Earlier this fall I received an email from a pastor in Waynesboro, seeking space for a congregation of refugees from Africa living in and around Newport News. It was an unusual request but something about it prompted me to respond. I sent the request to two staff members here and asked for their impressions. Both felt strongly that we should follow up on this request. So, I did.
Within a couple days, four clergy were on our church doorstep eager to see the chapel. Two of them, Rev. Elisa Ndizeye and Rev. Constantin Mbaruku Nzopfabarushe, represented the Central African Refugee Community of Hampton and Newport News. A third, Josephat Nkeshimana, a pastor from Richmond, came to act as interpreter for us. The Rev. Chris Pulice, pastor of Waynesboro Free Methodist Church, came to offer moral support for us all. Chris explained that the associate pastor at his church was a refugee from Central Africa with connections to the community in Newport News. So, the meeting began.
I showed them all the Chapel space and they seemed impressed. It truly is a beautiful worship space with excellent acoustics and it suited their size perfectly. I wondered out loud whether the mile distance from our church to the nearest bus stop might be a deal-breaker for them. Both pastors shook their heads no. They assured me that their members were used to traveling long distances by foot. It was then that we learned that ours was the only church in the city to consider their request for worship space. Once we clarified their time and space needs, I told them that Session would meet to consider their request on Sunday
Hidenwood’s Session was most accommodating, and the Central African Refugee Community started worshipping on Sunday November 5th from 2-4:30pm. They trickled in that first Sunday over a period of 30 minutes, but the singing started as soon as there was a suitable quorum. Their singing is a gift to hear… loud, melodious and Spirit-filled.
Hidenwood’s officers were quick to recognize this new congregation as an opportunity for ministry. At a recent gathering we brainstormed ways to show hospitality to this community. In the months, ahead we will do whatever we can to make them feel welcome in our midst.
This week’s passage has to do with hospitality. It’s the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25: “Whenever you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” Christ identifies so closely with the weak and vulnerable in our society that any action or inaction upon the least is like doing it to Christ himself. There can be no clearer words to cajole a hospitable spirit from God’s people. The words are threatening but they are also life-giving: if you want to find Christ, then look for him among the least in your midst.
I believe Hidenwood will find Christ’s blessing in full measure as it begins to share itself more fully with this new congregation in its midst. These are exciting times for our church!