Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Church #10 of 10: Go, Tell it En Dos Lenguas

When I was in Spain, I stopped at every church I passed. An open chapel, a small room for a Saint, or a giant Catedrál, I would stop and pretend for at least ten minutes to be Catholic. I liked to kneel next to someone and listen to the prayers they muttered in Spanish under their breath. I couldn’t understand them, but I could feel their importance, their anxious need to be addressed. I always thought prayers sounded so much more beautiful in Spanish. I know that could be inappropriately exotifying a language, but to me, the prayers just sounded more genuine. Maybe it was just the kneeling, the darkness and then tears with which the Spanish entwined. Regardless, I think I would pray more if I started praying in Spanish.

Grandview Park Presbyterian is a bilingual church in Kansas City, KS. The official Kansas City, KS is a large area, spanning miles of farms and suburb-like housing. But at the heart of the city lives the Spanish-speaking population of the Kansas City Metro. Most of the families I teach in Shawnee started out in what we call KCK.

Grandview Park was around long before the influx of Spanish-speakers, though. The church’s first service in the standing building was in 1889, when I expect the area was filled with farms and the beginnings of factories from people moving west. The church must have altered its methods more than once to meet the needs of the people in order to stay open as long as it has. And now their services, missions and education are completely bilingual, translated from Spanish to English and sometimes vise versa.

The pastor and his two sons led the praise band, which consisted of electric bass, electric guitar, a singer and the pastor playing both acoustic guitar and keyboard (not at the same time). I don’t think the band spoke much Spanish, but they led every hymn in both languages, singing one verse in English and then in Spanish, sometimes switching the lingual order. I never felt that one language was more important than the other. Neither language seemed secondary.

Many churches in that area claim to be bilingual because they have two services, one in Spanish and on in English. There are even a few churches that operate exclusively in Spanish. To create a truly bilingual community takes an extraordinary amount of work. Not only must you have a good representation of both languages singularly, but a decent amount of people who are actually bilingual. Scripture must be read, songs must be sung, sermons must be translated and Sunday School must be taught…all these things happen with the help of people who can read, write and speak both Spanish and English.

I felt partially useless and occasionally bored sitting in the pews of this church. It really was an amazing experience, and it is the only church to which I’ve gone that I have contributed any offering monies. It seemed, however, repetitive for me. At first, it was fun to hear the translations and create my own Spanish to English versions of the sermon in my head. But about one hour in, I had to decide which language in which to immerse myself. Loving the flowing beauty of it, I, of course, chose Spanish. Which made the English translating seem boring and pointless. I know I am selfish for thinking that, because they are serving a wide community with a great purpose, but being bilingual made half the service seem unnecessary to me.

What I appreciated most about Grandview were its specific missions that were based around their community. When a church serves an upper-class neighborhood, the missions have to be chosen, approved and then acted upon as allies, sometimes without a sense of empathy. But this church is truly serving its neighborhood, by concentrating on finding jobs for immigrants, feeding those who stand in line for work, and providing free coffee in the street and lunch after each service. They also do prayer home visits in both languages and have a very active children’s program.

I know this post has not been my most deep, entertaining or thought provoking. It is not, though, my last post. I won’t leave you with a simple description of something I found interesting and amazing. I maybe can’t explain it, but you’ll just have to trust me. The over two-hour service-time may mean I’m not going back, but I definitely have a community of people to whom I can recommend it.

I am going to the Episcopal Cathedral, Grace & Holy Trinity, for Christmas Eve, which will require another blog entry. And then, as I’m sure you’ve all been wondering, (on the edge of your seats) we will have a conversation about what’s next. This journey is far from over.

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