On Sunday, Sami, Carly, Bree, McKenzie and I all went to the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church here in Denver. We attended the 9:30am Spanish service. As we walked in, it was quickly very apparent that we were not regulars. So apparent, in fact, that the Priest brought us over books with the Spanish versions of hymns and verses on one page and the English translation of those on the next page. Though this was a kind gesture and it helped us follow along with the service, it also reinforced the fact that we were not like everyone else in church that morning. I remember Sami making a comment, “is it really that noticeable that we aren’t from here?”
I think being on the other end of this gesture was a good thing for me. At my internship, The Bridge Project, I work with families of all different backgrounds, cultures and languages every day. Sometimes, when I think I’m helping them or going out of my way to make sure they feel comfortable, maybe in reality I’m just making them feel more uncomfortable. Recognizing differences in the people around us is one thing, but acting on those recognitions is another. I think I learned a lot about how my actions when dealing with people from another culture may end up causing more of a divide between us even if I fully intended for it to mesh us together.
We talked to two different people, but I can’t remember the names of either. One had worked as a volunteer coordinator for the church for seven years, so she was able to tell us a lot about how the church has changed over time. For example, there used to be only English services being offered. This quickly transitioned into English and bilingual services offered, which has since become completely English and completely Spanish services offered. They used to have only one or two of each, and just starting last week actually, they now have three of each being offered. It was fascinating to have her walk us through all of the changing demands in language and availability the church has experienced in less than ten years. For me, this really reinforced the rapid growth rate and rising population we’ve talked about.
The second person we talked to was the Priest. I was hesitant to go up to him at first, thinking maybe he didn’t fully understand English and not wanting to put him in an uncomfortable position or on the spot in any way. As I walked by and shook his hand, he held my hand and said “I haven’t seen you here before, what’s your name?” I was completely taken back. He had no accent at all. This simple question led us into a full on conversation with him and the discovery that he had just only learned Spanish in the last year. This was also a learning experience for me, I was much too quick to label this stranger and had he not stopped me, I never would’ve engaged conversation on behalf of completely false presumptions.
Overall, I walked in feeling completely out of my element, and walked out with two new friends and a sense of belonging. They invited all of us back and even asked that we bring our other classmates and friends next time. I’m glad I had the experience I did there, and we’ve already talked about returning… to the English service next time! J