South American worship surrounded by city noise Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Santiago de Cali, Colombia, 2 July 2006


Miller, Duane Alexander. ‘South American worship surrounded by city noise: Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Santiago de Cali, Colombia, 2 July 2006‘ in Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol 12:6, October 2006, pp 641-643.

Text replicated here:


South American worship surrounded by city noise
Episcopal Church of the Nativity,
Santiago de Cali, Colombia, 2 July 2006

Santiago de Cali, with a population of two million, is the third largest
city in Colombia, following Bogotá and Medellín. 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 Cali 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, twenty-
five parishes, and twenty-six clergy, but his interviewer parenthetically
hints that the figures might be exaggerated, and the diocesan website
(, 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 Bogotá. When
railway construction brought West Indian immigrants, English mission-
aries 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 juris-
diction. Colombia exited the diocese of Panama until 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
Cali. 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. A daïs at the front of the church serves as a
chancel, with an altar which is a table covered by a green and white cloth.
To the left is a candle decorated with flowers. A curtain behind the daïs
bears the words, in Spanish, “My first communion,” formed of styrofoam
cut-out letters. Earlier in the morning the congregation celebrated the
first communion of several of the children of the parish: a Roman
Catholic influence that would not normally now be found in Episcopal
churches in the United States. Particularly pleasant and delightful in the
room are beautiful bouquets and arrangements of flowers, presumably
brought by the families of the new communicants for the earlier service.
In spite of the relative lack of aesthetic beauty of the room, the colorful
flowers-one of Colombia’s main exports—brings a liveliness and
freshness to the surroundings.
The order of worship fairly closely follows the Book of Common
Prayer, in Spanish. After a lesson from the Old Testament, a psalm is read
by a young girl of perhaps eleven years, one of the two children present.
Her reading is clear and audible over the abundant street noise. Epistle,
gospel, and a sermon about twenty minutes long follow. The prayers of
the people are said according to Form III. The priest expands on the
prayers for clergy, and includes a prayer for the presiding bishop-elect of
the Episcopal Church, using the Spanish variation of her first name,
Catarina. He also says a prayer for all evangelical pastors. At the offering,
the congregants walk to the altar and place their contribution in an
offering plate held by the girl who had read the psalm. The eucharist is
celebrated according to Form A. The small congregation participates
vigorously. For the sanctus, one of the priests takes out a tambourine and
the congregation sings an extended and lively variation intertwined with
a number of other biblical references, notably, “Heaven and earth will


pass away, but your word will not pass away.” During communion the
congregation sings “Cuan grande es el” (“How great thou art”), a much-
beloved hymn throughout the evangelical congregations of Latin
America. All music in the service is a cappella except for the occasional
tambourine accompaniment by one of the priests. At the communion,
when the visitor comes forward with his wife, the priest asks the two to
administer the sacrament to each other.
The Catholic influence of the Colombian context is seen in several
ways. Among the sparse furnishings is a very noticeable tabernacle to the
right of the altar. A medium-size figurine of the Virgin stands on the wall
to the right of the altar. Congregants make the sign of the cross on
multiple occasions, including at the reading of the Gospel where they
sign themselves on forehead, mouth, and heart. However, at
communion, communicants receive wine as well as bread. The little
community seems at home in Catholic Colombia; interestingly, as the
service is proceeding, a stranger who walks by outside makes the sign of
the cross.
At the end of the service one of the priests stands to welcome the
visitors personally. The visitor likewise stands, and thanks the congre-
gation for its hospitality.
Duane Alexander Miller
Amman, Jordan