This is one of those days I want to remember. I am dead tired but I have to write it all down while it is is still fresh in my mind.
Almost two years ago, El Centro was in a good place in many respects. We had offered the first wonderful summer reading camp program, our worship was lively and we had just begun a partnership with the Department of Families and Children so we were starting to process foods stamp and Medicaid applications for people in the Latino community. We also didn’t have much room to grow and would soon be looking at a move to another storefront. At about the same time, life had gotten awfully scary at St. Ambrose just 10 blocks away from us. The organization that had been renting a large part of the property was moving away and taking 2/3 of the parish income with them. On a lot of faith, with nothing but a handshake between us, the Diocese of Southeast Florida, St. Ambrose, and All Saints/El Centro agreed to become what we now call the New River Regional Ministry–something more than a parish, a bunch of people whose focus would be on ministry, an experiment in grace capable of transcending every sociocultural difference imaginable in order to serve God and our neighbor.
Last year was brutal. More than one of us still carries the scars, probably still has some wounds that have not yet healed all the way. The future is fragile and uncertain. But oh, today…
Today began with the service at 8. In most Episcopal Churches this is the service attended by “God’s Frozen Chosen” according to many. In fact, I have found a warm, loving community and because of the special needs of our newest member to that service, we arranged to have our bishop’s visitation and annual confirmation service at this service. The service was beautiful. There were so many people, so many people being welcomed into the Anglican Communion. The energy!
We wouldn’t be Episcopalians without good food so we all feasted on the wonderful breakfast Angel and Diana had worked on till almost midnight last night. We had the regular 10 o’clock service where we celebrated the 93rd Birthday of one of our dearest members. We remembered the loved ones we’ve lost. I forgot to take communion down to Edith, our birthday person who is too frail to come to the rail, and when I realized what I’d done I almost burst in to tears but recovered enough to take the bread to her while Angel carried the wine.
Then at noon, members of El Centro and St. Ambrose who are working together on a redevelopment project sponsored by the national church came together for a working lunch. We discussed the liturgy we are going to test during Advent. For months, several of us have felt the gentle nudging of the Spirit, reminding us that “a house divided cannot stand”. Members of El Centro and St. Ambrose used the same worship space but very rarely even saw each other. We have identified the essential elements of unity in the Sunday service of the Episcopal Church. We also think we’ve found a way to honor the need for each part of the community to pray in their own language. We’ll start with the Liturgy of the Word in English. Right before Confession, the Centro community will come into the service, along with all our kids who will have been at Sunday School. We’ll do communion and our English speaking members will recess out while El Centro folks will stay on for the Liturgy of the Word in Spanish.
At our meeting today, we put two more pieces in place. During the Liturgy of the Word in English, we are going to have a special bilingual advent program for the children of both services. During the Liturgy of the Word in Spanish, the children will now have Coach Hudson and Coach Harman who will supervise soccer, jump rope and other games that kids can play with a large rubber ball.
It is hard to explain to someone who is not part of this journey how scared we all were when we started down this road, how hard it has been at several points, and now what a deep joy is beginning to spread in our midst. Being willing to surrender the comfort of our familiar rites and rituals on Sunday morning to something far more risky, just because we want to learn some more about what it means to abide with each other is a brave, profoundly gracious act of faith. I am in awe of the way God makes all things new. On this day when the church celebrates the communion of all saints, we aren’t just remembering the ones that have gone before us. We’re trying to follow in their footsteps.