A Church Finds a Way to Embrace the World at Its Doorstep
By Sylvia Ramquist, Westminster Internationals Ministry Director
Red and gold paper lanterns, garlands, and a candy-dispensing ox mascot greeted 1,200 participants on January 24, 2009, at one of the most extensive Lunar New Year celebrations in the Seattle area.
Families representing the variety of cultures living, working, and studying in Bellevue enjoyed abundant food, traditional music and dance, crafts, martial arts demonstrations, children’s games, and, new this year — an art exhibit. “It’s the best New Year’s party I’ve been to since coming to America, guests commented. “Why do you do this for us?”
The answer lies in the missional values of a community fellowship born in the early ’60s in the predominantly white Eastside community. Westminster Chapel quickly established the primary mission of love for God and people near and far, so as the face and color of Bellevue changed with the dot-com boom and high-tech companies, Senior Pastor Gary Gulbranson began intentionally embracing the world at our doorstep.
Growth From a Quiet Beginning
Recognizing that the Lunar New Year is the most-celebrated holiday per capita worldwide, the leaders of Westminster’s international ministry cautiously prepared a simple party for 150 people in 2004, not knowing if anyone would come. When over 300 guests arrived and food quickly ran out, we realized that a perceived mono-cultural church could be the context for an effective intercultural festival leading to other services the church offered the mostly Asian community.
From a full-service language academy and casual language-practice evening gatherings called Talk Time, to variety classes such as “How to Make an American Sack Lunch” and social services, Westminster creates a safe environment for the diverse Eastside community to enter the church and then become an integral part of the Westminster family. “We’re better together” is more than a slogan, it is demonstrated every day from intercultural leadership to child care.
Closing the Gap
The celebration of the Lunar New Year has become a signature event for Westminster Chapel, validating and giving exposure to the myriad of enriching gifts Asian residents bring to the Pacific Northwest, whether they are new or long-time Americans, on a short-term company contract, or students.
“Bellevue has become a wonderfully diverse and multicultural city,” said Bellevue Council Member Conrad Lee. “Its residents from all over the world have brought the richness this country has been so blessed to claim.
However, there remains a gap — a gap of visible participation of the diverse population in the main-stream community. Westminster Chapel plays an important role of reaching out and connecting with this diverse population.”
The joy of unity in diversity is clearly expressed in every aspect of the Lunar New Year celebration. “This is like a little taste of heaven when people from every nation and culture will sing, dance, eat, and celebrate together in unity and love, said one participant.“The Lunar New Year is grace in gala color.”
Sylvia Ramquist is the internationals ministry director at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue, Washington.
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