The rumors on the diocesan street about Christ Church, Las Vegas are all about division and decline. All I know is what I see.
Yesterday, at Christ Church, there were close to 60 people in attendance at the 7:45 a.m. service. Granted, that does not pack such a big worship space. But it was a lot of people for 7:45 a.m. under any circumstances. They are nearly two years deep into an interim period and numbers always go down during interim periods regardless of how well loved the interim may be. So I was surprised and impressed by the early service.
I missed the Spanish Mass at 9:30 because I was socializing with the good people of CCLV in the parish hall, now served by its remodeled kitchen. I talked with a number of folks, but mostly with two young adults, one of whom I had confirmed last year, the other of whom is a 2 L at the Boyd School of Law, UNLV. Yes, there are young adults and college students at Christ Church.
At the principal service, I lost count of how many teenagers we confirmed. All I can say for sure is that it was a most impressive group – by far the largest group of confirmands I have had this year at an English speaking service. There were also 2 adult confirmands – one of whom was young adult, specifically another UNLV student. There were also four teens from the Latino congregation at St. Luke’s. Hurray for St. Luke’s too. But most of the youth were Christ Church kids. Let me add, they were strong in spirit as well as numbers. They were engaged, intelligent, and attentive when I met with them before the service. They had clearly been blessed with good Christian formation.
I don’t’ know the attendance number, but the church looked about ¾ full to me. It was a crowd! Yes, they were there for confirmations – or a lot of them were – but that counts. It was a mighty impressive turnout of engaged people who sang out and said the prayers with gusto. And another thing: they were, as they always have been, a diverse lot by any standard. There were black, white, brown, and Asian people. There were folks who looked well to do, folks who looked poor, and folks in between. This congregation looked considerably more like the city in which it resides than most Episcopal congregations.
If you are in Nevada, you have heard about the controversial new organ. In my experience, saying “controversial” and “new” about a church organ is redundant. Any new organ is controversial, and the better the organ the more controversial it is. The Christ Church organ, the largest in Nevada and certainly one of the best, is inevitably controversial. But the voluntaries before and after worship were magnificent. At the principal service, the congregation staid in place for the postlude, spell bound by the music, then broke into spontaneous applause.
“When in our music God is glorified
And adoration leaves no room for pride,
It is as though the whole creation cried
How much is that worth? How much is it worth multiplied by the long life of a tracker organ which will inspire souls for generation after generation?
Then at 5:00 Linda and I joined the Latino congregation for a Fiesta in the parish hall. It was absolutely packed. The food was delicious and the people were warm hearted. This group has been worshiping together for only 9 months but already the feel of community is emerging. Wondering how the Anglos are taking it? Several Anglos took me aside in the morning to say, “Thank you for sending us Fr. Bernardo.” Some described their own new spiritual experience and joy from worshiping with the Latino congregation. Even though they did not speak Spanish, they got it. They understood at the heart level.
Then came the evening Eucharist. I’d say the church was about 4/5 full. We baptized and celebrated children’s communions. Again I could not keep track of the initiation rites. More than in the morning. Now here’s what struck me. We were not baptizing babies. We were mostly baptizing teens and pre-teens. Latino families whose children have not been baptized long before this age have definitely been alienated from the church. We are not moving people from one church to another. We are bringing people from unchurched and estranged lives into the fold. I wish you could have seen the faces of these young people – joyful, devout, sincere. They were not going through the motions, not just doing what was expected of them at a certain age. It was ritual marking new commitment to Jesus.
This Latino congregation along with Latinos from All Saints’ and St. Luke’s are the heart of Latino support for the Las Vegas Interfaith community organizing effort. Anglo clergy from Christ Church are joining the struggle to make the Valley into a place where we know and care about each other. Of course, Christ Church continues to be the core of our urban ministries to the homeless and now to the new poor of the present recession.
They are doing all this during an interim period, during a recession, and in the aftermath of a traumatic conflict two years ago. This congregation is resilient, inspired, and inspiring. I give thanks to God for their witness.