Report from the 2015 Waldensian Synod
This report was prepared by the Rev. Brian Paulson, member of the American Waldensian Society board and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville, Illinois. He attended the recent annual meeting of the synod of the Italian Waldensian Church in Torre Pellice representing the board, and wrote about his experiences at that meeting.
The 2015 Synod of the Waldensian Methodist Church of Italy was filled with challenge, possibility, and joy. It was a privilege to observe both the Synod and the preceding gathering of the Corpo Pastorale (Pastoral Body). Every Synod gathers to address important matters of the day, but it also serves as a powerful reunion of sisters and brothers in faith from across Italy with ecumenical visitors from around the globe.
Opening worship this year offered a challenging word on Luke 11:29-32 from Pastor Erika Tomassone about the signs of this generation. Eleonora Natoli was ordained into pastoral ministry after a long journey to faith and a new chapter for her life in a “second career.” In many ways, Eleonora represents a vision of hope for the church as new members come to faith through the Waldensian/Methodist church. Rev. Tim TenClay was received as a pastor from the Reformed Church in America to serve in mission at Palermo, Trapani, and Marsala in Sicily. Tim is married to J.J. TenClay who also will be in mission working in social service with Pellegrino della Terra serving immigrant women in Sicily that are making a new start in life. The worship concluded with a moving benediction in song whose lyrics were penned by the beloved Pastor Caterina Dupre, immediate past director of the Agape Ecumenical Center, who died much too young due to cancer this year.
The Corpo Pastorale preceded all of the Synod’s opening activities. The pastoral leaders received some in-service boundary training and heard a report on the pastoral formation opportunity in America (“EFFE”) supported by the American Waldensian Society. They also considered a new liturgy being developed for blessings of same sex unions. As the weekend activities transpired, there clearly was great emphasis on the refugee and immigration crisis – including an open air presentation on the street in front of the Foresteria in Torre Pellice. This presentation covered the subject of ministry to immigrants who found themselves incarcerated. It was an emotional beginning to the gathering of Synod.
Mediterranean Hope was the subject of a moving evening presentation early in the week of Synod before a packed house at the Waldensian Church of Torre Pellice. Paolo Naso moderated the presentation that featured several speakers on the situation of refugees and immigrants as Mediterranean Hope opens new avenues for compassion and service. The speakers were Marta Bernardini, who directs the observation post of Mediterranean Hope on the island of Lampedusa; Yvan Sagnet, an organizer and recent immigrant from Cameroon; and Mario Marazziti, former director of the parliamentary commission on human rights, who also is a member of the Roman Catholic Mediterranean Hope partner, Communità di Sant’Egidio. Each told a moving story with a challenge for insight, companionship and solidarity. This emotional challenge resonated throughout the entire week in conversations and decisions. Also, the valley town of Villar Pellice became home to 60 new immigrants in a structure converted for hospitality by the diaconal work of the Waldensian Church. A local town hall kind of gathering in Villar Pellice engaged the issue in practical terms as they received the challenge of the gospel from Moderator Eugenio Bernardini and other leaders.
Ecumenism took center stage throughout the gathering. The Synod responded to greetings from Pope Francis and considered a response to his request, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, for forgiveness – relating to past church actions that most consider, in the words of the pope, un-Christian or even inhuman. The Synod after much debate responded graciously with a desire to begin a new chapter of reconciliation and dialogue in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Also of great ecumenical significance was the 40th anniversary of the federation of the Waldensian and Methodist churches in Italy. To mark the occasion, there was a wide range of Methodist ecumenical guests from around the world who joined in their greetings throughout the Synod and at the annual ecumenical dinner.
Liturgy and Family took center stage both at the Corpo Pastorale and during the Synod as the leadership worked to inaugurate material for use in worship in response to the prior Synod’s affirmation of options for blessing same-sex unions. There will be one more year of study and reflection before the liturgy is formally adopted. These conversations at the Corpo Pastorale and during the Synod included a very thorough review of the changing family realities of Italy. A commission had extensively studied the ways in which the church can walk beside the varied expressions of family in our modern world in a way that is faithful and helpful. The commission’s findings were carefully reviewed by Synod.
Casa Cares at Regello, Tuscany, was approved for a dramatic renovation and expanded focus for ministry. The diaconal leadership of the church was given oversight and responsibility for the center. The goal of this oversight will be to identify an expanded clientele in renovated facilities with new leadership to be found upon the retirement of Paul Krieg at the beginning of 2016. Both Paul and his wife, Antoinette, were commended warmly for their devoted length of tenure and valuable service of Christian love. In addition, the other diaconal centers were reviewed carefully as is common practice. The opening of a new museum and reinvigorated ministry at Riesi, Sicily, were celebrated as well.
It was a joy to share observations with the Presbyterian Church (USA) ecumenical delegate – Valdese, North Carolina’s own Pastor Kevin Frederick of the Waldensian Presbyterian Church. I had to depart just prior to closing sessions because of the length of my stay for the Corpo Pastorale. However, Kevin was privileged to observe the Synod engagement with leadership of the Roman Catholic Church as a continuation of the ecumenical discussions earlier in the week. Kevin reported being particularly well impressed by the length and warmth of applause afforded to the Roman Catholic ecumenical delegate’s remarks to the assembly.
As anyone who has attended these gatherings will attest, there is so much more to express that simply will not fit into a brief report. The days began early and ended very late every day of my attendance. Friendships were renewed and projects prepared. My congregation was able to plan a youth service initiative with a congregation in Milan next summer. Leadership of the EFFE project was able to discuss hopes for next year’s project. I find myself joyfully exhausted after it all. I hope this report gives all of you a sense of the Synod. I am always happy to talk about further details with any of you individually in the days ahead.