By: Lindsay Eierman
For the past two years, I have been a part of a Duke Divinity School group called Caminantes. We are a group of students who feel called to minister with Hispanic communities both in the United States and abroad. To cultivate our ministerial skills, we gather weekly for spiritual formation meetings where we read the Bible, sing worship music, and pray – all in Spanish. For some of us, Spanish is a second tongue. For others, it is a mother tongue. In addition to these gatherings, we also visit local Hispanic ministries and go on excursions to Hispanic communities. Our first Caminantes excursion of the year brought us to a farmworker house in Stem, North Carolina.
We went to Stem to learn about a transformative experience taking place in the life of one of our Divinity School classmates. Last year, as this student pastor was studying in his parsonage, he noticed a group of farmworkers loading onto and unloading from a bus as they made their morning and evening commutes from their house to the fields each day. After a few weeks of observation, the student pastor (who knew very little Spanish) crossed the street to introduce himself to his neighbors. In subsequent visits, he brought bilingual colleagues and began to form thirteen new friendships.
When we arrived in Stem on a Sunday around 3PM, the farmworkers weren’t yet home. So we talked with the pastor about ways that he was hoping to get his church involved with this house of farmworkers. He explained that in a rural church, there isn’t a full calendar of activities available. The main event is Sunday morning worship.
As I listened to the pastor shared his experiences, I realized that even if this church is open to welcoming farmworkers to their Sunday morning services, farmworkers don’t have Sundays off from work. Weekends are a luxury, not a civil right. Although it is a biblical command to take Sabbath, it is not yet a Department of Labor requirement. Realizing that it would be easier to add a church service than to demand a weekly Sabbath for farmworkers, I tried to imagine how a church might arrange a worship service conducive to the farmworker lifestyle. But I kept coming up with reasons for why it could never work: farmworkers are probably tired at the end of long twelve-hour workdays; farmworkers would probably feel uncomfortable entering churches that their bosses attend; farmworkers don’t stay in communities for very long periods of time and therefore might not be interested in joining a church.
As I racked my brain for creative ideas about how to develop a farmworker-friendly church, the bus of farmworkers pulled up to the house across the street. The thirteen men invited us into their home, where everyone introduced himself or herself. We then read some scripture and shared in the Lord’s Supper, feasting on bread and grape juice as a sign of God’s love toward us and our fellowship with each other. Then, we continued feasting by breading apart slices of pizza and guzzling down cups of soda. Over bites of cheese and pepperoni, I chatted with one farmworker about his daily Scripture reading, with another farmworker about our shared love of horchata and the Pumas soccer team of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and another farmworker about his baby girl who he hasn’t seen for six months.
On the bus ride home, I returned to lamenting about the logistical challenges of making church available to farmworkers. I tried to creatively rethink church and then I realized that perhaps the answer was right before my eyes – perhaps our Sunday evening gathering of pizza and soda and chatting was church.
In my worship class this semester, we learned that the four basic parts of Methodist worship include: the entrance, the proclamation and response, the thanksgiving/Holy Communion, and the sending forth. I think our visit to the farmworker house loosely followed this structure:
- Entrance: Just as clergy persons greet congregants with words of welcome, the farmworkers welcomed the Caminantes group into their home with smiles and happy handshakes. We entered the house with recognition that this house was not our own just as church members enter the House of God with an attitude of reverence and respect.
- Proclamation and Response: As the Caminantes introduced themselves, we proclaimed that we came to visit the farmworkers because as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are committed to caring for and being with the marginalized and oppressed in our community. We also read scripture that affirmed the Biblical rationale for our beliefs.
- Thanksgiving/Holy Communion: Everyone confessed his or her individual and corporate sins to one another and then celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a sign of reconciliation between God and us and between each other. We continued that meal of reconciliation with our pizza supper.
- Sending Forth: The Caminantes group left the farmworkers’ house with a renewed sense of mission. We feel called to transform the church into a place where all of God’s children have an opportunity to join in fellowship with a body of believers.
Certainly this wasn’t your typical worship service, yet it was more genuine and authentic than many megachurch services I’ve attended. I praise God for the opportunity to share in this farmworker church and I pray that communities like it continue to thrive and grow as the church remembers its commitment to live as faithful followers of Christ’s radical message of hospitality.
Lindsay Eierman is a candidate for a Master of Divinity graduating in May 2013. She is the co-coordinator of Manos Unidas- a Duke Divinity student group that celebrates ministry with Hispanic communities.