During the summer of 1998, the Vestry of St. Joseph of Arimathea Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee, commissioned
two of its members to look for a possible companion church in Litoral, Ecuador. By the end of the year, the Rt. Rev. Alfredo Morante, Bishop of Litoral, had granted a companion relationship between St. Joseph and Jesús el Señor, of Guasmo Sur, Guayaquil. At that time, no one had any idea how deeply so many lives would be touched through this companion relationship.
Since 1998, members of both churches have shared a part of themselves with their sister church. Each year, cards have been exchanged for Valentines Day, Easter, and Christmas. Small hand made gifts such as friendship pins, Easter bracelets with symbolic beads, Ojos de Diós, Christmas shakers, Pentecost dove stickers, cross bookmarks with Scripture verses, Easter crosses, and Easter eggs containing symbols of Easter have been made by Sunday school classes and by individuals.
During the first year of the relationship, picture books of the children, youth, and Vestry were exchanged. One year, the youth of St. Joseph made a banner depicting the relationship between the companion churches.
The youth of Jesús el Señor sent St. Joseph a beautiful plaque and posters which recorded their youth activities. Another year, the ECW made bookmarks which contained poems and pressed flowers from Tennessee. When the Reverend Mariana Loor was ordained a priest, she was presented with vestments made by some of the women of St. Joseph. Members of both churches have shared their hopes, dreams, and challenges through pen pal relationships.
In 2001, St. Joseph was honored when Mrs. Olga Arevalo de Morante, Bishop Morante’s wife, and the Rev. Mariana Loor worshipped with them during their visit to Tennessee to attend the ECW Spring Conference. At that time, Mariana was the deacon at Jesús el Señor. Her gentleness of spirit, humility, and devotion touched all who met her and served to strengthen the bonds between companion churches. The relationship has deepened through prayer. Each church is blessed both by praying for and by being prayed for by the companion church every week during the services. Individuals with prayer requests are also included. It has been a special blessing to St. Joseph to know that as they embark on the third search process for a new priest since the companion relationship began, they are lifted up in prayer by their sister church.
A multiphase building project at Jesús el Señor, started in 1998, was completed in 2002. Since 1998, a dilapidated old convent, behind the church, which housed Kindergarten classes, was restructured into an elementary school with running water and bathrooms. Major repairs to the church roof were made, a vicarage was built, and a patio was completed for the school. Funds for the building projects came from individual donations, budgeted funds, and a variety of fund raising projects at St. Joseph.
The latest project is a sponsorship program for the children of the school at Jesús el Señor. The idea was modeled on a program which was originated several years ago at St. Augustine Chapel, Vanderbilt with their companion church San Eduardo. Each summer members of St. Joseph select children from the school to sponsor for a nominal donation. The funds collected go to help purchase much needed supplies, furniture, and teaching materials for the school. Guasmo Sur, where the school is located, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Guayaquil. The tuition paid by the students barely covers the meager payments made to the teachers, let alone provide for the materials needed for the classes. The children’s pictures and names are displayed on the Companion Church bulletin board located in the Undercroft at St. Joseph. Samples of their class work are also displayed on the board each month. A connection between students and their sponsors has already been established. Each year the children at the school send a small sample of their artwork to their sponsor who, in return, sends a personalized Christmas card. It is hoped that relationships may develop through cards and letters in the coming years.
God has truly blessed St. Joseph and Jesús el Señor through this companion relationship.