And despite reports to the contrary, people still read newspapers. At least some of them do. Because we had a slew of people who showed up at church last Sunday and Monday, all eager to talk about the coverage we had received.
Here's the article in full; it focuses not only our new Latino service but also on my effort to prepare and then deliver a sermon in espanol.
Language barrier broken at Good Shepherd
Pastor does first sermon in Spanish
- Good Shepherd Church in Steele Creek recently started a Spanish-language worship service on Sunday, which draws about 80 people. COURTESY OF JASON SATTERWHITE
Over the years, the Rev. Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd Church, noticed that more and more people who answered the doors were from other countries; many spoke Spanish.
The church started a Spanish language Sunday school class 12 years ago for those neighbors, led by then 88-year-old Pedro Alba, who is from Colombia, South America, and is now 99.
In 2004, the church began using the same system used by the United Nations to translate its Sunday services live for Spanish speakers.
Then, a pastor friend made a comment to Davis that made him rethink what the church offered Spanish-speaking members.
“He said, ‘There’s nothing like hearing the gospel in your heart language,’ ” Davis said. “We knew it was time to do this.”
On Dec. 2, the church started a Spanish-language Sunday service led by Sammy Gonzalez. Two weeks later, Davis preached his first Spanish sermon for the new congregation.
“Sammy and I had decided early on that the new worship community needs to hear that the pastor for the whole church loves this idea and is really into it and wants them to hear from him in their heart language,” Davis said.
Davis doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. He studied the language for a few years in high school and college, and he’s practiced speaking Spanish with people he meets welcoming new neighbors to Steele Creek.
Spanish speakers gently tell him that while his pronunciation is good, his vocabulary is limited and he often confuses his verb tenses.
Davis knew he couldn’t speak Spanish well enough to preach a long sermon or delve into deep Bible study, or tell lots of anecdotes with his limited vocabulary. He chose to talk about the “radical idea” that in the Bible, Jesus says that when people open doors, he wants to “come in and sit and eat with us. He doesn’t give us more tasks or work to do.”
“I knew I could talk about this in Spanish.”
Writing a short Spanish sermon took as long as writing a long English one, Davis said, and he frequently had to buzz Gomez or Gomez’s wife, who also works at the church, to ask them a language question.
Davis practiced speaking the sermon aloud before Sunday, but for the first time in a long time he took his manuscript notes to the pulpit. He was worried so much about getting the words right that he said it was harder to get to that “heart place” when he preached.
The sermon, he said, turned into a discussion with the Spanish-speaking congregation. When he wanted to ad-lib, he sometimes had to ask bilingual speakers in the congregation for help.
Afterward, he was surrounded by comments of “ felicitaciones,” which means “congratulations.”
“I had many people come up with hugs and handshakes, but that was the main word,” Davis said. One of the most satisfying moments, he said, was seeing a family there who has attended Good Shepherd for eight years. When they first moved to Steele Creek, they walked two miles to get to church on Sunday, Davis said.
“This has been the culmination of so many dreams for them, to have their own service and for their pastor to be able to (preach to them in Spanish),” Davis said. “You could tell they were moved.”
Marta Green has been involved in Good Shepherd UMC for seven years, and she says that finding the church “was like the answer to all of my prayers.” She likes the church’s diversity, the preaching and the worship experience.
She was a little skeptical when she learned Davis would be preaching in Spanish.
“I know he has been learning Spanish and every day is getting better, but preaching is another thing,” she said. “But, oh my goodness, for someone who doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, he did a really good job.”
About 80 people are regularly attending the Spanish service, which is held across the street from Good Shepherd UMC’s main campus on Moss Road. Davis now plans to preach in Spanish there several times a year.
At the end of his sermon, he told the congregation this was “ la primera vez, pero no será el ultimo.”
It was the first time, he said, but it won’t be the last.
For more information about Good Shepherd Church in Steele Creek, visit http://gsumc.org. The Spanish language service is at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays.