A Fulbright student in 1960s Amsterdam, I was searching vainly for a tenant who might sublet me a room. Painful? Yes, but good for this white Mississippian to experience keenly the barriers to anyone trying to adjust to a new land, culture, language.
“When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you … ?” ask the amazed “sheep” soon to inherit God’s realm (Matt. 25:38, 40). Christ the King answers, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
Members of Community Church [Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)], Deerfield Beach, Fla., were greatly blessed recently as they embraced an immigrant congregation that for 13 years has rented its facilities. The Session had invited the (independent) Igreja Presbiteriana Brasiliana to join their Anglo flock for bilingual worship and a potluck dinner. Not only did the Brazilians joyfully accept, they insisted on adorning the fellowship hall with bunting and flags of the two nations. One member, a restaurateur, prepared Brazilian delicacies for the meal.
Pews filled with worshipers from both congregations. Each received a printed liturgy in Portuguese and English. Pastor Dio Bezerra, of a Brazilian Presbyterian congregation in Boston, with bilingual translator, preached on “We Are All One in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The two congregations sang hymns, affirmed the Apostles’ Creed, and said the Lord’s Prayer in both languages simultaneously. The Igreja’s praise team led everyone in holy songs in English and Portuguese. All differences of language, culture, and style (Brazilian worship favors free prayer and gesture; Anglo “decency and order” liturgy with organ and robed choir and pastor) quickly evaporated as the two flocks celebrated their oneness. Now both are planning more joint ventures in worship, education, mission.
Today’s Internet makes bilingual worship easy. For example, the Bible and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in Portuguese are available online at www.cyberhymnal.org provides hymns in many languages. How wonderful, if more PC(USA) congregations would reach out in this way to the immigrant Christian flocks among us, whatever their denomination! How great, if worship at our presbytery meetings incorporated brief texts spoken in Korean, Spanish, Chinese, and other languages that may exist among us, with the English translations printed alongside.
For decades our denomination has urged us to match the nation in moving beyond our mainly Caucasian/North European base to become truly multi-ethnic. Presbyterians in Deerfield Beach have experienced how simple it can be to begin to do this — and how God richly blesses even our modest efforts towards reaching this goal.
Dwyn Mounger is interim pastor of Community Presbyterian Church, Deerfield Beach, Fla.