Some time ago I read about Akiko Iwasaki, a well-known Yale University immunologist whose lab team has published nearly two dozen papers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the years she’s deliberately put together a diverse team, including scientists from more than a dozen countries with different education levels, and some who haven’t followed the typical career path. More than half are women. She says, “From a selfish standpoint, if we want to do the best science we can, we need a diverse set of people.”1
When I read Iwasaki’s comments, I thought of my diverse Adventist congregation in St. Albans, United Kingdom. I remembered how we creatively managed to worship and interact during the long months of 2020.
Early in the pandemic we were delighted to connect via Zoom to sing, worship God, visit, and support each other virtually. We have talented teams that host the Zoom meetings, alternating music teams that creatively organize ways for our church family to sing and learn new songs. We’ve done a couple of the now pretty familiar YouTube singing sessions that took Roger Gietzmann hours to put together and that included many individuals singing.2
As we all hesitated to “leave” our Zoom time together one Sabbath early in the lockdown, church member Sharon Milanović said she was making eggplant curry for lunch and asked what everyone else was cooking. That launched the All Nations Cook Along (ANCA) group!3 On Sunday mornings we virtually “cooked together” in one another’s kitchens. There was spanakopita and later moussaka made by Margarita from Greece, pea and dumpling soup by Melita from Serbia, and palak paneer with Rose from India. There was also tofu in red sauce by Jay from the Philippines; Thai spring rolls with peanut sauce by Sharon, who has daughters from China; and tahinopita with carob molasses by Elle from Cyprus.
“Church should reflect who God is, and God loves diversity.”
We tried cornbread by Brandon from Canada during the following weeks; a lentil version of the very British shepherd’s pie by Emma; and mince curry with peas, a South African Cape Malay recipe shared by Vera. We even tried Trinidadian corn pie by Helyn-Jo, black bean empanadas by Johanna from Venezuela, and the always impressive French apple tarte tatin by Ben.4
My mouth is watering thinking of these international dishes. After a quick upload of pictures of our finished dishes to our WhatsApp group, we dug in for tea time. When asked about the Zoom cooking “chats,” Sarah, a born-and-bred Brit going back many generations, said she loved the time spent cooking with her daughter and felt as though she’d gone on an outing with the women from church. “I feel I’ve had a tea morning out with friends and had a good chat,” she confessed. Others agreed, as everyone felt enriched by the experience.
An Enriching Experience
I think of the multicultural church we were when we met in person before the pandemic. Anne from Romania with her South African husband and beautiful three young boys lying all over her during church and running their hands through her hair as the middle one would suck his thumb. I remember the first time Delores and her husband, Darren, came to church. I didn’t realize at the time that it was their first visit because of their friendly, comfortable way of settling into their seats with baby Luanne, again as kids always do, holding on to her parents, walking all over them.
Gibson and Faithful Taruwinga’s sons would draw and color detailed pictures of people during the church service. It was no surprise, since both their parents are in finance and accounting. Their family had moved to the United Kingdom from Zimbabwe just two years ago for professional jobs in London. We even have a family with two young girls from Lithuania who drive an hour from London to St. Albans to attend church each week.
I remember seeing Delores and Darren’s 17-year-old son, Jordan, up front, effortlessly playing a beautiful piece on the piano, after their first church service ended. They already felt part of the St. Albans church! Delores, whose mother had emigrated from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom decades ago, told me that what had attracted her to the St. Albans church was the striking diversity. Every row had a different nationality in it. “This is how it’s supposed to be! Church should reflect who God is, and God loves diversity,” she told me. “He didn’t create just one tree—an oak, for example. He created many variations of the same things!”
Delores thinks that if we all segregate into our own comfortable churches, we may inadvertently set up a barrier to inviting new people to church. She tells me, “I can invite anyone in the world to the St. Albans church, and they will find themselves reflected here.”
During a recent Zoom service the Grices’ 4-year-old triplets shared their father’s creative recording from their back garden. They had each memorized two verses from Psalm 1, reciting the chapter in its entirety. It made me think of their mother growing up in Jamaica, probably doing the same thing at a young age.
Septuagenarian Rosemary told me the St. Albans church is nothing like the church she grew up attending. As a third-generation Seventh-day Adventist in England growing up attending the Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church (the second-oldest Adventist congregation in the country), her father was the only man in the congregation. There were very few children in her church. Now she is delighted to see the many children in our church and the families from around the world.
I asked Rosemary what she thought of the variety of music each Sabbath, not always from the hymnal.
“You never know what to expect!” she said. “I love it!”
Sharon Tennyson is an England-based distribution coordinator for Adventist Review Ministries.