Multi-congregational and multicultural church in Colorado is a model for the PC(USA)

Aurora First Presbyterian Church pastor: ‘I don’t think ministry can be done alone’

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

“Aurora has become a place where immigrants and refugees from all over the world are settling now,” said the Rev. Doug Friesema, pastor of Aurora First Presbyterian Church in Colorado, whose congregation has opened up its space to five other congregations that serve Spanish-speaking immigrants, refugees, individuals from the African diaspora and African Americans.

The Rev. Doug Friesema

“This church has said our congregation and our building should be their home as well,” Friesema said.

Two of the congregations are Divino Salvador Church, led by the Rev. Lemuel Velasco, a second-generation Presbyterian minister from Oaxaca, Mexico, and Neema African Presbyterian Fellowship, a ministry to refugees from Eastern Africa led by the Rev. Dr. Jemimah Ngatia and Josphat Ombacho, a candidate for Commissioned Lay Pastor.

The Rev. Lemuel Velasco

“Aurora is an interesting model for churches to look at across our denomination,” said the Rev. Fernando Rodríguez, associate presbyter for Mission in Denver Presbytery. Rodríguez recognizes a common struggle for churches across his and other presbyteries that have had a church community in its neighborhood for many years and watched its makeup and needs change. According to Rodríguez, these congregations ask similar questions that Aurora did, such as “How can we remain being church in this context?” One of the ways Aurora First Presbyterian Church answered this, according to Rodríguez, was to welcome new worshiping communities.

“There’s the bridge that is in there that is so significant that says ‘We’re in this together,’” said the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper, lead presbyter for Denver Presbytery. That lifts up the immigrant communities that can worship in their languages of origin and lift up their own cultural values. “As a presbytery, we love and affirm their leadership,” said Cooper, who added that these new worshiping communities are reshaping the presbytery.

Neema Presbyterian Church ministers to immigrants from East Africa. (Screenshot)

“We are really blessed in that our church now looks like the neighborhood that we serve in a lot more ways,” said Friesema. “And it really feels like our neighborhood when you walk into this church on Sunday.”

“They engage in direct community service together,” said Rodríguez, who applauded the way the pastors preach in each other’s churches and connect with area agencies that provide services to members across congregations.

Friesema cited the resources of 1001 New Worshiping Communities as supporting the partnering churches in Aurora. “I don’t think ministry can be done alone. It just doesn’t work when we try.”

The 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement has launched a new learning platform in addition to these resources, including leadership assessments, trainings, retreats, and coaching and grant opportunities that 1001 NWC has developed over the past 12 years.


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