It is the season of homecoming at church. Worship attendance and program participation increases as we gather again in fuller force.
Maybe this isn’t the only homecoming going on.
As a transitional minister serving congregations during shorter pastorates, I have the luxury of experiencing different communities and church cultures. What I find notable about Houston is its international character. In common places out in the community, I hear people speaking languages I can’t understand. I notice distinctive native dress. The blend of cultures is remarkable and rich.
I think we don’t fully appreciate either the city’s international flavor, or the success of one of our ministries with the immigrant population. Our English as a Second Language (ESL) program conducts classes during the fall and spring that serves people from all over the world—in last spring’s class there were students from more than 50 countries. If you’ve been in the building on a Saturday afternoon, or Tuesday and Thursday evenings, you’ve seen the halls full of people speaking various languages.
It’s not uncommon for an occasional ESL student to be struck by the wall sculpture in The Gathering Place of the world’s religious symbols with our flaming chalice. Most have never seen a church that actually honors all these diverse traditions (with perhaps one of the symbols reflective of their native religion). I’m told some students take a cell phone picture to send back home.
It has caused me to think about the mission of our faith. We have a remarkable ministry serving the immigrant population of Houston, reflective of the global character of our faith. It is one of the largest, most successful social service ministries I’ve ever seen in a church.
In this season of homecoming, let’s also celebrate the homecoming we give the international sojourner—one who may be with us only a short time, yet feel a warm, supportive welcome here that touches their lives for years to come. This is ministry. Welcome home.
Rev. Samuel Schaal
Transitional Assistant Minister