by Jim King, Plains congregation (Lansdale, PA)
Four-year-old Jaya Mateti was immediately aware that the music in the May 19th worship service was different. It had a beat and it was LOUD! As soon as she saw everyone standing for the music, she asked to be lifted up so she could see. With her feet firmly planted on the back of the bench in front of her, she looked around at our guests from Evangelical Center for Revival and exclaimed, “There’s a lot of ‘Indians’ here today and they look like me!”
At the beginning of our worship service, our worship leader Rina Rampogu reminded us that our worship time could possibly have less structure and more spontaneity. About halfway through the service, smells of Congolese food being heated in the kitchen downstairs wafted up.
How did we get to having a combined worship service with a Congolese congregation? And what is the point of this interaction?
During the summer of 2017, when U.S. politics seemed to focus on borders, boundaries, and walls, a small group of people met during the Sunday School hour to discuss immigration issues. We had heard from recent immigrants that Lansdale was an immigrant-friendly community, but we wanted to do more in making people feel welcome in our church. We noticed that our playground had already become a welcoming place for children of various cultures to come and play together.
This immigration task force, led by Rachel and Kiron Mateti (conference board member), helped us focus on ways we could be more welcoming and culturally aware of our neighbors. We decided that a July 4 celebration in our church park could help us develop friendships with those who have come to the U.S. more recently. To ensure that this would truly be a cross-cultural event, we asked Evangelical Center for Revival to co-sponsor this event with us.
After this experience, some Plains members indicated that they were curious about how the Congolese congregation worships, so about twelve of us attended their worship service in Elkins Park. As Pastor Maurice Baruti and I sat together at the fellowship meal, we observed how different groups from Plains ate with members from the Center congregation and we talked about the possibility of doing a joint worship service together at Plains. At first he wasn’t so sure it would work; their worship service starts at 11:30, ours starts at 10:15. We ended up with a compromise of 11:00.
Prior to the service, Pastor Baruti asked how long he should speak. When he was told that we expected about 20-25 minutes, he smiled and said he was comfortable with speaking for an hour. During the worship he spoke in French and was translated to English by his wife Berthe. Rampogu said that as she looked out over the audience, “there seemed to be an expression of anticipation and curiosity on the faces of the congregation.” Several guests from the Center congregation shared that they had just come off working a night shift but that this was a service they didn’t want to miss.
As we at Plains look to fill an Associate Pastor position, this worship service reminded us that we could me be more flexible in how we do worship. With friendship, food, and fellowship, we will work it out. Our pastor, Mike Derstine says, “Anytime we worship with another congregation we are stretched by new patterns and ways of doing things, new songs and differences in worship style, and fresh testimonies during sharing time from people in different work and life situations. Then there was the stretching experience of different foods and table fellowship after the worship service, all of which serves to remind us that our concept and understanding of God is always beyond us.”
We realize we need to continue to change to be more culturally welcoming. The last verse of our 250th Anniversary song, written by Justin Yoder, says it well: “Teach us new songs, while we hold dear the strains of long ago. When we sing, the Spirit is here: may it be ever so!”