On Pentecost God’s Spirit demonstrated that the gospel was meant for people of every language. Yet most churches are mono-cultural and use one language exclusively for all of their services. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In this article we’ll show you how one church represented multiple languages in their Pentecost service, and how your church can do the same.
What Does an Inclusive Church Look Like?
Overlake Park Presbyterian Church (OPPC) seeks to be “A spiritual home where everyone belongs”. OPPC was founded 60 years ago in Bellevue, Washington and over the last 30 years the area has seen growing ethnic minority populations. The church has made efforts to include everyone in their community. Senior Pastor Becki Barrett says “openness is part of the church’s DNA”, and as they work together to pursue and represent diversity that “some mistakes happen, but we’ve had very little resistance and no complaints.”
The church leadership was excited about celebrating Pentecost this year. Planning began four months ahead of time, but in March COVID-19 hit, shutting down the entire state. OPPC transitioned to online services and video chat fellowship. They also ramped up their mission work to the local community, finding ways to serve their changing needs while supporting local businesses. And in the midst of all this chaos they resolved that a pandemic could not cancel Pentecost.
Crafting A Multilingual Service
OPPC’s Pentecost celebration service was released online with a surprise for viewers: most of it was spoken in foreign languages with English subtitles. The doxology, announcements, greeting and closing messages, and some worship were in English. But everything else was spoken by congregants (or mission partners) in their non-English language of origin. Seven different languages were spoken in the half hour service.
The prerecorded format allowed volunteers to share in their own language, to be seen and included in the church. Barrett observed that “people communicating in their language of origin are relaxed. They don’t have to do the work of translation in their mind.”
The sermon was given in Spanish by ministry partners Rev. Eliana Maxim, Co Executive of the Seattle Presbytery and Gloria Ulloa, Pastor of Presbyterian Church of Colombia. They shared how the Presbyterian Church of Colombia was carrying out mission work while coping with racial equity protests and COVID; a relatable experience to OPPC members despite cultural and geographical divides.
The service profoundly impacted the congregation. Barrett said that “everyone loved it.” One church member shared that at first she felt excluded by all the different languages. But then she realized: church members with a different language of origin must feel this way constantly! She was thankful for the experience, and glad that her church valued language diversity.
How The Service was Prepared
OPPC is invested in the work of fostering multiculturalism, and Barrett clearly considers herself privileged to be part of the effort. She asserts that “We want to lead and guide the conversation, but God does things through the body when you build awareness and ask questions that I couldn’t dream up on my own. You need buy-in from the church to do this work. It can only be done if people are willing to put themselves out there”.
At OPPC members are often invited to contribute to church services and worship, sometimes even performing worship songs in their language of origin. For Pentecost, the leadership team reached out to seven congregants and two mission partners to record segments for worship. They requested a specific verse, message, or prayer.
Barrett has found that volunteers generally “take worship seriously” and the structure made volunteers more comfortable and simplified the English translating work. Since the service was pre-recorded, volunteers were able to perfect their sections before submitting them by the set deadline. Worship Director Rachel Krohn also contributed by performing “We are the Body of Christ”, a multilingual worship song. Rachel sang in English and in Spanish. She edited the clips to combine the two performances into a striking one woman duet.
What’s Next? Multicultural Fellowship
Barrett is emphatic that “This is about more than one worship service, it’s about community in the middle of God’s transformational work to be multilingual and multicultural.” She believes that multilingual services will support fellowship across language barriers. As Barrett put it “When we reflect the full fabric of our world we magnify God’s love for all people…It’s ok if it’s uncomfortable, because beautiful things come out of our discomfort.”
Spf.io is an all-in-one platform for translation and accessibility that helped make this multilingual service happen. Learn more about it here.