Maranatha's largely Spanish speaking members began meeting as a home based prayer group in 2002. The following year, they started holding more formal Sunday services at the Church of the Brethren and have since grown to 31 active members.
"It has been our dream to reach out to people of every race, every ethnicity, every language," says Alix Sable, a West Hempfield Township resident and Reading High School teacher who will now become an associate pastor at the Church of the Brethren. "It was our dream for all of us to be together."
The move comes as the Church of the Brethren's denominational governing body encourages its local churches to embrace more minorities and non English speakers. In 2007, a query before the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference resolved that the church should aim to be multi ethnic, based on Revelation 7:9's reference to a "great multitude...from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne."
"There is a clearer call now," says senior pastor Jeffrey Rill. "We should focus on our unity, not on our differences."
Rill said the church's policy of inclusion actually dates to 1835, when attendees at an annual meeting were instructed to "make no difference on account of color." Lancaster Church of the Brethren has recognized the county's growing multicultural influence by joining with Maranatha and providing space for a Sudanese Dinka worship.
Many church members are excited at the prospect of new energy--and higher membership numbers--that could come with more bilingual members.
"Maranatha brings a sense of enthusiasm about their faith, more of a heartfelt, verbalized faith," says Allen Hansell, who chaired the church board when a vote was taken to offer membership. "Being part of an exciting congregation adds to the beauty of life."
After the assimilation, Sable will serve on the church board and help make financial and mission related decisions. Maranatha has had an active giving program over the years, with its own treasury, events, and mission trips to provide evangelism and community building in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Sable and his wife, Arelis, launched Maranatha when their son was serving in Iraq to connect with other soldiers' families. Their willingness to reach across cultural divides also attracted Monroe Good. An ordained minister who helped establish Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren, Good had spent 20 years as a missionary in Nigeria.
Chiropractor Calvin Wenger was treating a Maranatha member when he suggested the group consider meeting at Lancaster Church of the Brethren, where he served as moderator and remains pastor of caregiving.
Good says past interactions have been well received but sporadic. Joining the two groups will allow members to recognize each other's values, struggles, and contributions.
"We are doing this by intention," says Good. "We want to reach out to everybody more than ever."
Hansell and Rill acknowledge some churchgoers expressed skepticism about the assimilation, fearing services would be lengthened by multi language readings or costs inflated by translation of weekly materials. The church will continue to hold five separate worship services each Sunday morning, including a 10:15 service in Spanish.
Sable, however, says most Maranatha members are bilingual, with many of them having done door to door evangelical outreach in Lancaster County. The church also offered 13 week courses in Spanish and English last fall to help usher in change.
Rill said previous joint programs, such as a December send off for church missionaries, have been well received. In some ways, the church's youth have led the way. Maranatha did not have its own children's program, so young Bible study participants attended class with their Brethren peers.
Now, all members will have more opportunities to "deeply know people of different cultural backgrounds" and examine any "racism and racial stereotypes...despite our good intentions"--two dictates of that 2007 Annual Conference.
-- Kimberly Marselas is an LNP News correspondent. Newsline received permission to reprint this article from Lancaster Online, the website of LNP News. This article appears courtesy of Kimberly Marselas, LNP, Lancaster, Pa.
Source: 01/27/2015 Newsline