On a Sunday morning late last summer, a gentleman approached St. Luke’s just after I’d finished locking up. Grateful that I’d spotted him before I went downstairs, I opened the door and invited him in. He introduced himself: David. He’d come to the US from South Sudan and recently moved to Rochester. We talked for a bit, I showed him our space, and he headed out, saying he’d be back next Sunday.
It wasn’t until David had been worshiping at St. Luke’s for more than a month that he mentioned he was a priest, ordained in the diocese of Virginia before he moved to Minnesota. But more than that, he was hoping to form a congregation for other South Sudanese people in Rochester. And he wondered if St. Luke’s might be just the place.
Sudanese people began coming to the US in increasing numbers in the late 90s and early 2000s because of the Second Sudanese Civil War. (As a result of that war, in 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country.) Zumbro Lutheran Church has had a Sudanese congregation since the early 2000s, but many South Sudanese strongly identify as Anglicans. Some in the community have been holding out for an Anglican (or Episcopal) church where they could sustain their Anglican identity and worship in Dinka (Dinka is the language spoken by the Dinka people, the major ethnic group in South Sudan).
David introduced me to the Rev. Rebecca Manyok, a South Sudanese priest who has been living in Rochester for almost twenty years. She is also interested in starting a new Dinka congregation in an Episcopal church. To explore the possibility of starting that new congregation at St. Luke’s, Rebecca, David, and I met with other leaders of the local South Sudanese community at the end of October. After much discussion, we all agreed that Rebecca would lead the new community, David would assist her, and that they would meet at St. Luke’s on Sunday afternoons as soon as we could make all the arrangements.
It took a little longer than I thought, but the day is finally here: I am incredibly excited to announce that this new congregation will being meeting at St. Luke’s this coming Sunday.
Some specifics about how this will work:
- First off, this is brand new to all of us. I’ve never hosted a congregation with a different language and clergy. Rebecca and David haven’t ever started a congregation in an existing church. But we know God is here among us, inviting us to try this new thing and see where the Spirit leads.
- The new congregation will worship in Dinka on Sunday afternoons, probably around 2 p.m. (At least somewhere in that neighborhood; they’ll probably be on Sudanese time, which is much less to-the-minute than many Minnesotans are accustomed to.)
- St. Luke’s support is critical for helping this new congregation to get off the ground. There’s no way for this community to build its own building right now and, given their desire to be connected to an Episcopal church, it can only begin with our help. I’m thrilled we get to extend St. Luke’s renowned hospitality in this way!
- To begin with, the new congregation will be something akin to an auxiliary group of St. Luke’s. They’ll be part of us in terms of building use, insurance, and official reporting. They’ll also be independent in terms of worship, clergy, pastoral care, and community activities.
- For the time being, we’re offering them use of our building for free. Once they’re up and running, we’ll talk about how we might share costs, but that’s down the road. Whatever the case, I see this as an opportunity to spread the gospel and grow the church, not as a way to make money.
- No one knows what this looks like long term. It might be that St. Luke’s is a springboard for this group to become an independent church with their own building. It might be that we remain as one church that worships in two languages. Only time and God will tell!
- I’m really excited about the possibility of building a shared community. I’m sure we’ll always worship in different languages (that’s part of the point, after all), but I’m very interested in finding ways to share food and fellowship or to worship together on occasion.
In the end, this feels like a wonderful, Spirit-filled exercise in trusting God as we step into the unknown. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps in the road as we discern how to share space with one another. But just as assuredly, there will be blessing, growth, and joy. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I hope you’ll join me in welcoming this new congregation to St. Luke’s as together we embark upon an exciting new venture.
Yours in Christ,