Crossing borders or bordering the cross

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I’m writing this in the San Juan airport, heading home after a week at the Bishops’ Academy. The focus of the academy was “Ministry at the Margins,” and we spent a good deal of time talking about ministry with people whose distance from the centers of power and wealth make them nearly invisible. We focused particularly, though not exclusively, on ministry among Hispanics/Latinos.

This is a helpful and essential conversation, and one that needs to be sustained, for two key reasons–first, the gospel of Jesus Christ sends us to the margins to proclaim good news, and second, we remain a predominantly Anglo/white denomination. Every day, we look less like the rest of the country.

This isn’t the place for a conversation about immigration reform. Rather, it’s about finding ways to go to places and people that are largely new to us. As our speakers pointed out, even 2nd- and 3rd- generation Latinos are “border crossers” every day. Particularly in predominantly Anglo communities, the assumption is that Latinos aren’t natives; on the other hand, residents of their country of origin, whether their family left it months ago or generations ago, now see them as Americans and no longer quite Guatemalan, Mexican, El Salvadoran, etc. So whichever community is encountered, it is encountered as a “border-crosser.”

For the Church to be effective in connecting with Latino communities, it has to be comfortable crossing some of its own borders. Our forebears gathered in ethnic enclaves and continued to speak the language of their home countries until their children began to learn English in school. It’s not so different for immigrants today. The difference–and it’s an uncomfortable truth to acknowledge–is that most of “our” forebears (not all of us are descendants of European immigrants) looked a lot like the people in the neighborhoods they moved into. They spoke a different language and practiced different traditions, but they looked like their neighbors. Most of today’s immigrants–not only Latino, but African and Asian and Middle Eastern–look different than the majority of Americans. That majority is shrinking, however, and America is becoming much more diverse. The fastest growth in the changing American complexion–what has been termed the “browning of America”–is among Latinos. This reality requires us to be more aware of, sensitive to, eager for and committed to ministry in and among Latino communities.

In our hesitation to change–in any area–we often come right up to the very edge of the cross; but we hesitate to pick it up and bear it. The burden of change seems too heavy, too challenging, and we stop at the edge; we border the cross.

Christ’s call isn’t simply to consider the cross, but to carry it; not merely to note those around us, but to engage them–to stop bordering the cross and start crossing the borders; those borders that keep us from Christ-following, cross-bearing, gospel-proclaiming faithfulness.

What are the primary challenges for you, and for the communities in which you live, as you contemplate how to cross the borders you encounter in order to minister to those at the margins? Who are those marginalized neighbors, and what ministries–what risks–do they call us to?

7 Responses to Crossing borders or bordering the cross

  1. Barb says:

    Thank you so much for this piece! As I think about these issues, here’s what’s surfaced for me recently:
    1. I’m eager for all of us to move beyond the idea that “we” are inviting “others” in. I think God intended for everybody to be “in.” When we see that not everyone’s included, we’re not who we’re supposed to be and the community isn’t whole. Is moving toward wholeness compelling enough to bring about change?
    2. I’ve heard people remark that reaching out to people new to them is “not my thing” as if it were optional. Is it?
    3. Getting beyond what is convenient is a real obstacle. For many, church is something to fit into the weekly schedule. Hard question: When serving becomes inconvenient, what happens? Can we be okay when we are personally inconvenienced? Might there be surprises?

  2. Thanks for raising this issue to our attention, Bishop Maas. I’m rather proud of a couple of ways that Messiah Lutheran in Ralston has undertaken “walking together” with parts of the Body of Christ that don’t have a European heritage. The longest standing partnership is with the South Sudanese Worshiping Community that worships in Messiah’s sanctuary on Sunday afternoons. There are many bridges between the South Sudanese congregation and Messiahs, this relationship has grown out of refugee sponsorship that started many years ago. Many of our Sudanese-origin sisters and brothers join in Messiah’s worship celebrations also.

    Messiah’s building is also home to Gethsemane congregation, an emergent church that uses our facility on Saturdays. It reaches out to people of hispanic origin. They aren’t Lutheran, but they are called to the same Christ. Many members of that congregation join with ours in our outreach ministry of running a monthly food bank.

    My point is that crossing “borders” doesn’t need to mean making other people adopt our European heritage – but it is even richer if we can see walk together seeing the beauty of the traditions others bring to the Body of Christ.

  3. Anna G, Schundrenko says:

    Thank you for your insightful report of what one of the biggest problem is in our church is today. We profess that we want change and that we need to change, but too many of us still adhere to our own believes and even though we give lip service to this believes in our hearts we have not as yet made the tansition. I have faith that we will change and grow, that the love and teaching of Jesus will be heard and spred to all people. Thank you for your leadership Bishop Maas and keep speding the word of Jesus Christ.

  4. Joel Schroeder says:

    We rec’d 15 new members last Sunday. Three of whom are chinese. We gave one a Chinese/English bible. She was thrilled. The mother was baptized in an underground church in China. She said, “If the police find out we are jailed.”
    I’m thrilled to have Vicar Jeff Schmitz in our cluster. He is doing intentional ministry among hispanics as part of his internship. He tells wonderful stories of how differing cultures are discovering each other out at St. John’s rural church on Cuming County Line, Scribner. As a result of his hospitality we have an hispanic girl in our (St. Paul’s and Redeemer-Hooper) combined confirmation class.

  5. Julie Rother says:

    Thank you So Much for addressing this issue in this wonderful article! I work with our local Hispanic community almost daily through my work as a public health nurse. This population faces many challenges and hardships in order to try to build a better life for their families, just as our ancestors did. Thankfully, with the help of my good friend and colleague, we have been able to put together a Community Partner’s Program in our health department in which we have been able to assist many of our new neighbors to access needed healthcare.

    I appreciate the challenge that you pose to us as the Church to pick up the cross and cross the border. It’s not easy; there is so much fear and misinformation floating around that poses many challenges to us picking-up the cross; we have many hurdles to overcome! Thank you for this article and clearing one hurdle, that of awareness of the need for us as Christians to be brave enough to move toward the next step of discussing an issue that is very important to our Loving Savior, “Loving our neighbor as ourselves.”

  6. Rob Corum says:

    I too appreciate Bishop Maas focusing light on this topic, and I appreciate the additional comments so far. Some of the comments generate questions for me. I would like to know what Messiah Lutheran in Ralston DID to encourage formation of a South Sudanese or Hispanic worshiping community, or if those communities formed on their own and simply use Messiah’s building. Is anything being done to help all the groups worshiping in the same building act as one Body of Christ? I would like to hear HOW Intern Jeff Schmitz is doing intentional ministry among hispanics. I find that Lutherans have a hard time inviting anyone to church, particularly if they are concerned that their neighbors and coworkers have a different or no faith. That challenge is increased if the neighbors and coworkers have a different cultural as well. The challenge seems to be insurmountable if people simply move in different circles. What are people doing to overcome these challenges? I realize that the commenters above had no room for such elaboration, and that a “cookbook” approach (just follow the instructions) is often not helpful, but hearing some HOW examples in another format may be.

  7. brianmaas says:

    I appreciate all of these comments (and apologize for slowing down the posting rate–things are picking up around the office!). I hear a common thread of excitement where diversity is broadening and new faces (and languages) are showing up. And I hear a thread of challenge for all of us to reconsider what it means to be Church–to move beyond inviting “outsiders” in, but to simply see ourselves as ambassadors for Christ, inviting those Christ has already embraced to be part of a specific community of the imperfect but beloved, where grace is real and hope abounds (and where there’s room for confession and lament as well).
    There is indeed no cookbook for fostering these experiences because each community is different–but being in conversation with people from each of these congregations is very helpful–and something we’re hoping to facilitate more regularly. In the meantime, let me encourage anyone who reads of any person or community that intrigues them to be in direct contact–we all have much to learn from–and share with–one another. Practices may not translate from one place to another, but the faith orientation behind those practices will travel. I think most people willing to ask about the orientation that roots those practices have the creativity to adapt to their own setting–and see things happen.
    Thanks for the conversation. More to come!

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