Two Congregations Now Share More Than a Building

Post a Comment » Written on April 14th, 2009     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (April 14, 2009) – Two Evangelical Covenant churches that recently participated in the denomination’s first bilingual Invitation to Racial Righteousness (I2RR) already have taken steps to move the process forward so that they can more closely work and worship together, say their pastors.

Members of Iglesia de Pacto Evangelico Grace and Grace Covenant Church and share the same building on the city’s north side. Grace had planted Iglesia in the early 1990s, beginning the process by asking Luis Retamal, a layperson who eventually would become the Hispanic congregation’s pastor, to lead a Bible study in Spanish.

Since then, however, the congregations have had little interaction. The pastors agreed that the situation needed to change.

“We realized our people didn’t know each other even though we share a space and are rubbing shoulders all the time,” says Grace’s pastor, Mandy Olson. “We thought we should bring our people together so that there would be some familiarity and that it would lead to some form of ministry.”

Church leaders issued an open invitation for their members to participate in the two-day event in February and hoped 15 people from each congregation would participate. They were thrilled when roughly 20 from the Anglo congregation and another 30 from the Hispanic church attended. Teenagers as well as adults took part.

Throughout the first day, small groups engaged in exercises, discussed various issues, and shared personal stories. Members of each congregation interpreted the discussions. On the second day, participants attended each other’s worship services.

Olson says the experience helped put a face on issues and provided a new awareness of the difficulties that continue to be encountered by Hispanics. In the accompanying video (top), Olson shares her insights gained from the experience.

Retamal says his people developed a stronger sense of being accepted as equals, which was more important than everyone agreeing on issues. “Before we thought they were living in their own reality. Now we feel we are in this together.”

Retamal admits he was nervous going into the weekend. “I was afraid it was going to be a little rough, especially with immigration, but I was really happy to see that all the conversation had respect,” he recalls. “We didn’t feel hurt. We were very comfortable. I think it was a big surprise for me.”

Retamal adds that many Anglos automatically think Hispanics they meet must be the first or second generation of their families to live in the United States, when oftentimes their families stretch back more than four generations.

Retamal says his congregation’s members also gained a better understanding of the issues the Anglo members face. He shares his thoughts in the accompanying video (center).

The experience already has had an impact on interactions among the congregations. “We see a face, we know their name, and we can say hello,” Olson says.

A follow-up group met last week and agreed that the next step is for the two churches to meet together once a month. “My dream is to see worship as an outpouring of a relationship between two communities.”

Ideas being discussed include holding a street party or working together to distribute food to the needy in the neighborhood.

The experience has been so positive, Olson says, that she believes I2RR “should be required for any two congregations sharing a building together.” She shares more on that in the concluding video.

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