Last week I worshipped with Philadelphia Praise Center and taught at one day of their summer Peace Camp. Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference, holds worship services in Indonesian and in Chin Burmese, and has a house church service in English in the evening.
I attended the congregation’s Indonesian service. I was nervous walking in knowing I wouldn’t understand much since I only know English. As I arrived at the church I was greeted by a few people at the door. They shook my hand and smiled at me and pointed me in the direction to go.
I quickly realized that this church was different from any other Mennonite church I had ever been in.
By the time I arrived, worship had already begun. There were no blue, green or purple hymnals around. There was an electric guitar, drums, a keyboard and five singers. The worship was in a style that reminded me of my experiences with my Baptist church. I recognized several of the songs that were sung in English. There was movement, dancing, hands raised, singing praises to God, together, as one body.
As people filled the space, I didn’t feel like an outsider. No one gave me an awkward stare. No one ran up to me during worship to shake my hand or say something to me. I felt a sense of welcome, even though I didn’t really know anyone.
After the singing, Pastor Aldo welcomed everyone and introduced me as a guest. He then began his sermon, which was completely in Indonesian. The church provided me with headphones so I could hear an English translation. Though I couldn’t understand Pastor Aldo without the translator, I could feel his energy as he preached. When the sermon ended, the worship team got back into position to close with one more song before the benediction.
A few days later I led a session at Philadelphia Praise Center’s Peace Camp. Peace Camps are for children age 6 through 12 to have a week of fun and education about the Christian faith. I was asked to co-lead with John Bergen, associate pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church. I began my session with some games to help the kids burn some energy and get comfortable.
We then settled down and shared Bible stories. My group acted out Acts 5:12-42 and Exodus 1:8-22. Both texts deal with elements of protest and doing what’s right in the face of danger. I was impressed by the children’s ability to talk openly about these stories and how they relate to their lives.
My time at Philadelphia Praise Center was amazing. The people I encountered were kind, welcoming and hospitable. They care about God and their community. Even though I didn’t know the language or culture, they welcomed me in and allowed me to worship with them. I left refreshed and renewed by the Spirit.
Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.