This is the report from my internship project, which I actually submitted a few months back, but there’s some good stuff in here, I think, and some resources that other folks might be able to use. In a nutshell, the goal of my project was to start laying some of the groundwork for bilingual ministry at my internship congregation, Peace Lutheran in Las Cruces, NM. Overall, it was very successful!
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The two main goals of my internship project were to introduce some bilingual ministry at my internship congregation – Peace Lutheran – and if possible, to lay some of the groundwork for bilingual ministry to be carried on into the future. This project had several major phases, involving both education and communal worship. Some of these ended up being adjusted along the way in response to what was going on in the community and in light of the real challenges of doing ministry. I designed this project bearing in mind the bilingual congregations I experienced in the Chicago area, especially my Ministry in Context (contextual ed) site – Iglesia Luterana San Andrés / St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago, IL. Each of these congregations was an originally Anglo-European congregation that chose to become bilingual in response to the changing demographics of their surrounding community. The leadership of more than one of these congregations acknowledged that this transition happened before the community was truly ready for the challenges of multicultural ministry, resulting in division, conflict, and power imbalance. For this project, I wanted to engage the community of Peace Lutheran in intentional conversation about these realities as soon and as candidly as possible, in hopes that if bilingual ministry does continue in this site, it will start with an honest discussion of the challenges and barriers to multicultural ministry, before attempting to bring in a new group of people only to replicate the same power imbalance, division, and strife that I have seen elsewhere.
The first stage of the project was a three week Sunday morning adult forum series centered around hospitality and accessibility. Initially, the plan was to ground the idea of bilingual ministry in both the scriptures and in our life together as the ELCA, utilizing the social statement “Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.” An opportunity arose to connect this forum to one of Peace’s ongoing stewardship projects, which was to raise money to make the facility more accessible to people with disabilities. The concept of physical accessibility to our spaces ended up being an excellent point of entry for talking about cultural accessibility to our spaces, and a discussion of the ELCA social message “People Living with Disabilities” was added to the lineup. I would definitely do this series again in a congregation, but spread over a much longer time period than the three one hour sessions I had to work with. In addition to scripture and ELCA documents, I drew heavily on my Peace Corps experience, incorporating cross-cultural competency activities, as you’ll see in the session outline included with this report, and a discussion of the “cultural iceberg,” which explores the tension between superficial and deep aspects of culture. The latter ended up being particularly impactful for participants, none of whom (to my surprise) had ever encountered the cultural iceberg image before.
The iceberg illustration ended up being a really great point of departure for the second stage of the project, which was another adult forum series – for which, sadly, I was only able to take two Sundays. This series was essentially an extended “SWOT” analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – of the congregation with regard to the possibility of bilingual ministry, another tactic from Peace Corps training. Both sessions of this series began with reading and assenting to the “Respectful Communication Guidelines” set forth by Eric Law’s Kaleidoscope Institute (see session handout included with this report). My goal was to get participants to start articulating and thinking critically about the culture of the congregation and where it might differ from the cultures of other groups. During this session, participants also divided into several groups to engage in more specific conversation about bilingual ministry in relation to each of the congregation’s five mission teams (an alternative structure to the traditional committee model). I asked them to consider four questions: What might bilingual ministry look like in this area of Peace’s ministry? How might that impact or change the responsibilities of this team? What opportunities might this open up for Peace? What challenges might there be? Participants were wonderfully open and candid about their hopes and fears and apprehensions about the prospect of bilingual ministry, and impressively creative in their ideas for incorporating bilingual ministry into Peace.
The third stage of the project kicked off in glorious fashion with a bilingual mariachi Epiphany service, for which I am happy to take none of the credit. It was the idea of our organist, who attended many of the adult forums I led and suggested this particular idea during the brainstorming in the second series. We hired a mariachi group that often played for some of the local Roman Catholic parishes and came complete with their own liturgy. This set the tone for the use of setting seven of holy communion in Evangelical Lutheran Worship – the bilingual setting – throughout the whole season of Epiphany. I had only planned during this time to teach some liturgical Spanish classes in preparation for the final stages of the project: bilingual midweek Lenten services and a bilingual service during Holy Week, but the use of setting seven on Sundays gave class participants an immediate chance to put their liturgical Spanish skills to use in a meaningful way. These classes were very focused on songs and litanies in which congregation members would be singing or speaking Spanish. We practiced pronunciation, and also parsed out the translations of texts, connecting them to participants’ preexisting knowledge of Spanish, Latin, and anything else that could give them a framework for understanding and remembering. The classes ended up being so well received that I continued them twice a week into Lent, up through Holy Week.
The Lenten midweek services were fully bilingual, with a bulletin printed in English and Spanish side by side, including the scripture readings. I drew on resources from the ELW and from Libro de Litúrgia y Cántico, but still ended up doing a lot of my own translations of the prayers for each service and some of the connecting text. I used some of the short, meditative songs from the Taizé community’s website at these services as well, encouraging those assembled to sing in both English and Spanish. In leading the services, I alternated between both languages, trying to give equal time to each, and invited Spanish speakers in the congregation to help by doing some of the readings.
In lieu of a prepared reflection, we set up several experiential prayer stations around the sanctuary and gave congregants time to explore each station and/or to sit in quiet reflection if they so chose. Each week, there were three prayer stations that remained the same throughout the Lenten season: a station for anointing and blessing/healing prayer, a station with prayers for reflection printed on cards in English and Spanish, and a prayer weaving station, which was very popular. This last one was an idea we borrowed from an activity at Theological Conference; my supervising pastor, Jared, built a large wooden loom and participants were invited to write their prayers on strips of fabric and literally weave them together. This weaving will be finished and hung on the wall of the fellowship hall. The fourth prayer station changed each week and was in some way related to the weekly theme. I have included instructions for two of these stations with this report: week three’s theme was the exodus, and we used blue paper, paint, and glitter to recreate the Red Sea flowing out of the baptismal font – participants were invited to sit in the sea and reflect on the questions in the little journals I put together; week four’s theme centered on a text about God’s abundant blessings from Isaiah 55 – we spread the communion table with a feast of “rich food,” including cheeses, nuts, olives, honey, milk, wine, and other things, and invited participants to come and eat. The biggest learning from this experience for me was just how much more work it was to plan and organize these services than I anticipated, especially since I had to create many of the resources I needed. It was deeply worth it, though. I invited participants to fill out a short evaluation following the last two services and received very positive responses in return – a summary of the results is also included with this report.
At the time of writing this report, the final, final stage of this project – two bilingual Good Friday services – has been planned and prepared, but has not yet happened. Originally, this stage of the project was much more ambitious. My initial plan was to have an ecumenical bilingual service of some sort during the Triduum in collaboration with an already bilingual or Spanish-speaking congregation in the area; I was particularly imagining that we might emulate the stations of the cross procession that St. Andrew / San Andrés does every year in West Chicago. In conversation with my supervisor and lay committee, I came to realize that this was not a realistically feasible goal. Perhaps if I had planned this as the whole of my internship project, and also not during Holy Week when many churches are already wrapped up in their own liturgical doings, we could have made it happen. As it was, I was not as intentional about the planning of such an ecumenical service as would have been required, and Peace Lutheran did not have a relationship established with a bilingual/Spanish-speaking congregation to draw on for collaboration. This is something I would still like to attempt at some time in the future, but with the recognition that such an event would take intentional congregational relationship building and careful, cooperative planning.
Following the advice of my supervisor and my lay committee, this part of the project ended up being commuted to an in-house bilingual worship experience during Holy Week. Good Friday was the most fortuitous choice, since the assisting minister for the evening service happens to be bilingual. Other than the addition of the Spanish text paralleling the English – and the Solemn Reproaches – I tried to keep the bulletin and the order of service as similar to last year’s as possible. I borrowed as much as possible for the Spanish from Libro de Litúrgia y Cántico, but again, as with the midweek services, I found myself needing to translate and rearrange things to match the order and wording of the ELW. LLC is a translation of the older Lutheran Book of Worship, so it is missing all the changes and updates, for example in the Solemn Reproaches, made in the ELW. I have often found myself longing for a fully bilingual version of the ELW, or at the very least, a Spanish version. I owe a great deal of gratitude to our new parish administrator, Idalia, for helping put together the bulletins for the midweek services and Good Friday; hard working and bilingual, she has been a wonderful addition to the Peace staff and, I think, will be a huge asset to them in the future, especially for enabling continued bilingual ministry.
I hope that bilingual ministry will continue at Peace Lutheran in the future. I have made efforts to leave them with accessible tools and resources that they can continue to use in the future. I will be presenting this report to the church council next month, and with it, a series of suggested, concrete next steps that could be taken if they decide to continue down this road. The first step I will suggest is a congregation-wide listening campaign, directed at taking the temperature of the congregation on how they feel about Peace’s ministry in general and on how they feel about bilingual ministry in particular. Again drawing on my previous experience in bilingual congregations, I have learned that widespread buy-in from the congregation is absolutely crucial to multicultural ministry success. The second major step they could take is to challenge each of the five mission teams to include in the one- and three-year plans they draft annually one or two ways of making their area of ministry more accessible to our Latino/Hispanic neighbors. This could make good use of the creative ideas dreamed up by the participants in the second adult forum series; challenging the mission teams in this way also underscores efforts by church leadership to empower the mission teams to be more proactive and regularly involved in achieving the ministry goals they have set. Among the resources I have put in place that Peace will be able to use is an online bilingual resource share group that I set up through Facebook, designed to connect people across the ELCA who are creating or looking for bilingual resources with one another. There are now about 100 members in the group, which continues to grow.
Overall, this internship project provided a wonderful opportunity to try out some of the ideas I have about developing bilingual ministry. I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on how to set congregations up for success in multicultural ministry, and although I was only able to conduct this experiment over the short span of a year, I feel optimistic that at least some of these ideas are quite viable. Through this project, I gained a greater appreciation for the sheer amount of work involved in developing bilingual ministry, particularly in encouraging and empowering lay folks in taking lead roles in this ministry, and in hunting down and/or developing bilingual resources. I experienced some interesting tension around interactions with some of the members of the congregation who are enthusiastically in favor of becoming a bilingual congregation and of charging ahead with this ministry; while I too would love to see more and more congregations embrace and embody multicultural identities, I also recognize that such transition will be met with significant resistance, and find myself sort of reining in a little bit the expectations of these folks, as well as my own. I suspect there will always be this tension I feel between wanting lovingly to bring along resistant members of the congregation at their own pace, and wanting to charge ahead into a multicultural future, full of love for the broader community.
Another learning that had little to do with the bilingual aspect of my project work had instead to do with the interactive prayer stations we set up during the midweek services in Lent. My original intent in doing prayer stations rather than a reflection was to give people kind of a mental break from sitting and listening and trying to follow in two different languages. However, the multisensory experience of the prayer stations ended up being a really meaningful part of Lenten worship for many of the participants. My supervisor’s six-year-old son, who is working on his reading skills, religiously (pun intended) collected the bilingual prayer cards and practiced them before his bedtime. Our parish administrator told me that her teenage daughters loved the prayer stations and actually looked forward to coming to worship each Wednesday. Several middle aged and older members of the congregation made comments to me about the meaningfulness of touch and the personal care of the healing prayers. And, naturally, everyone loved the week with the food, and one young woman in her 20s remarked on how surprising it was to see Lent and its practices of repentance cast in such a different light.
There is something so wonderfully rich about engaging in worship in such a fully embodied way. We have worship bags at the back of the sanctuary for wiggly kids – I can’t help but wonder how much it might add to worship if we had worship bags for adults too! We often worship in only one way, a way that certainly has its loveliness and meaning, but which involves a lot of sitting, standing, and listening. I think that one very liberating aspect of bilingual ministry in congregations could be an opening up to multiple ways of being the body of Christ in worship.