South American worship surrounded by city noise Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Santiago de Cali, Colombia, 2 July 2006
Santiago de CaIi, with a population of two million, is the third largest city in Colombia, following Bogota and Medellin. It was founded in 1536 by a Spanish conquistador who had sailed with Columbus. It remained relatively unimportant until railroads and highways connected it to the Pacific Ocean and to other parts of the Colombia interior, and so gave it some strategic commercial advantages. Industrialization followed in the 1950s, attracting immigration and creating slums. From the 1970s to the 1990s it was home to the CaIi drug cartel?, a major supplier of cocaine to the United States; the drug industry has since become more fragmented in Colombia. Drug-related violence remains endemic in the city.
Anglican Christianity is a small player in Colombia. The current bishop of Colombia, in an interview published in Episcopal Life (1 May 2006), reports that his diocese has twenty thousand members, twentyfive parishes, and twenty-six clergy, but his interviewer parenthetically hints that the figures might be exaggerated, and the diocesan website (www.iglesiaepiscopal.org.co, accessed August 2006) identifies only eleven clergy and seven lay missionaries. Anglicans first took an interest in this part of the world, as John Kater noted in this journal in June 1988, when American business became involved. The Panama Railroad Company was organized in New York in 1847, and in 1853 the Board of Missions of the Episcopal Church sent the first Anglican missionary to Panama, then a province civilly administered from Bogota. When railway construction brought West Indian immigrants, English missionaries came too, and the Church of England became the Anglican authority in the area. With the purchase of the Canal Zone by the United States in 1903, the region was definitively pulled into the American orbit, and in 1904 the Episcopal Church assumed jurisdiction. Colombia exited the diocese of Panama in 1946, and in 1963 it was constituted a missionary diocese by General Convention. It remains part of Province IX of the Episcopal Church.
On 2 July 2006, a visitor gives a taxi driver the address of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in Santiago de CaIi. When he and his wife are dropped in front of a large, handsome, and well attended church, he is initially impressed that the Episcopal church has such a large following in South America. But then checking a sign in front of the church more carefully, he finds that he has been left at St. Pius X Catholic Church. Finding better directions, he walks five blocks to the Church of the Nativity, arriving at the service a few minutes late, but in time for greetings.
The church is located on a busy street with restaurants, bars, and stores, and has no doors to block any of the noise. The building was formerly a garage next to a street-front store. The partition between the two has been removed, except for one support, and the space has been adapted to worship. The congregation of about eighteen sits on plastic garden chairs. There are two priests, both native Colombians, wearing cassocks but not surplices. Decorations on the wall, made of styrofoam, portray the chalice and bread. …