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LIMA, Peru: New Anglican Bishop Affirms the Mercy of God

LIMA, Peru: New Anglican Bishop Affirms the Mercy of God
Latin leader is moving diocese forward from ex-patriot colonial church history days

Dr. David W. Virtue recently interviewed the Rt. Rev. Jorge Luis Aguilar Ocampo, the new Anglican Bishop of Peru, at his diocesan headquarters in Lima.

By David W. Virtue in Lima
June 18, 2017

If there is one thing that defines what it means to be an Anglican, it is God's mercy, says Bishop Jorge Luis Aguilar Ocampo, the new Bishop of Peru. Mercy, in such a clearly expressed and embodied form is not to be found in either the legalistic side of the Roman Catholic Church or in the hardness of the application of the Gospel by Pentecostal groups, he says.

He is at ease, a translator sits at his elbow. He smiles. He is not quite comfortable with the media, but he wants to tell his story. I ask him what makes Anglicanism so attractive in a country that is nominally Roman Catholic (82%) and becoming more secular as technology and tourism take hold.

"We are in Peru, which is strongly Roman Catholic and many say we look like the Roman Catholic Church and others say we are not. We have the best of both worlds. As an Anglican Church, we profess the mercy of God. In our human experience here, we have not experienced a very merciful Church (or God) and maybe this has confused people. Mercy is so big that anything can be forgiven. If there is something that the Anglican Church excels in, it is mercy. I love that about Anglicanism."

Bishop Jorge was a Roman Catholic priest for 18 years (ordained in 1985) before becoming an Anglican. He recalls the day Pope John Paul II laid hands on him...it has not been an easy transition, but he has made it, and he is clearly comfortable in his new role. Many years ago, via his auxiliary Bishop, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lima asked "if I was happy and if I thought it was the will of God. I told him yes, categorically. So, go in peace were his final words."

Now, he is an Anglican bishop in Peru in the Anglican Church of South America. His archbishop is the newly elected Gregory Venables, an Englishman who has lived in South America for more than 40 years. He is a man he knows well and loves. (Archbishop Venables knew and is a close personal friend of Pope Francis when he was Jorge Mario Bergogli, the RC Archbishop of Buenos Aires, before he became Pope.)

The new Bishop of Lima has come a long way. A former Roman Catholic priest he is married now with children. He has great hope and love for his diocese he tells me.

One of the important reasons for the move to the Anglican Church has been the love he has experienced between husband and wife. Of course, marriage has played a big part in why many former Roman Catholic priests are now Anglicans. Rome's strict position makes less and less sense as the realization dawns that this was a 12th Century innovation brought on by the Second Lateran Council in 1139, when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy in 1563.

VOL: You have been a bishop for nearly two years. One of three indigenous bishops? How is that going for you?

JORGE: I have felt great being an Anglican Bishop because I am accompanied by the annual synod and the permanent diocesan council. We don't act alone and I like the collegiality of the decision making. I know that in the end I am the leader and must make the final decision, but I do that after seeking harmony through dialogue beforehand.

VOL: The Church in Peru was created to serve the English-speaking expatriate community from Britain and North America; but it is now strongly committed to all of Peruvian society. I am told that Peruvian congregations are now the overwhelming majority, even though there is still a live English-speaking congregation at the Cathedral. Is that still true?

JORGE: We started as a chaplaincy in English, closer to the center of Lima and finally moved to Miraflores (a suburb of Lima). The Anglican Church of Peru was the first non-Roman Catholic Church recognized by the Peruvian government (in the 19th century) and our Cathedral, built in the 20th century, was the first non-Roman Catholic church building officially recognized by the government. Our work with Peruvians started in the 1970s during a difficult time for democracy in Peru -- it was a period of time that including military governments. Since then, the church has survived the 1980's and 90's, despite the activity of the Shining Path terrorist group and the more recent problems with the drugs trade. The English speaking cathedral congregation currently has around 20-30 members, but is growing steadily. But the great majority of our members of the Anglican Church here are now Peruvians.

VOL: I am told you have about 650 Peruvian Anglicans spread over 26 parishes. Are these converts from Catholicism or from tribal groups with no religion or from animism?

JORGE:There were reports that we had about 3,000 members of the Anglican Church here, but after an investigation by the "Vida Cristiana y Formación" (VCF) group, we found that we really only had between 650-700. Historically, there were a couple of large charismatic congregations, but as their understanding of Anglicanism deepened through the Bishop of the time, many members left and some are now leaders in other denominations. The Charismatic evangelical influence was reduced and under our last bishop we became more Anglo-Catholic, as many people came from a more Roman Catholic background. Only a small group within the Church here are cradle Anglicans. We are now seeking to promote unity in diversity of Anglicanism and grow.

VOL: How do your clergy and lay ministers make the Church and its worship relevant to the people they serve in Christ's name, and how does music enhance the worship in your Latin congregations?

JORGE: A number of years ago, people could not identify with our worship and hymns. The Roman Catholic Church has become more radical in defining what is Catholic worship and, through its webpages, promotes its music. Protestant Christian worship also takes place in Protestant churches, but we asked what is our Anglican identity? Currently, we have great diversity in our worship, drawing on music from each of these sources, but we look for points of unity. It is still under construction, it is not uniform. We are learning. We seek unity in diversity. When people ask are you Catholic or Evangelical, I say no, we are Anglicans. There is great depth in Anglican hymns. We want to worship with Anglican hymns for the words, and also for the music, we want to bring in Anglican hymns in Spanish. We want to worship by developing the spirituality expressed in the interpretation of Anglican hymnody, but with Peruvian rhythms and styles.

VOL: I am told you have some 38 points, churches and missions situated in Lima and Arequipa, as well as church-planting missions in Juliaca, Puno, Cabanaconde, and the outlying poorer areas of Lima. How is that going?

JORGE: We commissioned a ministry called "Vida Cristiana y Formación" (Christian Life and Formation) to look at how we form people in the Anglican Church of Peru. The report that was produced challenged us greatly, including details of our current status. We have 26 principal communities and missions. We have 36 clergy members, of which only some are full-time priests; many priests must have other work to sustain themselves. Of the clergy, only seven are former Roman Catholic priests. Ten have come from Anglican congregations. We have pastors from evangelical congregations and others who have been trained in seminaries, from Roman Catholic to Evangelical, but who have only been ordained in the Anglican church.

VOL: I understand you have a three-year plan to grow the diocese. Can you tell me more about this?

JORGE: On April 17, I took on the responsibility of the church to walk with my clergy and visit and listen to them. We looked for forums to share. We had deanery meetings. After 9 months, we produced a pastoral letter based on the story of the Prodigal Son, "I will get up and go with my father." It was symbolically to give birth to a new vision for the diocese.

VOL: How do you do evangelism? What is your primary method of evangelism?

JORGE: We want to take the good out of the last 18 years and take things forward from there. It is not easy to do in a Peruvian culture, which tends to throw out everything a predecessor has done.

We designed a program which contains Six Good Seeds, or Six Good Things, some from my predecessor:
1. Desire for growth.
2. To be Peruvian and Anglican
3. To have a Social Conscience
4. Promote formation of young and lay people
5. Solidarity in stipends...sharing what we have.
6. The Mission of the Church.

The VCF ministry which I mentioned earlier is based on six strands: A relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, the Church, Prayer and Spirituality, Beliefs and Testimony. As a diocese, these six strands are key and are brought together around four axes: growth, knowledge, worship and communication. We seek to keep these six strands and four axes as part of everything we do as we build on the six good seeds.

This year we have three key objectives:
1. Consolidate what we have
2. Train up and build capacity in our people
3. Learn to communicate well

VOL: Every week through your schools, and your nutrition programs, medical and development projects, you help over 2,000 people. You say your aim is to reach out and show Christ's love in a practical way, to be his hands and feet. How is that working?

JORGE: As an ideal, we would like each community of faith to have a church, a school and a clinic. Most of our churches have at least a school or a social work as well as their congregations.

VOL: I am told that you have begun to build new relationships with your people, that you stand for common sense and putting the diocese back on its feet. How are you doing that? What is your vision and how do you see the future of the church?

JORGE: The church has grown a lot, but a fat person is not necessarily a healthy one. The Church should be athletic. We are not primarily looking for growth, but to strengthen and consolidate what we have. We have agreed not to ordain anyone over the next two years.

VOL: What is your stand on the ordination of women?

JORGE: We recently had our synod. We talked about our differences, but there was no strong drive for women's ordination. The first step we considered was to allow female priests who visit us from other parts of the Anglican Communion to serve here as priests, but there was not a consensus around this proposal either. We do have six women deacons.

VOL: What sort of training do you have for your clergy?

JORGE: We found we had also lost the rhythm of training for the clergy and this has had repercussions. We don't have the tools. We also have difficulty with the diversity that we have in what is still quite a small church. Some here think that their way of being Anglican, be it Anglo Catholic or Evangelical, is the only way of being Anglican. We still need to build more unity in diversity.

VOL: Is there an issue with homosexuality in the diocese?

JORGE: We see the issue from afar, something that is happening elsewhere in the communion, but we feel the pain and suffering in other places as if it was happening to us. The hurt from these difficult situations affects us. We do not have any openly gay priests, so the issue has not directly affected us.

VOL: How do you avoid suffering here from what is happening in North America?

JORGE: We are concerned that the unity of the Communion could end. We suffer when everyone forms their own groups. We suffer as spectators.

VOL: Have the floods in Northwest Peru been an opportunity to bring the gospel to people in a new way? I understand a series of devastating floods left 100 dead and tens of thousands homeless since the start of the year. We read that entire roads and bridges were swept away, cities, towns and villages were engulfed and farmland was turned to muddy swamp. Food prices rose and police were deployed to help those in flood-ravaged areas. How was the diocese able to help people?

JORGE: Even though we are very small part of what could be done, we set up an emergency group, and have been working with the victims of the flooding and landslides with support from around the Communion.


Were any Anglican churches affected?


VOL: Is the diocese a member of GAFCON?

JORGE: When I went to our provincial meeting, we heard about what is happening in the Communion. We have felt distanced from it but are concerned, of course. If I was invited to the next Lambeth Conference, I would go. We are praying for our Primate Greg. It is not easy for him and he has asked us for much prayer.

VOL: What would you like to see the most happen in your diocese that other parts of the Anglican Communion can bring you?

JORGE: We need people to help us in the area of formation. We need Anglican literature in Spanish. We know we need more English, our younger priests need to learn English. Because of the language barrier, we do not have access to the full depth of Anglican literature. It is very difficult for us. Clergy formation is urgently needed.

VOL: How are diocesan finances?

JORGE: In recent years, the support we receive as a diocese from overseas has reduced sharply and we have had to become much more self-sustaining. Our schools generate significant income, a significant portion comes from the parish share and we rent out a number of our properties. Most clergy get a moderate monthly wage and a number also hold part time or full-time jobs.

VOL: Thank you, bishop.

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