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Worship in Basic English Draws Immigrants and Refugees


Although they come from different countries all over the world, participants in the Basic English Service at Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., have found a common language in faith that enables them to worship together.

Immigrants and refugees join together at the church every Sunday for a service conducted in simplified language and incorporating visual elements that aid in comprehension.

Held concurrently with the church’s regular Sunday morning worship, about 40 people participate in the service. Once a month, the two services are combined, and both groups worship and celebrate communion together.

“It’s truly a global feast when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper,” said Helen Bonzelaar, who chairs the committee that started the program.

For decades, the church has held English as a Second Language (ESL) courses and been involved with Grand Rapids-area agencies in bringing refugees to the United States. But refugees who came to the church had trouble following along in English, so the idea for the Basic English Service was born.

Not all participants have Christian backgrounds, but many have chosen to be baptized since they began attending the services.

Members of Church of the Servant lead and participate in the service and help participants with transportation.

“We gather and hold hands and sing a doxology together,” said Bonzelaar. “We worship God with a bit more awe. If people from around the globe can work together with us, our worship is so much richer.”

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