builds relationships in diverse Christian community

For Andrea Kraybill, a Goshen College junior, serving is not just about what you do, but it is more about the relationships you build with the people where you serve.

That's not to say that she didn't do plenty of hard work this summer while participating in Goshen College's Service Inquiry Program in London. She worked at a nursery, cooked for neighborhood meals, mentored youth and served in a soup kitchen.

But she also immersed herself in relationships with people in the East London Christian community and church. "Having done a number of service experiences, especially with diverse churches, I have learned that it is less about what I can accomplish practically, than how much I fully throw myself into the community, being willing to do whatever it is God calls me to," Kraybill said.Kraybill, an art major from Elkhart, served at The Round Chapel for the Clapton Park United Reformed Church, in London. According to the Web site, the church has a multiethnic congregation that is "committed to developing new and creative ways of worship and service to the greater glory of God."

"I am a huge advocate of intercultural congregations – being brothers and sisters in Christ and worshipping together regardless of language or cultural barriers," Kraybill said. "But, this being the second truly diverse church I've worked with, I see the huge challenges that this carries as well. The style of music, the setup of the service, the choosing of leaders, the concept of time – all of the factors that hold a community together take much more work and generally a longer time to mesh together."

The church has a number of ways it ministers to the diverse local community. Every Sunday, it hosts Urban Table, a free drop-in with soup and sandwiches for all members of the local community, including homeless and travelers staying in local hostels. On the last Thursday of each month, it hosts Community Meal, a low-cost meal that everyone in the neighborhood is invited to. And on a weekly basis the church offers an affordable nursery and an afternoon group to help families with children under 2 years old to prepare for pre-school.

When working in a small community café run by Catholic Workers, Kraybill was able to see some of the many ways community is strengthened through these programs. "The cafe provides low-cost healthy food, and free food for anyone who needs it," she said. "More than that, it is a home and family to a number of regulars with either emotional or mental health problems, or just loneliness. Since the cafe relies entirely on donations of food or money to survive I saw trust enacted literally."

But the café is not just for food, it's also for people to connect from different backgrounds and life experiences. "One man, Chris, who has Aspergers syndrome, comes in every day to offer spiritual direction in a listening room in the back of the basement. He always makes time for Deklin, a German man with some kind of mental problem and a beautiful soul. Deklin talks pretty much non-stop, with much of it very hard to understand, yet Chris listens patiently to him, showing him the love of Christ."

And through these experiences Kraybill is beginning to see the church in a new way. "This church has an incredibly strong sense of community as family," she said. "During a church-away weekend, as people were encouraged to express themselves in creative ways (through movement, art, music, or poetry) I saw a new side of the church. I saw a wonderful old soul, Doris from Jamaica, who usually quietly serves the tea at church, break into a joyful dance-interpretation of a Bible passage. I heard the sounds of a musically-shy middle-aged man, Peter, as he wrote and performed his first song ever, all with the love and support of the community around him."

And that's what service is all about.

–By Tyler Falk

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