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Participating in praise and peace in Philadelphia

7.2. 2018 Posted By: Jerrell Williams

Last week I worshipped with Philadelphia Praise Center and taught at one day of their summer Peace Camp. Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference, holds worship services in Indonesian and in Chin Burmese, and has a house church service in English in the evening.

Children participate in Philadelphia Praise Center’s Peace Camp. Photo by Jerrell Williams.

I attended the congregation’s Indonesian service. I was nervous walking in knowing I wouldn’t understand much since I only know English. As I arrived at the church I was greeted by a few people at the door. They shook my hand and smiled at me and pointed me in the direction to go.

I quickly realized that this church was different from any other Mennonite church I had ever been in.

By the time I arrived, worship had already begun. There were no blue, green or purple hymnals around. There was an electric guitar, drums, a keyboard and five singers. The worship was in a style that reminded me of my experiences with my Baptist church. I recognized several of the songs that were sung in English. There was movement, dancing, hands raised, singing praises to God, together, as one body.

As people filled the space, I didn’t feel like an outsider. No one gave me an awkward stare. No one ran up to me during worship to shake my hand or say something to me. I felt a sense of welcome, even though I didn’t really know anyone.

After the singing, Pastor Aldo welcomed everyone and introduced me as a guest. He then began his sermon, which was completely in Indonesian. The church provided me with headphones so I could hear an English translation. Though I couldn’t understand Pastor Aldo without the translator, I could feel his energy as he preached. When the sermon ended, the worship team got back into position to close with one more song before the benediction.

Children participate in Philadelphia Praise Center’s Peace Camp. Photo by Jerrell Williams.

A few days later I led a session at Philadelphia Praise Center’s Peace Camp. Peace Camps are for children age 6 through 12 to have a week of fun and education about the Christian faith. I was asked to co-lead with John Bergen, associate pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church. I began my session with some games to help the kids burn some energy and get comfortable.

We then settled down and shared Bible stories. My group acted out Acts 5:12-42 and Exodus 1:8-22. Both texts deal with elements of protest and doing what’s right in the face of danger. I was impressed by the children’s ability to talk openly about these stories and how they relate to their lives.

My time at Philadelphia Praise Center was amazing. The people I encountered were kind, welcoming and hospitable. They care about God and their community. Even though I didn’t know the language or culture, they welcomed me in and allowed me to worship with them. I left refreshed and renewed by the Spirit.

Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.

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