While the Micronesian Games were going on in Yap, the annual diocesan workshop was being held in Chuuk. Sixty people from the diocese gathered to review the mission of the church and reflect on what more could be done to make the church truly Micronesian. The word used to headline the workshop was “empowerment,” but the goal was the one we foreign missionaries have embraced ever since the early 70s: return of the church to the people of the Carolines.
It was hard to miss the signs of progress the diocese has made. Sakau brought by the Pohnpei delegation was featured drink each evening. Two local bishops were seated among us. Another 20 or so deacons attended, along with 16 local priests, and a scattering of lay people. In fact, I was a stand-out as the only gringo there, although I didn’t feel like at stranger at all. The week was more like a family reunion for me and everyone else.
My job was to make a presentation now and then–on the mission of the church, changes in the church through the centuries, etc–and steer the discussion. If ever I thought that my position as a priest, especially an American priest, was going to guarantee that my thoughts would dominate, I need not have worried. There were no long silences with heads bowed in respect, I found. Quite the contrary, the problem was in getting the microphone around the table quickly enough to catch the interventions. Lay people could talk just as readily and as knowledgeably as priests and deacons, we discovered.
On the final afternoon of the workshop, we spent time reflecting on the growing problem of broken families today. The portrait of the old extended family wasn’t just my usual soliloquy, but a composite drawn from comments offered by the participants from all the island groups. We might not have settled on any quick remedies, but we did reflect on how much we all had in common.
For me the workshop was convincing proof of how far the church in the Carolines has come in the past 50 years. Sure, the church has its issues–the same sort that afflict churches everywhere, I suppose. Not all our church leaders would claim to be best friends with each other. Several of those ordained have left the priesthood. Communications are not what they should be, we all agreed. But an old-timer like me could not look around the conference hall without mumbling a short prayer of thanks that what we had hoped for all those years has been achieved: a church that belongs to its own people. Alleluia!