By Victor Ochieng
Across the nation, many churches are working to bridge the gap between Anglo and African American congregations.
However, in La Puente, California, around 200 miles east of Los Angeles, a pastor is intent on bridging the gap between African-American and Hispanic communities.
Pastor Anthony Dockery of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church, whose mission is to bridge the gap between the two communities, recently recounted to the church about a ministry trip he took to El Salvador. Together with his team, they’d served in the hometown of one of St. Stephen’s pastors called Jose Rivas. In addition to helping Dockery in his daily communication, Rivas also served as a translator during services in the Central American nation.
The congregation applauded the good work and the fact that a party hosted by St. Stephen church in El Salvador had attracted 500 people.
The 51-year-old St. Stephen Church, which is blessed with 4,000 members, has been around long enough to see La Puente change drastically. Some years back, the neighborhood was mainly populated by African-Americans. Right now, Latinos account for 85% while Blacks account 2%, according to data released by the U.S. Census.
Although most of the long time church members moved deeper into the Inland Empire region located to the east of L.A., Dockery says many remain loyal to the church and still commute to take part in the church’s Sunday service.
Dockery reckons that in as much as this lot still travels back, the younger generation isn’t likely to follow the trend. As such, he says, “it’s important for the church to be relevant to its community as well.”
In response to the fast transforming neighborhood, St. Stephen Church has welcomed Rivas to serve as its Spanish language pastor.
Rivas, who’s an El Salvador native, had moved to La Puente to start up a church. St. Stephen agreed to provide him with space to host his congregation. Then in December of 2013, Rivas decided to merge his congregation with that of St. Stephen.
“Their way of doing ministry aligned with what we wanted to do with our Spanish church,” Rivas explains. “St. Stephen has a tremendous program in leadership and Christian education.”
The Spanish language service now has about 100 people. The majority, mainly African-Americans, attend the English service.
Even though the services are separate, to take care of both Spanish and English speaking members, all members come together during basketball league, church picnics, among other activities, says Rivas.
His biggest mission is to reach out to the Spanish community to inform them that the historically African-American congregation now has a Spanish-speaking ministry. This has seen more people drawn from the Spanish community attending the services.
“Whenever you bring races together like this, it’s God’s power,” Dockery says. “Love indeed conquers all.”