J-Term in Mexico

by John Medendorp, co-editor-in-chief

This January, Joe Hamilton and I accompanied Dr. Rylaarsdam on a trip to La Comunidad Teológica de México, an ecumenical Protestant theological school in Mexico City, Mexico to teach a course on the theology of the liturgical year. It was an interesting topic, chosen by the administrators of the comunidad. The reason it seemed like an interesting choice, to me, was because in Mexico, the liturgical year is strongly associated with the Catholic church, whereas Protestantism in Mexico is almost defined as “non-Catholic.” This made the course very interesting, and at times the students debated fiercely about how to “reform” the Catholic culture surrounding the practice of the liturgical year.

 Our class was composed of about 10 students. Most of these students were already pastors (a few were worship leaders), and almost all of them were women. A few of them already followed the liturgical year through the Revised Common Lectionary in their home churches. We had broad ecumenical protestant representation: the students were methodists, lutherans, anglicans, baptists, and presbyterians. Our wonderful translator and tour guide, Rubí, was also working on her master’s degree, writing her thesis on the history of Baptist missions in Mexico.

 It was interesting to see the ways the students interacted with the course materials. Large sections of class time were set aside for small group discussion and brainstorming ideas for incorporating the ideas and themes we talked about in class into their home churches. I was struck by how visually creative the students were, coming up with ideas for decorating the sanctuary, communion, and congregational movement that were beautiful. One student suggested doing (cont’d on page 4)     communion with sweet breads during the Easter season. Another student suggested painting a wall of the church as a visual representation of the congregation’s prayers throughout a season.

 Another thing that impressed me was how the students thought about justice. One of the exercises was to take a look at the lectionary texts and decide whether you would use different texts in your context. Immediately, one of the students in my small group said, “the lectionary is very American. You skip all the judgment.” With all of the injustice that is a very real part of Mexican life — kidnappings, drug trades, pollution, shootings — the students were very keen in wanting to assure their congregation that injustice will be punished, and that sin will have consequence. This was very moving to me, and helped me understand their theology at a much deeper level.

 In the afternoons and evenings, we had the opportunity to tour around Mexico City. We visited the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacán, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the canals at Xochimilco, the City Center (including the Mexico City Cathedral and Presidential Palace), and Chapultepec Castle. Through this, and the great insights of Rubí, we learned much about Mexican history, culture, and religion. One of the most incredible sights was the moving sidewalks under the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe. We got to the Basilica right as evening mass was ending, and everybody immediately lined up to see the icon. There were four moving sidewalks (like in big airports) to prevent people from standing before the icon for too long. It was an incredible sight to see.

 All in all, visiting Mexico City was an incredible cultural experience. It was wonderful to get to know the students who we spent the week with, and learning about the history and religiosity of Mexican Catholicism with such a learned tour guide was a real treat.