Tucked away in the largest city of North Carolina, there is a vibrant community of individuals from Togo (West Africa). One of these individuals is Union Presbyterian Seminary’s own, Yao Thomas Agbemenou (M. Div. 2015).
In 2012, while Thomas was studying at Union’s Charlotte campus, he sought to fill a gap in this community and started what is now known as “Grace of God Worshiping Community” (or “Amenuveve Hame” in their native language, Ewe). Thomas reached out and invited community members in multiple ways, including inviting those who he played soccer with each week! Almost 5 years later, this worshiping community has taken on a beautiful and vibrant form, shaped by the leadership of each member.
I had the wonderful opportunity to worship at “Amenuveve Hame” recently. Having travelled to Ghana (a neighboring country of Togo), I was thrilled to have this opportunity to reflect on my worship experiences in the Ghanaian cities of Accra, Kumasai, and Ho!
The flow of worship is somewhat different than what might be experienced in the same worship space at Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church only an hour before. Songs of worship and praise filled the space and soaked into every part of my body. Following an explanation of why we pray and confess our sins, prayers of confession and intercession were called out in multiple languages, all at once as I reflected on the beauty of this diversity, and the welcome that has been offered to this congregation and in turn to me. I listened to sermon in both Ewe and English and wondered if anyone would take Rev. Agbemenou up on his welcome to be interrupted if there were questions. No questions came until the end, but a few members did seek further explanation on some points that were made and Rev. Agbemenou promised to continue the conversation the following week as time began to close in around us. We sang in Ewe, French, and English. We danced and made the most joyful noise as we offered our monetary gifts and our lives to do God’s work.
In the midst of a broken and hurting world, I found peace and delight as I sang and danced with my brothers and sisters at “Amenuveve Hame”.
New Worshiping communities seek to meet a variety of needs within our communities (learn more about another New Worshiping Community, Farm Church, in this past blog!). As I reflect on this community and my experience with them, especially in light of all that is going on in our country right now, I am beyond grateful for their presentation of God’s Word. The welcome I received made me feel right at home and the word’s I heard proclaimed joined each of us in the Holy Spirit. When so many question how they can and should join with those who look, think, act, and believe differently than themselves, I delight in the fact that I was welcomed to worship with the Love of God (and translations!) rather than left alone in the pew as I wondered what I would see and hear in the next hour and a half.
If you are wondering what you can do in light of the divisions around our world, or would like to learn more about someone else’s life, I encourage you seek out an opportunity to worship with them. There might not be a congregation like “Amenuveve Hame” in your own community but there are other denominations and even other religions represented in almost every neighborhood around the country. Take an hour or so to speak with someone in these worshiping communities if you are not able to attend their service, and invite them to join you at some point as well.
I originally attended worship at “Amenuveve Hame” to support a friend and colleague in ministry, but walked away with a deeper understanding of his own story and the way that the Word of God is proclaimed around the world. I left renewed and excited, eager to share their story. As I have thought back, I wonder– what would our communities, our country, look like if each of us was more intentional about worshiping with our neighbors and embracing the diversity of our faith backgrounds?
Have you experienced worship in a different setting than what you are used to?
How are you encouraging your congregations to learn more about how Christianity, and other religions, are practiced around your community?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis