Church has heart for multicultural ministry

By Forrest White

Not unlike most faithful church members, the people of Basic UMC in Waynesboro, Va., are eager to tell you what they love about their church home.

  Working on the community garden at Basic UMC. (From Facebook page)

But what makes the Basic love story different is its storytellers – a 75-year-old African-American man, poor by worldly standards, who almost died in an apartment fire last year; the wife of a retired United Methodist pastor who has a heart for missionaries; the schizophrenic woman who was thrilled to be invited to have her picture in the church directory; the Hispanic mother who speaks almost no English.

“At the end of time, as Christians recognize it biblically, Revelation 7 tells us all nations, races, tribes and tongues will be worshipping God together,” said the Rev. Chad Beck, Basic UMC’s pastor. “That is the kingdom right there. We’re getting a big taste of it at Basic.”

Robert Johnson escaped a fiery death last year along with his roommates – one white, one Hispanic – and turned to Basic, the church where he had eaten community meals on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings for years. The church took up a collection so the men had temporary housing until their apartment was restored. He wasn’t surprised. There was something different about this church. It was welcoming to all, regardless of a person’s race or what clothes they could afford to wear.

“Nice to everybody who comes,” said Johnson, who invites his friends to Basic not simply for a meal but also to “learn about God’s love.”

A hungry friend had a question for him not so long ago.

“You reckon they’d let me get a plate?”

Johnson’s response was telling.

“They’d be glad to see you.”

  Students at Basic UMC. (From Facebook page)

Located in an area of Waynesboro once known as Basic City, Basic UMC was in decline and facing an uncertain future in the early 2000s. Then, the Staunton District moved a growing Hispanic ministry from Fishersville UMC to Basic, cutting down on travel time for its members and offering space for growth. In 2004, along came the Rev. Don Gibson, who served Basic for 13 years. Gibson, like Beck, is bilingual. He arrived at Basic with a heart for multicultural ministry, having been a missionary in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

“When we were in need of anything – spiritual, financial or just emotional support – they all have been there for us,” said Christy Rosas, whose family, like Beck’s, is bicultural. “The members have become like family to us."

The church’s mission statement reads: Basic United Methodist Church is a multicultural family of disciples sharing the redemptive love of Jesus Christ with our community and the world.

At Basic you’ll find:
• Sunday morning English language worship, with a mixture of traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs, along with traditional liturgy and extemporaneous expression.
• Sunday evening Spanish language worship service, with spirited music from the Latin American tradition. (Basic UMC isn’t two churches – one for those who speak English, one for those who speak Spanish – but rather one congregation, with worship services in two languages.)
• Wednesday evening dinner with singing during dessert (Beck describes the song list as everything from “Country Gospel to African American Gospel to Christian popular radio.”) There is preaching, too. The night ends with a sharing of God’s abundance, as families pick up food items they may need for the days to come. Among those who attend are the homeless, those suffering from mental illness, folks in their 70s working at fast food restaurants, others with physical and intellectual challenges and, of course, those who would be considered traditional UMC members.
• Saturday morning Disciples Kitchen, where an ecumenical coalition of churches takes turns serving breakfast and sharing devotions.
• Afterschool programming for children struggling academically.

“It feels right to be with those that have a heart to be in the community serving those in the margins,” said Ann Klotz, a Basic member who oversees Global missionary itineration for the Virginia Conference.

  The Rev. Chad Beck

Fluent in Spanish and living a bicultural life with his wife from Mexico City and their three children, Beck will begin his third year at Basic this summer.

In the midst of talking about all that’s right with the church, he offers this: “I don’t want to romanticize it. This is challenging, sometimes difficult work.”

The biggest challenge?

“Most of the people who come, even when they give faithfully, are not able to support the ministries of the church financially,” Beck said.

Basic receives financial support from the Virginia United Methodist Foundation, having reached out for help in the fall of 2018.

Staunton District Superintendent the Rev. Dave Rochford called the Foundation’s response “an extraordinarily generous gift” while describing the church as “expressly missional” and among the most highly engaged-in-the-community churches he has seen.

Occasionally, other churches offer financial support as well, recognizing the importance of Basic’s ministry with and to the marginalized and poor.

But the challenges aren’t limited to funding.

With a congregation that is, as Beck said, “diverse economically, racially, ethnically, and in terms of their abilities and disabilities,” it requires hard work to build understanding, trust and relationships.

“How do people to get to know one another when their lives are so very different?” Beck said. “People have to be willing to not only serve one another, but to sit down with one another, to hear one another, and to recognize their lives and experiences are so very different.”

Along with the cultural differences and the wildly divergent life experiences, there are language differences as well. At a committee meeting you may have some in the room who primarily speak Spanish and others who speak almost no Spanish at all.

But, in whatever language, Basic UMC practices what it preaches.

The church has been instrumental in bringing to the district Just Neighbors, a Northern Virginia non-profit which was, according to its website, “founded in 1996 by pastors and attorneys of the United Methodist Church to develop a practical response to the legal challenges that low-income immigrants face in the United States.”

Beck speaks of practicing accompaniment.

“When people face unjust situations, when they have been targeted unfairly by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), we’ve accompanied them and walked with them, just as Jesus walks with those facing suffering and justice,” he said. “These are people who are working, serving their communities, coming to worship God.”

It’s part of the church’s strategic move into a new phase of life, Beck said.

“We’ve already learned the lesson of welcoming all kinds of people who are diverse in every way,” he said. “We’re in a process of growing where we are welcoming those who have been welcomed to accompany us as fellow servants of Jesus Christ, to be the church with them and invite them to be the church with us, to build the kingdom of God together.”

From among its ranks of what the world considers poor, two members – one white, one African-American – now preach from time to time at Basic. “They’ve been lifted up and the church has recognized their gifts for sharing the word of God,” Beck said.

You’ll see diversity among those serving communion, leading prayers, ushering at worship, preparing and serving meals, volunteering at the church’s thrift store and on and on.
“This is still a growth area for Basic,” Beck said. “First of all when some come here they’re not used to being seen, unless they’re being singled out for their difference. Most of the time they lead invisible lives and people do not want to hear them.”

At Basic, they find a place where they can be seen, a place where they can be heard, a place where they can serve when they’re ready.

“The most important thing I think about when I think of the ministries of Basic, regardless of what we are doing for the church or the community, is the sharing of the message that God loves us,” said Basic member Cecelia Caruso. “All of us.”

-Forrest White is a news associate with the conference Communications office.


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