A step of faith into the unknown
Against all odds, Winters Chapel UMC, a small, predominantly white church, took a huge step of faith to reach out to its growing Latino community.
When their District Superintendent, the Reverend Ed Tomlinson , challenged Winters Chapel to look around their neighborhood and see that 43 percent of them where Latinos, Winters Chapel took his challenge seriously. The church formed a team to research, study and learn about the Latino community, assess their own church, and to devise a way to respond to this changing reality. Before any effort was implemented, this group realized that the effectiveness of any strategy depended on the church members’ true expression of God’s love in welcoming new people with genuine hospitality.
After months of regular meetings and diligent work, the team decided on an initial approach: to offer classes of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) with childcare. They would offer various levels of classes for English learners taught by trained teachers, assisted by volunteers, and with childcare provided by volunteers.
These efforts paid off. The response of the Latino community to the ESOL classes was very positive. Even more positive was the response of the members of Winters Chapel and other neighboring churches. An average of 43 adults and 32 children attended the program for 1 ½ hours once a week for 8 weeks. There was an average of 20 volunteers working on any given Thursday. The volunteers welcomed people on the outside and the inside of the church building, helped them register, administered assessment tests, guided people to the different classes, assisted teachers during class, provided childcare and snacks, and kept records of the classes and students.
The ESOL students were asked to assess the classes they attended. They expressed how welcomed they felt, how nice the people were to them and their children, how the classes were well structured and taught, and that they were learning.
This first 8-week period ended with a celebration that included worship and fellowship. It was a solemn and reverent time when the ESOL students and volunteers came to the altar to light candles and to kneel in prayer and gratitude to God for the blessings received.
This was not a small accomplishment on the part of this church. Many churches find themselves overwhelmed by changes in their community and unable to respond in a positive manner. Winters Chapel members overcame their apprehension and offered radical hospitality to their Latino neighbors. And for that we praise God!