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Secret Sauce conference offers a recipe for partnerships with immigrant communities and a ‘cookbook’ to download


1001’s test kitchen serves up an irresistible secret sauce with four global ingredients

June 29, 2023

Secret Sauce conference organizers and speakers, from left, the Rev. Gad Mpoyo, the Rev. Sungwoo Sam Kim, the Rev. Nikki Collins, the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Armstrong and the Rev. Rafael Viana. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

“We all have accents, and really, an accent is nothing to be ashamed of but to be proud of because accents are beautiful,” the Rev. Rafael Viana said during his plenary presentation for the recent “What’s the Secret Sauce?” conference in Atlanta.

The conference focused on the wisdom and experiences of new immigrant worshiping communities and those who partner with them. The four plenary sessions were dubbed “main courses” while the various workshops were considered “side dishes.” The four plenaries focused on a philosophical concept not easily expressed in English that resonates in particular cultures and enriches the communal life and the Christian theological understanding of the larger church in the same way an accent conveys a sense of communal belonging and a connection to a particular community of formation.

“An accent provides emphasis where and how it is employed. Thus, we believe that an accent is a beautiful expression of the Christian mission of bringing the gospel everywhere and in all languages,” said the Rev. Sungwoo Sam Kim, the leader of Atlanta Oikos Church and the translational ministry coordinator for Columbia Theological Seminary.

According to the Pew Research center, 68% of the 44.5 million immigrants to the United States identify as Christian, according to data presented by the conference organizers. Immigration to the United States has been on the rise since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration Act and the Voting Rights Act.

The motivations behind migration are complex, ranging from negative causes such as fleeing persecution or escaping the dual effects of climate change and the unjust economic development in their home countries, sometimes in collusion with North American corporations, to positive hopes like seeking opportunity, education, and freedom of religion or identity.

The Secret Sauce conference featured these Communion elements.

Over three days, leaders from new immigrant churches and worshiping communities and their partners in established churches, mid councils, the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly explored the realities of immigrant pastors, their members and their congregations and asked important structural questions about the United States immigration system, the biases and governance of established host congregations and presbyteries, the obstacles in mid council and national polity and translation services, and the financial thresholds for chartering churches and long-term participation in the Board of Pensions that can inhibit new immigrant leaders and their communities from full inclusion in the PC(USA).

The four plenary presentations focused on four words in Zulu, Korean, Spanish and Bantu to accentuate the experiences of immigrant communities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Rev. Dr. Lindsay Armstrong, chief executive officer of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta’s New Church Development Commission, opened the first plenary with discussion of the need for individuals and the institution to fully see immigrant communities and the realities they face. Armstrong also discussed “sawubona,” a Zulu word meaning “we see, we respect and we value you” that speaks of the power of individuals to take responsibility for the sight and the recognition of their culture and their institutions when they seek to understand others in the fullness of their own realities.

Armstrong said she learned the word from the Rev. Dr. George Marchinkowski, the moderator of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, when he came to shadow her for a month as she practiced one-to-one meetings with new immigrant leaders and leaders in potential host churches. “After a month of following me around as I did my job, he remarked over dinner one night that I practice sawubona. He said, ‘You understand it perfectly. You just don’t know the word. It is not something that translates fully into the English language or U.S. culture, but I have watched you do it every week I have been here.’”

Kim, Viana and Mpoyo have published a 39-page resource “cookbook” sharing the concepts of dure, mi casa es su casa and ubuntu as well as other wisdom and stories from new immigrant church leaders called Accents, which is available for download through the Presbyterian Mission Agency website and the New Church, New Way online resource site.

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Secret Sauce conference “Cookbook” called Accents

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Debbie Gardiner, Executive Assistant, Executive Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Ruth Gardner, Director, Human Resources, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Amen.

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