By Doris Knight and The Rev. Barb Dinnen
Trinity United Methodist Church and Las Americas Comunidad de Fe have been evolving together for 15 years. The church that became the Trinity congregation began more than 150 years ago when the westward growth of the city of Des Moines reached a neighborhood north of downtown. The brick building at the interesction of 8th and College in Des Moines, Iowa was built in 1911.
Over the years, the neighborhood and the church flourished and then declined. By 1999, fewer than fifty people made up the Trinity congregation. They had been a part of a three point circuit that had dissolved. The neighborhood was racially diverse with a significant African American population and an increasing number of Latino residents. Many houses were in need of repair. Denny Coon was assigned to serve Trinity, and he was determined to reach out to the neighbors and find people interested in coming to a neighborhood church. At the same time, Gil Dawes was leading a Bible Study for a small group of Spanish speakers.
Denny was successful in attracting some new members, and, with more help, the congregation began to hold English as a Second Language classes. Neighbors seized the opportunity and came to the church to learn English. When they learned that there was a Bible Study for Spanish speakers, they came to that, too. Time passed. In 2002, Barb Dinnen was assigned to Las Americas and the Bible Study continued. The group began a Spanish language worship service in 2003. A monthly potluck brought the English speaking congregation and the Spanish speaking faith community together.
In 2006, Diane McClanahan was appointed to Trinity. Barb and Diane decided to hold bilingual worship services for Holy Week in 2007. Both groups loved it. As an experiment, the pastors worked with each group and they agreed to a bilingual worship every Sunday during the summer. At the end of the summer of 2007, they voted with a 75 percent approval to worshipping together in a bilingual service every Sunday through the summer. A few people who voted “no” left, but those who remained agreed that it was the beginning of a new adventure. Since then all worship services and most meetings have been bilingual, even though the official structures of the church remain separate.
Because Las Americas was not a consecrated church, but rather a Faith Community, when their participants wanted to become a member of the United Methodist Church they formally joined Trinity UMC. Hymns and liturgy in both languages provided an exciting worship service in the midst of a satisfying diversity of friends. Though they speak two languages and the adult classes are separate, those who participate consider themselves to be one church. After several years of bilingual worship and a mixing of members and participants, it is hard to remember that there are two congregations who have grown together. When Diane left to serve in the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, a young Guatemalan pastor, Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz, was assigned to Las Americas, and Barb became the pastor of the Trinity congregation.
English classes have grown to serve hundreds of neighbors from many countries, and citizenship classes offer tutoring once a year. Parenting classes and an Alcoholics Anonymous group have served Spanish speakers. The building is a hub of activity for the neighborhood with Children and Family Urban Movement providing before and after school programs for children and coordinating a supper meal for more than one hundred people every afternoon except Sunday. Transportation is provided for families to visit loved ones in prison and Trinity members offer Reentry Teams for persons returning to the community after leaving prison. Day-old bread is picked up from neighborhood bakeries and made available for anyone who enters the doors, and a neighboring Catholic Worker Community distributes fruit and vegetables on Saturday mornings.
At the end of the worship service each Sunday morning, the congregation circles the sanctuary to sing a closing song, often one like “Unidos, unidos” or “Dame la Mano.” The friends who the members see across the room and beside them are young, old, and in-between; short and tall, slender and rounded; white, black, and brown; each is an individual person to each other. It is an opportunity that many people don’t get to experience. They appreciate being a part of this delightfully diverse community as they worship and work together to make the neighborhood a better place.