‘I think heaven will be like this’


New worshiping community Light of Hope brings together eclectic mix of God’s people

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Worshipers at Light of Hope, a new worshiping community outside of Atlanta, prepare for their Sunday service. (Screen shot by Film 180/Mike Fitzer)

MARIETTA, Georgia — A decade ago, three Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in the Atlanta area faced decline. The then-stated supply pastor serving two of those congregations shared with them their future.

“Unless something changed” the Rev. Pete Paulson said, “these three congregations were facing the necessity of closing.”

With population in decline, and sensing no future, the congregations put together a visioning team that worked together for three years. What they discovered was that the community around them was changing, but they were not changing. No longer effective at reaching out to people whose life experience was different than theirs, they decided to something different.

According to the Rev. Rebecca Blackwell, former Stated Clerk of Cherokee Presbytery, all three congregations closed. Once dissolved, they started something new together.

A 1001 new worshiping community named Light of Hope emerged. Now seven years old, Light of Hope is 50 percent people of color and 50 percent white.  The worshiping community has a large population of Africans from Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Kenya. With three predominant languages spoken within the faith community, they sing and pray in English, Spanish and Swahili.

View a video on Light of Hope new worshiping community by clicking here.

“The minute we became a multi-ethnic congregation, everyone lost the right to not find out about each other’s lives and struggles,” says the Rev. Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz.

The Light of Hope pastor says congregants hold conversation on all kinds of issues and ask questions like, “Why is my black sister worried about black lives matter? Why are Hispanics afraid of going into public now? And why are whites so silent about all these issues?”

Maria Hernandez, who moved to Atlanta from Puerto Rico, remembers the first time she walked into the church.

“I saw that it was not all white or all black,” said the Light of Hope elder. “We had a mixture of everything here. I actually felt welcome my first day that I came here, like I was in my home church back in Puerto Rico.”

When Jan Durkin first came to Light of Hope, as an art teacher for church and community members, she saw much they did in the Marietta community — and how welcoming they were. So, she started coming to their church services.

“This church is so eclectic, they have all different ages, shapes and colors,” she said. “That’s a God thing because now I  have a church family.”

Mary Kangethe, an elder from Kenya, thinks that what God is calling Light of Hope to do — to be one.  When they pass the peace she says, “it’s such a joy” — and as they go around hugging everyone, she feels like, “oh my goodness, this is my family.”

“I think heaven will be like this,” she says, “because you feel like you are loved.”

“Every time I come here, it just feels like a miracle,” adds Blackwell. “God is still in the business of working in the Presbyterian Church and Presbyterians can still listen to God.”

Without the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s support, Gonzalez-Gertz isn’t sure Light of Hope would’ve made it. “Their prayers made it possible,” he says.

Presbyterian Mission Agency provided staff support and financial assistance to Light of Hope through Theology, Formation & Evangelism and Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries.

 In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement resulting in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, nearly 500 diverse ‘1001’ communities have formed across the nation.

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