York City church embracing diversity
- Locals with backgrounds from Liberia, Germany, India and Latin America participated in the event.
- St. Mark's Lutheran Church is undergoing a redevelopment to increase engagement from the community.
At the beginning of an interfaith ceremony Sunday afternoon at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the Rev. Titus Clarke welcomed attendees old and new with a call to worship as they would in their home country.
“Feel free to speak a thousand tongues,” he said.
In heaven, he added, every language is spoken and understood.
The service was part of the first International Day event held by the church, which invited congregants and nearby residents to celebrate diversity by representing their native country and language. About 50 people in all attended the event at the church, 700 E. Market St.
“We welcome you one and all,” said Cheryl Gazan, St. Mark’s council president.
Celebrating difference: During the service, attendees picked up the hymnals in the pews to sing “Jesus, We Are Gathered.” A mixture of English and Shona, the most popular language in Zimbabwe, could be heard among those singing.
Gazan said the church is striving to be a “thriving, multicultural worshiping place” for York County residents, adding the only differences people see are superficial.
“We are all God’s offspring,” she said.
Jesus Pena, a friend of Clarke's, said he was asked to be part of the event to represent the Hispanic community in York.
The Puerto Rican native said he thought the event was an indicator of York’s increased diversity.
“It was great,” he said.
“I like the message of diversity,” added Pena’s wife, Sherry. “The idea that we can live together and get along, we definitely need it.”
The event included a Nigerian dance titled “Igwe” by Midnight Crew, an international praise team. Despite a few audio glitches, the three-person group danced up and down the aisles with attendees clapping along.
The service also included a moment for attendees to have a symbol of their culture acknowledged by the church by bringing an object to the altar.
Pinal Desai, of Springettsbury Township, walked up with his sleeping 5-month-old daughter, Anjalee, to set down dohar blankets, a traditional multi-layered Indian blanket. Desai and his daughter were dressed in traditional Indian clothing.
International cuisine: After the service, attendees went to the church basement to eat food from several countries. Attendees packed their plates with Liberian, Indian and German cuisine, along with food from other nations.
Desai, who arrived in the United States from India at age 12, said he converted to his wife Jacquelyn’s Lutheran faith and said he believes the event is a great way to showcase the diversity within the church.
“It’s nice to see different cultures,” he said. “We all started from different places, but we’re all here.”
Robin Everhart, of Manchester Township, had similar sentiments.
“Even though we’re from different places,” she said, “we’re all one.”
Everhart’s mother, Waltraud Aldinger, delivered a prayer in German at the ceremony.
Clarke said the event stems from an effort by the church to reach out to more people. Clarke said the church started a redevelopment process late last year to address the falling interaction with residents in the city. The International Day event was the first of a series of events community members can expect from the church.
“We want to be present in the community,” he said.
With the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran church’s founding occurring this year, Clarke said he said the church must adapt to the times, which includes reaching out to everyone.
“Diversity reflects the heart of God,” he said.