Sunday, August 28, 2005

Mainline churches USA and ethnic congregations, part one

First Part

In part because I like the increasingly popular and always discrete lower-case convention and partly because I'm intending to blog more about the small-c churches than about the big-C Church, my title reads churches rather than Church. In addition, I'm writing more about ethnic congregations affiliated with an English-speaking local church, and, by default with its associated church body (also known as denomination, though sometimes regrettably referred to as "national church") than quasi-independent ones, whether part of a denomination or ostensibly unaffiliated.

Two Congregations, One Church

This past week I team-taught the middle-school class at Vacation Bible School or Escuela Bíblica de Verano in North Park, one of San Diego's highly ethnic communities and a relatively old section of town. As I set out for my first session, I changed my cell phone language to Español; besides that, my name has become Lía.

During the week I learned if anyone asked "what kind of church is this?" I needed to forgot all the so-familiar to us insiders alphabet acronym designations and even generic ones like, "Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic," and go for a plain ole' Protestant! Their style is very Latino/a Evangelico/a, and Latin American Christians mainly make distinctions between Catholic and Protestant.

In conversation with people at that church during Lent 2005, I heard a couple references to "the Hispanic church"; true I'm a theologian and only barely into ecclesiology but extremely into words, but those references interested me, since technically their campus houses two congregations but one church—a single legal corporation in the state of California's virtual eyes and a single entity under the denomination's purview, in this case the increasingly diverse but very mainline ELCA.

Ethnic Christianity in Outward Mainline (dis)Guise

What I'm writing today is preliminary and not particularly profound, but in this year 2005, all the mainline Church bodies in this country have a substantial number of members whose first language wasn't English and whose native style of worship is different from the usual mostly-White, mostly-working-class or middle-class mainline worship. Every single one of those denoms began as an immigrant church—whether non-English speaking Lutheran and Reformed or very English-speaking Anglicans, Presbyterians and Congregationalists; now American Protestantism is coming close to full-circle and needs to welcome and receive the multiplicitous gifts and enriching influences the Asian and Hispanic, African and Caribbean Christian traditions bring to it. Besides all of those protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church in this country originally began with almost-exclusively immigrant and truly ethnic local churches (always worshiping in Latin); Midwestern and Northeastern cities were filled with natives from Poland, Germany, Ireland and Italy, though having its political center in the Vatican rather than in an American city in itself places the RCC in a different position and not within the categories I'm blogging about today. In other words, despite diocesan or arch-diocesan offices and staff in every major city, the Holy See in Vatican City is the central denominational headquarters, and claims world-wide jurisdiction.

In Salt Lake City I was sometime (sometimes? not sure about the proper construction) pianist for the Tongan To ae Ofa United Methodist Church. The church's actual web page – a free one from the denom – wouldn't load, so I'm not posting it here. However, I am writing a little about my experiences with them. First of all, it was far more an ethnic church than it was a Methodist one! As one of the choir sopranos observed, "We have the gift of music and the gift of food," and after Sunday worship, we'd almost always have an amazing feast of ethnic specialties, and then it was back into the church sanctuary for testimonies. Celebrating the Lord's Supper only a scant four times a year put it way outside of today's typical mainline practice; in addition, for those occasions they'd import a communion table and no baptismal font was in sight: it was very much a Word, word community, while I am so long accustomed to the sacraments and their symbols being as prominent as the Word, in fact, to the sacraments being considered visible Word! Besides, what I learned to call "my" congregation did not practice glossolalia, though at least one of the other area Tongan UMCs did—they'd had disputes and splits regarding the more demonstratively eschatological gifts of the Spirit. (BTW, many of my readers probably know that the Pentecostal movement and churches sprung from Methodism, which originally was a movement in Anglicanism and then developed into a form and style of Christianity with its own distinctives while retaining episcopal polity.) When the Tongan rep from the judicatory was in town, we worshiped and sang with the other Tongan churches, some of which did practice tongues, but I never heard anyone from To ae Ofa criticize them. By the way, when I began there, the church was John Wesley Tongan UMC; the woman who at that time was bishop visited and bestowed our new name, leaving out the Tongan designation, but To ae Ofa is Chesed in Tongan.

Check out some of these fabulous links from the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

Multi-ethnic, Multi-racial, Multi-economic, Multi-almost everything

Sometimes I imagine my ideal involvement (participation, contribution) would be with a church like Pasadena Presbyterian, with several worship services in several languages, lots of social, educational and religious activities; diversity galore but not one single cohesive community. It's like a jumbo-size version of the church I served in inner-city Boston!

part two coming soon.

1 comment:

cygnus/f3 said...

So, +Leah/+Lia, like, you know the difference between ng nga and aitu, right? Oops, that's Samoan!Heeheehee....