(Im)migrating Toward Love 2 (by Taylor Hammett)

Screen Shot 2016-10-18 at 7.20.40 AM(Im)migrating Toward Love (Part 2):

5 Things Our Church Is Doing To Become a Home

I find houses to be curious places. They often tell the tale of travel by the souvenirs on display or of their owner’s interests by the kinds of nicknacks one might find sitting around the place.

One of the ways my childhood home told stories was through the various quips and quotes hanging on the walls throughout our house. The one I remember most was a familiar cross-stitched phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” It was adorned by little hearts and other kitschy items I can’t seem to recall, but the platitude itself remains stitched into my memory after all these years.

I like the phrase. It suggests something that seems true enough – our homes are not so much a fixed location as much as they are a place built upon the foundation of relationships that sturdies the structure for familiarity, love, and support.

In part 1 of this series, I suggested that things changed for us at our small church located in the American South when we came to see Kimberli, an undocumented immigrant who was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers this past January, as one of our own (to borrow language from Leviticus 19). Seeing Kimberli in this way led an otherwise politically right-leaning group of people to care for someone that might not typically receive such positive attention.

When we see ourselves belonging to each other we begin to embody the kind of talk we find written large across the witness of Scripture in which Paul says I am willing to become all things to all people…that I may share in its blessings.

I like the way Greg Boyle puts it too, “Kinship isn’t serving the other, but being one with the other.”

In order to cultivate the kind of place where a multi-cultural and bilingual church could become a home – a place where we saw and treated each other as family – we’ve had to think differently about how we “do church.”

Here are 5 Things we are doing to make our church a home:

We’ve had to put first things first. Because of our religio-political context we had to spend time thinking through the implications of what it meant to be a church made up in part of undocumented immigrants. As is the case for all of us no matter the issue at hand, we are always at war within ourselves as well as within our social gatherings to pledge our allegiance to the Kingdom of God above everything else. For many of us, seeking the Kingdom first meant we had to place our political views about immigration below the directive from Scripture to welcome the “outsider into our midst.”

In other words, we needed permission to believe that practicing open doors as a church didn’t mean we had to believe in open borders.

We also had to realize that our differences didn’t pose as big of a threat as we might have thought. No matter the situation, most of us have struggled to connect with those who are different from us. People are attracted to sameness, but healthy families choose to love each other despite their differences.

In fact we came to realize our indifferences were a bigger threat to our ability to connect with each other than our differences. A church that cares for each other will find ways to overcome the barriers that threaten to keep it apart, but a church that is indifferent…well, it simply won’t care.

So how do we practice putting first things first and overcoming our differences:

We Worship Together. There are several English speaking congregations in our area that host Spanish speaking churches – that is they provide the space and accommodations needed for worship to take place in Spanish, and each church has varying degrees of interaction with them. Our leadership, however, decided early on that we would worship together no matter how difficult or strange it may be to do so. We haven’t perfected this yet by any means. Our music is still primarily in English, but the reading of the Word, and the celebration of Communion are always bilingual and each week we have people of various colors, who speak various languages leading up front for all the church to see.

We Eat Together. One thing I know for certain after nearly 20 years of working with churches is that churches love to eat – and ours is no exception! We find, and even invent, opportunities to sit around the table with each other and to share the food from our homes in hopes of creating a home for each other in our church.

We Serve Together. One of the ways I know our church is growing towards putting first things first and overcoming our differences is that we serve together. Some are surprised that our church does not exist to serve first generation immigrant families. Any serving done within our church always goes both ways. But what I love even more is that, when given the opportunity, we serve others in our community side by side.

We have, as part of vision, To be a church OF this city and FOR this city.   Each week I am able to look around and see those of our city sitting together in worship and at the table, and each week I’m blessed by the stories I hear of how our church is serving others for the sake of our city.

I can’t speak for everyone, but when I think of my childhood home and that stitching on the wall, I can’t help but think of our church these days. Home certainly is where the heart is.

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