Three Church Communities Join to Celebrate Freedom
By Jill Carroll
One of the benefits of being a freelance writer for a major daily newspaper is that I get to meet ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This is true in nearly every area about which I write for the Houston Chronicle, which so far includes food, health, science, and religion. This past month I got an assignment from my editor to check out an interesting situation at an established Church of God community in northwest Houston. I had only the basic sketch of the story: that a church had taken in a group of Arabic-speaking Christians, who were now running their own services at the church. I contacted the pastor, Rev. Don Bergstrom, and made arrangements to pay a visit to the First Church of God campus and to meet with him and a representative of the Arabic-speaking community.
I was touched by my encounter with these individuals, and by the time I left the interview an hour or so after I arrived, I knew that I had encountered something unique and special. Here, a well established church had given over sections of its own building to another community of believers—and not just one, but two (a Spanish-speaking congregation in addition to the Arabic)—all in the name of unity of spirit. Sure, they are aligned in terms of basic beliefs and doctrines; but they are substantially different in terms of culture, language, heritage, and community experience. Peaceful coexistence is a challenge even when people hold many things in common, even more so when the differences are stark.
The three communities at First Church of God have discovered the secret to peaceful coexistence amid difference, and they live that secret each week as they worship separately, but together, on the same campus. The secret isn’t really secret at all; it lives at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, indeed at the heart of nearly all traditional spiritual teaching. Love one another. Be generous, gracious and kind.
Again, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, week in and week out. I am honored to have been able to tell this story in the Houston Chronicle.