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Who's filling America's church pews

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Now emerging in the land of Cotton Mather and Robert Frost are religious cultures marked by immigrant experiences and creative worship, with emphasis on good works and personal holiness. It's not entirely what stolid New Englanders are used to, but maybe that's its appeal.

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On a December morning, the polished sounds of bongos and electric keyboards emanate from Congregación León de Judá, a 1,500 member church in an ethnically diverse Boston neighborhood. It's a mainline American Baptist Churches congregation, though maybe not one prior generations would recognize.

The 36,000-square-foot complex looks more suited for offices than offerings, but on this day, 500 pack the sanctuary for an upbeat, bilingual service. A high-stepping man leads a praise chorus. Laypeople take turns praying: one in Spanish, then another in English. Dozens approach the stage for prayer. Hands rise and eyelids fall. After an hour, some 75 English speakers representing 15 countries head downstairs to continue worship in their language.

Another 15 go to a window-filled room where a new Anglican Church in North America congregation, started by León de Judá, is gathering for the first time. Ministries here are growing so fast – 500 new members in the past five years – that a 40,000-square-foot building is rising next door to help house it all.

For new members like Ted Best, who emigrated from Barbados 30 years ago, and William Leslie from Dominica (both English-speaking countries), the church's Hispanic roots were no barrier. They like being part of a dynamic congregation that provides outlets for compassion and immigrants' hopes.

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