Worshipping As One
by Dr. Bob Terry

Nervous energy seemed to fill the buses that Sunday morning. More than 70 members of Dawson’s Sanctuary Choir were on their way to Iglesia Bautista Vida Nueva (New Life Baptist Church) in Fultondale to help lead the morning worship service and enjoy a fellowship meal with members of the host Hispanic church.

New Life Church was no stranger to the choir members. Many had been present in February 2017 when a group from Dawson’s Hispanic Church, led by Pastor Bayron Mosquera, was commissioned to start a new church in Birmingham’s Fultondale area. Since 2011, a group from Pastor Bayron's congregation had worked largely with Hispanic people in a mobile home park where North Jefferson Baptist Association had a ministry center. Leaders had identified that between 6,000–7,000 Hispanic people lived in the area and believed God was leading them to start a church there.

In September of that year, the new church held its first service, and a few months later, Dr. Josué (Joshua) del Risco was called as pastor. He had previously served with the
North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and with the Baptist General Convention of Texas in Hispanic work.

Helping lead worship is the primary role of Dawson’s Sanctuary Choir. The choir has led worship in churches across the United States and in several nations. But this time the choir was to lead worship in Spanish. Even familiar hymns sound different when sung in other than one’s native tongue. Rhythms can be slightly different. Variations in pronunciations and emphases of syllables exist. Singing in a second language can be challenging.

For six weeks, choir members practiced the congregational songs to be used in the service and the special music the choir would offer in worship. Spanish speakers helped choir members improve their pronunciation until the songs were memorized and pronunciations refined.

Still, nervous energy poured out as choir members joked about the challenges of singing in a second language and asked last minute questions about the day’s music. Some practiced phrases they might need during the fellowship meal as they interacted with members of the New Life Church—phrases like “Mi nombre es ______” (My name is ____) or “La comida estaba deliciosa” (The food was delicious).

Alabama accents produced an array of pronunciations. Whatever initial unease choir members may have felt seemed to melt away when John Woods, Dawson’s Music & Worship Pastor, encouraged us to introduce ourselves to New Life members and to get to know something about the people with whom we would soon be worshipping with that day. So, we spread throughout the auditorium and into the hallways taking the initiative to introduce ourselves. Many of us tried to use “Mi nombre es ….” or something very similar to begin.

But most conversations quickly resorted to English. When the service began, choir members were no longer strangers, but fellow believers gathered to worship God. They sang with strong, enthusiastic voices.

Afterwards, some members of New Life Church expressed surprise the choir had sung in Spanish. Around tables during the fellowship lunch, more than one asked if choir members spoke Spanish. One even said he watched the lips of singers to see that they really were singing in his mother tongue.

During the meal, Dawson choir members mingled with many New Life members. A buffet line offered a variety of salads and desserts. Homemade entrées were served plated. Conversations were warm as participants continued to learn more about one another and express appreciation for the worship service they shared.

Before the meal was over, some Dawson members who had lived in South America and spoke Spanish found their way into the church kitchen to visit with the ladies responsible for the fellowship meal. Pastor Joshua noted this was the first time the Dawson choir had participated in worship at New Life Church. He said the experience had encouraged members and promoted fellowship between the two groups. Going forward, he said, he hoped more opportunities will be found for interaction between the Dawson groups and the New Life congregation.

John called the time of worship and fellowship a “gift.” “We left full in so many ways,” he said. “What we wanted to say, but sometimes didn’t have the words, was that we are so very thankful for the New Life congregation. Their hospitality showed us Christ’s welcome for all. We continue to pray for them as they share with their community.” Woods added that the experience had provided “a bigger, more accurate view of the kingdom of God.”

Today, Dawson continues to undergird the work of New Life Church. Pastor Joshua is part of Dawson’s Mission Team led by Ben Hale, our Evangelism & Missions Pastor. He also directs Dawson's Hispanic Church Planting Residency Program, which is a part of Dawson’s Go Love Tell ministry. Participants train under Pastor Joshua’s mentorship for 12 to 18 months before leaving to plant a Hispanic church in North Alabama. Pastor Joshua shared that candidates are currently being reviewed for the next class in Dawson’s Hispanic Church Planting Residency Program.

New Life Church meets at Fultondale’s First Baptist Church (FFBC). The home congregation meets for Bible Study at 9:15 a.m. and worship at 10:30 a.m. New Life then meets for Bible Study at 10:30 a.m. and worship at 12:00 noon. A spokesperson for the church said that the arrangement works well and that there are no conflicts about schedules or use of facilities on Sunday or during the week because the churches have partnered together to reach the Fultondale community for Christ.

The partnership appears to be working. New Life now averages about 125 in attendance with a full program of Bible Study, Vacation Bible School, and several local mission outreach activities. FFBC's willingness to work with New Life is drawing people as well. One couple said they chose FFBC because they wanted to be a part of a church that was reaching out to everyone in their community.

Dr. Bob Terry is Editor Emeritus of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, a ministry he led for more than 23 years. Together with his wife Pat, he is active in Dawson’s music ministry. Both Bob and Pat work with Baptists around the world through Baptist World Alliance.