05 December 2023
Youth President visit to Argentina
Each year, the Methodist Youth President undertakes an overseas visit in partnership with the Global Relationships team. In the autumn of 2023, Tom Hart undertook his visit to Argentina.
The Global Relationships team gave me the opportunity to say where I may like to go on my international trip. I suggested the Caribbean and South or Latin America and, when I explained my interest in music, Argentina seemed a great fit. The Evangelical Methodist Church in Argentina is known for producing authentically Argentine worship music that aligns with its theology. As I love my music, I was keen to explore its role in the life of the Church and of its young people, as well as learn about the social justice work being undertaken there.
I didn’t know an awful lot about Argentina but I had been given an in-depth briefing from Sandra Lopez, the Partnership Coordinator for the Americas from the Methodist Church in Britain, who develops partnerships with Methodist and ecumenical partners in the region. This gave me an idea of the cultural and political situation there but, as I have never travelled out of Europe, I was travelling with an open mind.
When I arrived, I was surprised how European it all felt with its architecture and culture heavily influenced over the centuries by the European migrants, especially the Spanish. The Argentinian people were extremely welcoming, both to their country and to their homes. They made me feel as though I had been a part of their family for generations, which, with Methodists, is often the case!
I had some amazing experiences while discovering the music of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA). During their services I heard a range of music styles to enjoy, with both modern Latin American songs and the more traditional hymns. There were a few tunes that I recognised and managed to sing the English lyrics to. At the first service I attended, I was able to play my trumpet, which was really special and a bit daunting. With the service being in Spanish, I couldn’t understand everything that was going on but, through the music, we connected together in Christ!
I also chatted over dinner with the music and liturgy committee of the IEMA, discussing how they value music and liturgy as part of their worship to God. They are currently in the process of developing their online resources and working towards something very similar to Singing the Faith, but with Latin American worship music. (https://cancionerometodista.com/)
The first Methodist Church to be established in Argentina is in the centre of the capital city, Buenos Aires. Primera Iglesia Evangélica Metodista is home to one of the largest church organs within the IEMA. The organ was originally built by Forster and Andrews in 1882 who were based in Hull, about 40 minutes’ drive from where I live now. I was given the opportunity to play the organ which was a huge privilege, despite me playing it very badly! It was very special for me to play this as I was able to contribute to and experience around 140 years of history.
During our visit, I met with many people. It was especially good to be able to talk to the young adults of the IEMA. At the time of our visit, Argentina was going through the process of their presidential elections, eventually won by Javier Milei. From the young adults that I spoke to, this election was a real concern for them. Argentina went through a period of dictatorship in the late 1970s into the early 1980s, and it is clear how much Argentinians value the right to democracy, the right to choose their leader and to best serve a country suffering from widespread poverty and limited state resources.
Argentina faces some of the sharpest and highest rates of inflation across the region, compounding inequalities and contributing to worsening social challenges such as domestic violence, discrimination against indigenous people and the rural/urban divide.
I also discovered that there was a desire from the young adults of the Church to create a truly inclusive space for people to come to know Christ.
Just like The Methodist Church in Britain, IEMA have Methodist Schools throughout Argentina. While in Argentina, I visited two of the schools. I met many brilliant students, and spoke about all kinds of things such as British culture and stereotypes, including us all drinking tea. Themes of social justice came up repeatedly, as well as issues surrounding climate justice and the need to protect the ecological environment.
The visit to Argentina was truly amazing. The challenges that the church faces, are similar to some of the challenges facing the Methodist Church here in Britain with a declining and aging membership and challenges in attracting young people to the church. But similarly to us, our Sisters and Brothers have been taking steps to grow local congregations and working to become an inclusive, diverse and welcoming church for all people.
The visit gave me a global view of how Methodism has spread across the globe and how Methodist roots in social justice have had such a positive impact. I also learnt about how the international language of music is an important part of their worship.
I met some amazing people and ate some amazing food while learning so much about Methodism in Argentina. I hope that IEMA also learnt a little bit about the Methodist Church in Britain.