Singing Together, or more than one way to be a multicultural church

[This post is a follow up to one titled, “Harsh News”]

St. David-Emmanuel Episcopal Church is a small congregation is Shoreline, WA, just north of Seattle. Most of us are “Anglo”, but not all. Yet we probably don’t consider ourselves to be a “multi-cultural church.” However, we share our facilities with two other Christian congregations, one Methodist and the other, a Guatemalan-Spanish speaking congregation of the Church of God in Christ.

On Sept 19th, Sunday afternoon, we had a church potluck that brought together the Korean Methodist congregation and the English-speaking Episcopal congregation. Both groups are small and there is nothing famous about either of us. We have had at least three previous shared meals, with less of the beautiful coming together than we experienced that day.

The third attempt happened about two months ago, when without advance preparation, someone simply asked, “What hymn do we know that we could sing together in the both languages?” Of course, the first reply was, “Amazing Grace.” Then we found that we knew some of the same Christmas carols, and at least 3 other hymns. It was rough, but we sang together.

The event of Sept 19th – our forth attempt at eating and singing together – had a rather inauspicious beginning. It was listed in the Church calendar as beginning at 5 pm. However, at 5 pm there were perhaps 5 people standing around waiting for something to happen. And neither of the pastors of either congregation was present. By 5:10 there were 10-12 members of the English-speaking congregation and enough food for a nice little dinner. But there were no Koreans, and no Korean food. What point was there to this event if only the English singers sang? We tried singing a few songs in English and called it “practicing”. “What a friend we have in Jesus” and one more of those really old hymns that we hoped some body knew.

At about 5:15, with one Korean speaking woman, who does not speak English, standing with us in a circle we were about to sing the Doxology — one song that I was rather sure everyone would know– more Koreans drove up. So we waited for the Korean pastor’s children and wife, Yun, to come into the circle. We actually cheered as they arrived, since we could hardly do this thing without them. Thanks be to God, the awkward beginning and insecurity around how people who speak distinct languages connect with each other was not indicative of the quality of the gathering as it unfolded.

We had tried to do this before and remembered that while there were people from both congregations present, they were mostly at separate tables, speaking different languages and eating their own food. This time, partly because of the confusion as to the starting time, many of the English-speakers had arrived earlier, and spread themselves around the four tables, leaving space at each for some Korean-speakers to join them. And this time, it worked. Each table included at least two people from each group eating together and trying something from each other’s kitchens.

The food was beautiful — black beans, corn and red pepper salad, a Waldorf salad made from home-grown apples, a cornbread soufflé, yam noodles with spinach, a Korean pot sticker (whose name I was taught, but do not remember,) small egg rolls, a Mexican style hot dish with ground turkey and tortillas, home-made cookies, water melon and sticky rice balls for the Korean Harvest festival that was to be celebrated on the following Wednesday in Korea, but not here in the USA.

Yesterday, it was different. Each table had both Korean and English speakers, sitting together, trying out each other’s food, and then singing together, in both languages at one time, 10-11 hymns and songs found in the hymnals of both congregations. Two of the young people, (10 or so) from the Korean congregation, with the encouragement and direction of Yun, the pastor’s wife, practiced the violin and cello parts to go with 5 of the shared hymns. They had practiced well. Although they did not play the songs as fast as we might have ordinarily sung them, they played them beautifully, in tune and with a marvelous musicality. The slower tempos did not allow us to take for granted or fail to notice the beauty of singing together — “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

I don’t know the words needed now to describe the unfolding of singing together slowly, old songs accompanied by a small string “orchestra”on one side of the four round, blue and white cloth-covered  tables, and the piano on the other side of the room. (Some how, we were in tune.) No language is adequate to express that kind of beauty.

Helen Congelton, the organist of the parish, and I took turns playing through the list. And, I had brought along, El Himnario, i.e. the Spanish Episcopal Hymnal, just in case  some of the Guatemalans joined us. They did not, this time.

The conversations at the tables were slow, halting, some in English, some translated Korean, and some reluctant Koreans speaking English that was really quite good. We talked about the Korean Harvest festival, the food we were eating, where people worked or went to school, and the wonderful musicians.

The most powerful expressions were the two or three silences just after we had finished singing, in Korean and English, “Just as I am without one Plea” and “O God our Help in ages past”, and a favorite of one of the St. David’s people,”Sing, Alleluia to the Lord.” After the Korean Pastor, the Rev. Seyung Park prayed powerfully in Korean, and the Rev. Jerry Hanna prayed also powerfully, in English, we sang “Amazing Grace”. Then we concluded with hugs. Thanks be to God.

What a friend we have in Jesus
Peace Like a River
Guide me O Thou great Jehovah
O God our help in ages past
Jesus Loves Me
My faith looks up to thee
Amazing Grace
O Master let me walk with thee
Just as I am
Sing alleluia to the Lord
Seek ye first the kingdom of God

About kathrynrickert

Possibly from watching the movie Bambie at the age of 6, I have had a life-long awareness that saying ONLY nice things, does not make the world just or kind. Thus, my 2009 doctoral dissertation..."Talking Back to God" , is one of the main aspects of the work I do. Always interdisciplinary, seeking connections across borders that are usually marked with DO NOT ENTER, I seek to pay attention, pray, think, create,and imagine using biblical laments, Christian worship texts, and the ordinary stuff of everyday life.
This entry was posted in God at Gatherings, food, drink and holy stuff, God in Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Singing Together, or more than one way to be a multicultural church

  1. Hayden says:

    This is great. Weshould put it on the Saint David Emmanuel website.

    Thanks for writing this: Hayden

    • Hayden,
      By all means… you are welcome to include anything in my blog in the parish newsletter.
      You don’t even need to ask. at least to me… it is public. So, please do use it as you
      see fit. thanks for reading.



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