Making Connections

In his book, American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Mark Chaves describes America’s changing religious landscape, one aspect of this being diversity within religion. Chaves explains how immigrants moving from their home country have diversified the religious congregations here in the United States. The rise of ethnic churches has become something crucial to the integration of immigrants in the U.S., as even Meredith McGuire— author of Religion: The Social Context— acknowledges in chapter 8 of her book, that congregation-level religious groups have provided an important site for integration of immigrants. Several recent studies of immigrant churches have “documented the importance of religious communities in giving new immigrants both a connection with their former countries and a toehold in the new” (Religion: The Social Context, 291). This was illustrated to me at my congregation visit where I attended a service at the Indonesian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Within this traditional, Protestant Christian denomination, an outsider could visibly see the community fostered within the church walls. I had never been in a religious setting that was not solely Hispanic or a combination of different ethnicities, but I had stepped into a church made up of a homogenous group different from my own brownness. The congregation was full of South East Asians and the only signs of diversity were myself, another student, and a white man all attending the service. Now, I do not know and cannot say if many, if at all, of these members are immigrants, but I had never really been in an ethnic church other than my own. In my own church experiences, I hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that I was among those like me, I simply was; I was comfortable in a space. Much like my experience, the members at the Indonesian SDA church appeared to be just as comfortable having found a community with people of a similar culture. Having this support allows one to feel welcomed and accepted— something new immigrants seek out in a new and uncomfortable space. A church for immigrants to go to helps them establish new and meaningful relationships while undergoing the process of integration in a new location; it is important to have such spaces to feel welcomed and seen, and as more ethnic churches arise we continue to take more progressive steps.