Central United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina worships God in different languages and represents 15 different countries.
“I pray that our church continues to grow and look like the kingdom of God,” said Ashley Pimentel, a layperson for Central UMC.
Every day members of Central UMC are immersed in different languages and cultures. During Sunday school, Bible verses and prayers are done in the language individuals feel the most comfortable with, whether it is French, Spanish, English, or even Swahili. Pimentel says that it is an experience that brings the Holy Spirit to class every Sunday.
During Sunday services, members from the congregation translate while their pastor, Michelle Chappell, preaches her sermon. Pimentel says she feels that the Lord’s Prayer is what really brings the congregation together. Everyone is encouraged to say it in his or her native language. Members of the congregation feel comfortable being diverse because everyone around them is too.
Although the church is diverse and open to new ideas, they recognize that they live in a country where speaking English is essential. Simple tasks like grocery shopping may be very difficult for someone who does not understand or read the language. Central UMC saw a need and took action. They started a program called “English as a Second or Other Language” (ESOL).
Retired teachers volunteer their time and skills to teach all levels of experience. The church also encourages people to learn how to write in their own language. “I will never forget my experience when a lady in my class was able to write her name for the first time,” said Pimentel. “It was truly a moving experience to see a grown woman with children be so excited about being able to write her own name. It's not much, but for her it meant the world. And it is times like that, that really makes what our church does so important,” said Pimentel.
The Hispanic/Latino ministry is a vital part of Central UMC. For the first time this year, the Hispanic/Latino ministry led a fundraiser for the children and youth ministries. The fundraiser consisted of selling a take-out meal with chicken, rice, beans, a drink and dessert.
The Hispanic/Latino ministry felt limited regarding how much resources they were putting into the children/youth events. Through their successful fundraiser, they were able to contribute towards expenses for these ministries. They also collaborated with the United Methodist Men who provided materials for the fundraiser.
“Seeing both of these communities merge as one and seeing that for once it was the Hispanic/Latinos that are stepping up and having their voices heard, makes me so happy,” said Pimentel.
The Hispanic/Latino community used this fundraiser to reflect their ministry and their culture.
“The church benefits from this multicultural environment because it is the true goal that we all hope to achieve one day,” said Pimentel. “We all want to be able to get along but in order for us to be able to demonstrate that, we as a church need to be able to practice what we preach.”
“By unifying our church and becoming one, it will attract others around us to our church,” she adds. “It will be able to stand on its own and the Holy Spirit will attract His children to be a part of that Kingdom.”
Pimentel recounted a time when a church member saw a family that was new to the country lost outside of the church building. She was on her way in when she noticed them and asked them to join the service. That family is now a member of the church.
“That is how we will bring people to the table,” said Pimentel. “Stepping outside of what we are used to. We are all trying to achieve one goal, acceptance, and equity over equality, liberation from the things that are holding us back in our lives. Teaching our children in the church how to be one with one another. That is going to lead us on the path where I feel like my church, along with probably many others, are headed to today,”
* Aleen Jemenez is a National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries communicator and collaborator with the Hispanic/Latino Communications Office. You can also reach her by e-mail.