hosted 16 guests from two congregations in South Africa last month as part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen individual, congregational, cultural and spiritual relations.
Both the Cleveland Heights and the South African contingents called the visit a pilgrimage instead of a tourist trip or mission trip because it was designed to “deepen one’s spirituality,” said Kate Gillooly, St. Paul’s minister for Christian formation and program.
“The purpose of the pilgrimage was to strengthen the partnerships between the people of the three congregations: St. Paul’s Cleveland Heights, St. Matthew’s Chapelry in Masiphumelele and St. Clare’s in Ocean View.”
Rich and Mary Nodar of St. Paul’s have been spending three months a year with the two South African congregations since 2002.
“Masiphumelele is a black township primarily made up of Xhosa people who migrated to the Western Cape to find employment,” Mary Nodar explained. “Ocean View, about two miles away, is a community which developed as a result of the Groups Separations Act, when ‘colored’ people — as defined by the South African government — were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated in designated areas.”
The Nodars worship with both congregations. Rich Nodar, a retired Cleveland Clinic audiologist, and Mary, a retired Laurel School reading and English teacher, use their professional expertise to help people struggling with substandard living conditions.
They have conducted hearing tests at a health clinic and a primary school. For those with hearing impairments, they have supplied hearing aids and batteries through a grant from Starkey Hearing Aids.
Mary teaches reading and assists with programs at a library, while Rich teaches chess and coaches a chess team.
They also volunteer at Anglican HIV/AIDS foster homes in Ocean View and Masiphumelele, which St. Paul's helped build. The couple got involved initially when Rich was asked to follow up on the church’s investment in the HIV/AIDS project and to see what more St. Paul’s could do to support it.
“In addition, I was drawn by the fact that although there are 11 national languages in South Africa, the common language is English,” Mary said. “Mission work we had been doing in Honduras and El Salvador frequently required translators.”
The Nodars will return in January, when the school year begins, and stay through March.
A few years ago, the couple took part in a pilgrimage of 13 St. Paul’s parishioners, including eight high school students, to visit the two communities.
“Our stated purpose was to strengthen the bonds between us and for everyone to grow spiritually through the process,” Mary said. “Therefore, it was time for St. Paul's to host a pilgrimage, rather than continue to send people there."
Both pilgrimages offered participants of diverse backgrounds and cultures to become "real to each other," Mary said.
"We better understand that we are all children of God, and that our lifelong walk with God is made richer by our relationships across the world.”