pettitt who invited me to come visit him. Within a few days I was on a bus traveling back to Puebla.
For the next day and a half, Rev. Pettitt and I talked about his ministry in Puebla, his long experience in Mexico and the need for additional outreach. I was invited to attend the 6PM Sunday worship service, an invitation I gladly accepted, and where to my surprise I was asked to consecrate the Eucharist. The following morning our conversation about ministry continued. Rev. Pettitt laid out his vision for incorporating elements of Catholicism into his ministry, to add a familiarity and sense of “home” to help his congregation, all of whom came from the Roman Catholic tradition, to heal from past pains and suffering. I had my doubts about how combining two faith traditions could work. I told him that I would pray and think about it and would give him my answer within two weeks.
The motto of our United American Catholic Church is, Ut Omnes Unum Sint; That All May Be One. That phrase kept repeating itself in my mind and in my heart. So, after much prayer, thought and reflection I decided to accept Rev. Pettitt’s offer to come assist him in ministry. Ever since my arrival, my own theological views and pastoral inclinations have not ceased to expand into new horizons, into new directions, into new possibilities that I know are being guided by the Holy Spirit of God. We minister to a wonderful cross-section of people that represent various segments of the Body of Christ. We are a small community but the love and commitment of our church family is palpable. In my brief time here I have learned much from them.
David and I have different ministry styles and we work very hard to combine them into a seamless church experience for our people, one that is spirit-filled, sensitive to their needs and hopefully brings them little by little into an intimate, one-on-one relationship with God through Jesus. Neither of us is compromising our own personal beliefs, but I know we are growing together into a fuller understanding of the multiple charisms that different traditions offer and in doing so reflect the immensity of God.
We alternate weeks for preaching and we share the other elements of our Sunday service between ourselves and the members of the congregation. Our third partner in ministry, Enrique Zenteno, is very adept at graphic and visual arts. He prepares a video that runs concurrently with the worship service and includes a movie video clip of the day’s Gospel and contemporary Christian music that the congregation charismatically sings to with hands raised, tambourines clanging and occasionally with eyes closed in adoration. Often times Scriptural verses are placed on the screen for the congregation to read in unison or that reinforce the sermon/message that is being preached. Communion is celebrated and all are invited to participate. We just recently learned that a teenage member of the congregation plays the drums; so we invited him to bring his drums to play along with the music during the Sunday service. He enthusiastically agreed. Maybe we can grow this into a small live band! Each week after service we share a communal meal to spend some quality fellowship time together and build relationship.
This is truly an experiment and we are learning as we go along. Our goal is to journey together to build a church environment that is fully and equally Evangelical, Charismatic, Liturgical and Sacramental. Our principle focus is on our small but hopefully increasing community. We strongly desire to create an environment for their spiritual growth where within the context of the Table of the Lord, they find and deeply understand their true brother and sisterhood as real children of God.
With God’s grace we will continue along a path of spiritual unity, not only among our congregation but within the extended church. The universal church is entering into a time of ‘kairos’, God’s specially appointed time. I suspect that our small ‘experiment’ is but a precursor and a preparation for ever-strengthening under-currents that are streaming together to effectively unite the Body of Christ into one spiritual, believing body, united in the kingship of Christ, under the governance and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of Jesus’ dying wish, let it be so. Paz y Bien.
Bishop Tom Shortell, OSFC, D.Min. is the Bishop Ordinary for Mexico for the United American Catholic Church and currently resides in Guerrero, Mexico.