You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. –Deuteronomy 10:19 NRSV
The transformation of First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado, had to begin with its pastor. The Rev. Joe Mares was called to this historic downtown church in Aurora’s original zip code in 2007. The church had just celebrated its centennial, and the neighborhood had transitioned into an immigrant port of entry hosting folks from all over the world. God was helping Pastor Joe to become a pastor to “all” of God’s people regardless of their origin, ethnic background or religious experience. At the same time, this mainline church, which was 99.9% composed of white/Anglo/Euro English speakers and whose average age was 65 years let God help transition them into a community church that now more realistically reflects the immigrant working-class demographics of Aurora, including representation from 7 African countries, Myanmar, Latin America and many formerly de-churched Christians. The church membership was a white/middle class suburban congregation commuting into the inner city to worship. To their credit, the congregation, which was still economically viable, began to welcome the newcomers into their sacred space.
Today, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church is home to:
- Divino Salvador, a Hispanic Presbyterian Fellowship. The pastor, Lemuel Velasco, is a recent graduate of The University of Dubuque Theological Seminary;
- Myanmar Presbyterian Fellowship and its pastor, Andrew Thang.
- Rev. Jemimah Ngatia and the Neema Presbyterian Fellowship. Neema is a Swahili language ministry.
In addition, First Presbyterian church provides meeting space to:
- Living Water, a Baptist/Pentecostal congregation;
- Tower of Restoration, a Ghanaian Pentecostal fellowship;
- Denver Street School, a Christian alternative high school for at risk students;
- Colfax Community Network, an outreach to children and women in the hotels along Colfax Avenue; and
- City Strings, a ministry of the Lutheran Church that teaches inner city kids how to play stringed instruments.
In addition to welcoming all people, while preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado, has been used of God to affirm:
- A Commissioned Ruling Elder who is pastoring a rural congregation;
- A Latino Pastor who is a candidate for ordination as Minister of Word and Sacrament; and
- Two young men who will begin seminary studies this fall as they respond to God’s call on their lives.
First Presbyterian Church of Aurora and its Pastor, Rev. Joe Mares, are proof that to welcome the stranger in our midst can be transformational.