Colombia Accompaniment Report: Connectional Church in Colombia

By Tricia Lloyd-Sidle and Janet Lowrey

Hildo, Norma and Matilde – leaders of a group of displaced persons – came to speak to us on a day we had a bomb drill (think fire drill). Since the office of the Presbiterio de la Costa is located on the grounds of the Colegio Americano, we participated in its drill. Fortunately, a school official alerted us ahead of time. During her explanation, the three visitors responded with dark humor: “We don’t need the drill; we’ve lived the real thing.”

The minutes following the siren felt like a chaotic and friendly coffee hour. We met other adults we would encounter later in churches and meetings; 1900 cheerful children called to each other. But Hildo, Norma and Matilde were quieter and keenly observant. While we waited in our assigned place until the “all clear,” German Zarate accompanied the three of them. He is the coordinator of the IPC Diakonia (Service for Peace and Justice of the Presbyterian of Church of Colombia) and of the Colombian Accompaniment Program. No words, but a strong and comforting presence. Aware of their memories of loss and their ongoing struggles, he embodied the Church’s connection with them.

Our first week of accompaniment revealed many connections and a fluidity of boundaries. The IPC has approximately 12,000 members plus many more persons in service and educational institutions. Church workers have different jobs which combine many roles, e.g. the school’s principal is also a congregational pastor. His wife is the school chaplain and pastor at a different church. One of our drivers is on a team facilitating an upcoming international, ecumenical meeting; also he is a youth pastor, an accomplished musician and – together with his mother — Janet’s host this month. The presbytery office is connected physically to the colegio (grades 1-11), which is across a parking lot from the Universidad Reformada, which provides worship space for the local congregation. At worship on Sunday morning, all pastors present were invited to stand at the Table: elders, deacons, and guest ministers presided together.

The strong sense of community we have experienced and observed during our first week in Barranquilla extends far beyond the walls of churches and school. The Presbytery of the Coast has a long-standing ministry of service and advocacy, an integral part of the life of the presbytery, with communities of persons displaced by the war. The families working to rebuild their lives after losing everything are part of the church community referred to in 1 Cor. 12:26: If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.