Sunday, March 21, 2010

Looking Like the Kingdom

We had an amazing Sunday morning at Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church today. 

Some of you may know that we are a racially and ethnically mixed congregation, we hope on our way to being a multiethnic congregation.  Three years ago Tully was an all white, elderly, shrinking congregation.  Over the past 3 years we have received African Americans, African Immigrants and a few white folk. 

We have the further complication/joy/gift from God that a large group of our African Immigrants don't speak or understand very my English.  They are a group mostly from Togo but some from Benin and Ghana, all of whom speak Ewe as their native language.  God gave us the gift of a Presbyterian pastor from Togo (Pastor Komlan) so most of the time we have two services, one in English and one in Ewe.  We celebrate sacraments together.

Today was a sacrament day because we baptized people and welcomed new members.  One of the new members was born in the USA and brought her 2 year old daughter to be baptized.  Then we had an African Immigrant couple who joined, the man by reaffirmation of faith the woman by baptism.  They brought to children to be baptized, a daughter about 8 and a son just over a year old.  To keep things interesting two couples from the Ewe speaking service brought children to be baptized, one an infant girl and the other a 1 year old boy.

One of the delights of having a multilingual congregation is that while we don't try to translate the whole joint service into Ewe we make sure the highlights are hit.  And since parents had to answer questions, children had to be baptized in language all the parents could understand and prayers before baptisms must be in language everyone in the congregation can understand we did most of the baptism part of the service in both languages.  We baptized everyone in both languages (including the adult woman who spoke English).  We also took turns carrying the preschoolers and the infants up the aisle so that Pastor Komlan and I each carried one child whose parents speak mainly Ewe and one child whose parents speak English up the aisle to present the children to the congregation.

BTW, The folks from Togo, Ghana and Benin brought all their relatives so we must have had over 100 African Immigrants in worship today.  All the new folks were relatives of the two children of Ewe speaking parents.  I of course pointed out to these folks at a fellowship meal after worship that we are, as far as I know, the only congregation with a worship service in Ewe in the Philadelphia area.  So I hope we pick up a few people.

One of the long time members told me that I had a grin that went from ear to ear through the whole worship service.

Please note I am not bragging.  We didn't go out and recruit any of these people.  God sent them in the door.  The most I have done is try to communicate that all are welcome and attend the Ewe service every once in a while so I will remember what the Ewe speaking people go through at an English worship service.  God has richly blessed us and if we pick up even 50 of the guests today we are going to have to have both services in the sanctuary. 

So we go one step at a time.  My problem is it seems like God is running ahead of all of us and we are trying out best to keep up.  And Pastor Komlan and I have to have regular conversations that begin with, "In your tradition how do you . . ."

What a blessing!  With the different languages it sounded like Pentecost.  With people from various places around the world and different races in America we are, by the grace of God beginning to look like the Kingdom of God.

Praise God!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Biblical Interpretation and God's Will

There is an old Jewish story about a group of rabbis debating the meaning of a particular section of the Torah.  All but one rabbi agreed on one interpretation.  The last rabbi argued with fervency.  He said that if he was right God would have the river next to them run backwards.  It did.  There were several other miracles (I don't remember the whole story as I heard it in college circa 1973) supporting the one rabbi.  Finally one of the other rabbis pointed out that the interpretation of the Torah was given to humanity so that even if God said they were wrong it didn't matter because interpretation was their job, not God's.  God's response was a laugh and, "They got me on that one." 

This is NOT a Christian story, maybe more's the pity.  We believe the Holy Spirit guides our interpretation, particularly when we do that interpretation in Church Councils.  Except, of course, when the Council is not guided by the Holy Spirit as the Reformed Confession writers like to point out.  Even Synods and Councils err, thank God.  Thus in the end all interpretation is human interpretation.  We can't tell for sure what is inspired by God and what isn't although there are some things we can all agree upon. 

So sometimes after a carefully worded argument on a blog I note (only to myself of course) that I could be wrong.  We all could be wrong, couldn't we?