Walking into the sanctuary of our church on Sunday mornings reminds me that I am living in a global village. It really begins at the coat rack, where I quickly put my coat on a hanger so I can give a hand to my new friend, Natasha from Moldova as she tries to removes her snow suit of her wriggling little three year old, Elizabeth, whom she calls Lissa. As we walk through the door of the chapel Stephen from Nigeria greets us. Heading to my accustomed spot to drop off my bag and my Bible, I just have to stop to greet Siphe from Zimbabwe with her two darling little girls. I cannot believe how the oldest one has grown so tall. Her red glasses give her the look of a real scholar.
Although there is still ten minutes for us to greet one another before the service starts, the announcements are already scrolling on the screen in both English and Spanish. About a third of the congregation has their origins in Latin America. Colombians, Venezuelans, Mexicans and Cubans all join me at the translation equipment table, where we go to pick up the headphones. These enable our friends to understand all that is happening by hearing it in their own language. Since I am trying to learn Spanish, this service provides a great opportunity for me to listen to how it should sound.
Meanwhile the ushers are distributing the Bibles in English and Spanish, according to the choice of the worshipper. In addition, announcements in the weekly bulletin are also given in both of these languages. We want our Hispanic friends to know that this is their church.
Just as I am heading back to my seat, with the headphones, I spot my friends Asher and Suha arriving, along with Ramesh and Hema and their two little girls Suhanna and Nyanna. They find a place to sit, just behind Raj and Sushma with their two children. The Indian singing group is going to participate in the service today so the women in their blue and red flowing saris and the men in their colourful costumes add to the richness of the cultural mosaic.
When children’s’ time comes, in the middle of the service, all of the children gather at the front of the church and the scene resembles a playground at the United Nations. Action songs give all the children a chance to participate, where gestures fill in gaps in their understanding, so words are not always necessary. The important thing for the children and indeed for all of us to understand is that here is a place where we are loved and accepted, no matter what our origins or customs. We are learning to appreciate each other and the richness of what each one brings. As I watch the children, words from an old Sunday School song run through my mind.
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world. “
The children that I sang about in that song, as a child, existed mainly in storybooks that I read. I saw very few in my church that were not just like I was. Now that has all changed and the song has become more real for me.
While some things have changed significantly, there are other parts of our worship that remain consistent. Just as in our youth, we enjoyed the lively music of the brass band as we marched down the street; we still enjoy that toe tapping rhythm, not so much outside now, but certainly as we enjoy times of praise and worship, and as accompaniment to the old hymns.
As well as the many new friends who have joined us we continue to nurture friendships with those who have been there for us during the good days and the challenges that have come our way. Worship has become a unique blend of the comfortably familiar and the stimulation of innovation and new ideas propelled by the infusion of those from other cultures.
Who knew that as one of the senior members of the congregation I could learn to appreciate samosas? Gone are the days of the church chicken dinners. A highlight of our church year for me recently was the fellowship that we enjoyed a couple of weeks ago at our international potluck dinner. My shepherd’s pie and my friend’s scalloped potatoes were as novel to some of our friends as the tortillas and rice dishes were to us. Each of us brought something that we enjoyed eating from our own cultural background and we had the chance to try some dishes we had never tasted before. Those of us working in the kitchen had to ask instructions about what to reheat and how from those who brought many dishes we knew nothing about. It was a unique dining experience!
Why do I find such joy in this multicultural setting? I think it is because every week when I go to church I am reminded of Heaven. There we will join in celebration with our brothers and sisters from every country and every language. I feel like I have the privilege of participating in a weekly rehearsal for that.