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Unity equals strength at Hispanic/Anglo church

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Kelley Cox / Post Independent
Staff Photo |

SILT — A newly finished church at the corner of First Street and Grand Avenue here has two quite distinct congregations, one Hispanic and the other Anglo.

They come from different cultures and religious backgrounds, some have difficulty with the language barrier, and on Sundays they worship at different times of the day.

“But we have a common savior, that’s the bottom line,” said Pastor Randy Jorgensen of the Congregational Church of the Valley, which is one of the two congregations that call the church their religious home.

His counterpart, Pastor José Rodriguez of Puerta de Esperanza (The Door of Hope) Hispanic congregation, agreed, noting that while much of his flock is bilingual (speaking Spanish and English), the opportunity is there for each congregation to learn from the other in terms of language, culture and even religious conviction.

“I think the unity can give us more strength,” Rodriguez said.

And as if to prove that point, the two congregations got together on May 26 for a celebration of their new church and their new friends.

The event featured songs from each congregation, dancers and Latin music from Puerta de Esperanza, and food from both sides.

A young trumpet player from Basalt High School, graduating senior David Salguero, sounded the fanfare of opening notes to bring the gathering to order, and by all accounts the festivities that followed were a rousing success.

Puerta de Esperanza

Pastor José, as he is called by his parishioners, came to Garfield County from Phoenix, Ariz., where he was an associate pastor of another church of the same name.

He said that about five years ago, a pair of worshippers from Silt visited the church in Phoenix, liked what they saw, and convinced the pastor there to explore the idea of starting a satellite church in this area.

Rodriguez said the Phoenix pastor made the trip to Silt, looked around and liked what he saw, and came back to Phoenix saying, “this [meaning Silt] would be a good place to start a church,”

It took nearly a year before Rodriguez, 39, and his family were convinced, however.

“My wife, she liked the weather [in Phoenix],” Rodriguez said. “She don’t like so much the snow.” She also was reluctant to leave a community she had come to like since the family had moved to the Phoenix area from Mexico.

Finally, though, the family held a meeting about it and agreed to give it a try, and they now are glad they did, said Rodriguez.

“She loves Silt,” he said of his wife, and his son, also named José (but everybody calls him Lalo) was a star soccer player at Coal Ridge High School and now hopes to attend Western State College in Gunnison.

On arriving here, Rodriguez began holding worship services in the Silt Community Center, which also happened to be where Pastor Randy Jorgensen had been holding services for his church for more than a year — different times of the day on Sundays, but the same building. It wasn’t long, said he and his son, before the congregation grew to number 130 or more.

“That’s how we got acquainted,” said Jorgensen, adding that from his observation, Rodriguez’s flock grew quickly to the point where, “I can tell you, they didn’t have enough room at the community center. They had people lining up outside.”

The Congregationalists

Jorgensen, 57, known as Pastor Randy to his parishioners, was a pastor for five years in western Nebraska before coming to Garfield County in 1999. He worked the next nine years in construction before he took over a two-church congregation from its previous pastor.

The two parishes — one in Silt, the other in New Castle — soon decided to sell their respective church buildings and buy a five-acre parcel in Silt, upon which to build their new church.

In the meantime, though, they tried for a while to worship in a large tent, but it was a cumbersome weekly ordeal.

“It was tough to get it up and down, and the town didn’t want it up all the time,” Jorgensen recalled.

It wasn’t long before Rodriguez and his flock were helping the Congregationalists to put up their tent every week, Jorgensen said.

“That got us brainstorming, I think, about working together,” Jorgensen said, which led to his group selling the tent and holding services at the community center.

After sharing the building for a time, the two congregations got to talking about the Congregationalists’ plans to build a new church on that vacant, 5-acre lot, and a thought began to form: Why not throw in together to build the church?

So they did, breaking ground in May 2011, with the Congregationalists providing the land and much of the funding, and Puerta de Esperanza proving the muscle and construction know-how.

They closed the building in by that fall and finished it in time to hold services this spring, starting a little more than a month and a half ago.

Not completely seamless

Jorgensen admitted that the blending of the two congregations has not been entirely without conflict, and that there has been some attrition from his flock among those who felt uncomfortable with the new arrangement.

“That has been a little bit hard,” he said. “Even people having to travel from New Castle to Silt, there has been some resistance to it.”

His congregation is starting to grow again, though, and he said he believes the blending of cultures has strengthened the resolve of those remaining to see it through and make it work.

Among other programs, he is considering whether to start up a kind of cross-cultural language instruction program, so that the Spanish speakers can improve their English and the English speakers can learn Spanish.

“I hope for that to happen,” Jorgensen remarked, eliciting a quick response from Rodriguez: “I think it’s a great idea.”

He drew a sort of parallel between Jorgensen’s idea and the biblical book of Genesis, Chapter 11, when the people build the Tower of Babel to show how quickly they are progressing and how well they work together because they share a common tongue.

Jorgensen likened it to a “Kind of a reverse Tower of Babel,” because in the scriptural chapter God decides to challenge humanity by scattering them far and wide and mixing up their languages.

At Sunday’s celebration, every song and spoken word was translated either into English or Spanish, depending on its language of origin, the pastors said, and they agreed that the event was a success.

“Some people say, well, this is too much,” said Rodriguez, acting out the role of a confused and wary parishioner. “I don’t think it’s too much. If it’s for the glory of The Lord, it’s not enough, I think.”

The two churches meet every Sunday, the Congregationalists at 10:30 a.m. and Puerta de Esperanza at 4 p.m.

Other than the worship services, Jorgensen added, the church is “being used almost every day of the week” between bible studies and other programs.

He said the groups are working on a schedule for potential public uses of the 3,700 square foot church facility, possibly on Saturdays, but nothing has been decided yet.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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