A Congregation in Two Places

September 24, 2014

Santa Isabel, Elizabeth

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

As mission congregations develop, there is incredible passion and hope. Prayer, Bible study, and

outreach grow and spread the news of this community, and people begin to gather from around a neighborhood and area. The congregation worships, and reaches out into its community in a variety of ways that are seen by many. But what happens when only part of this community can be seen?  

Santa Isabel Lutheran in Elizabeth is one of the new ministry starts in the New Jersey  Synod, sharing the Elizabeth Lutheran Center with Pilgrim Journey, another mission start. Santa Isabel reaches out to the Latino community in that area through a variety of ways: 12-step program meetings and English-as-Second Language (ESL) classes meet in the building, and a number of youth programs, including soccer games, help young people feel like a part of this community. The congregation also sees themselves as “a link and help for people to be empowered in a society that treats them as if they had no voice.”  Immigration is a challenge and concern for their community, so forums are offered to talk about immigration issues and the laws surrounding it.  The congregation is also active in helping members of the community with citizenship concerns, and helps people along this path.

The other part of this congregation sits behind the walls of the Elizabeth Detention Center, a Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. In a warehouse with little outside signage to say what it is, Pastor Ramon Collazo leads worship and Bible study on Fridays. Those who gather there are in various stages of the immigration issue: some were  recently arrested and are preparing for trials, others are actively in trial, while others have been prosecuted and are awaiting deportation, a process that can take months or years. People come from a variety of different places, such as Central and South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia, but also speak a variety of languages. Into this setting, in the library, Pastor Collazo gathers them together, brings the Word of God, shares the Meal, and blesses them as they go from this room, doing so in English and Spanish. For those who are interested, small wooden crosses are handed out, Bibles and devotions are given out, and pastoral care is provided through the laying on of hands and blessing after worship. Santa Isabel has also responded to those who have been discharged from the facility, and who are in need of help with transportation, housing, and food.

By being in two places but only one part being visible presents unique challenges to Santa Isabel.

Those who are unseen could be forgotten, but the community continually keeps them in prayer and strives for fair and just immigration practices. By keeping a sense of solidarity and interdependence, Santa Isabel is proclaiming that despite fences and walls, prisoner or free, we are one people in Jesus Christ. 

To learn more about this congregation, go to www.santaisabellutheranchurch.org, or follow them on Facebook. To help support this congregation in their ministry, money can be given to purchase crosses ($100 quarterly), Bibles, and devotions ($125 quarterly) for those incarcerated in the Elizabeth Detention Center, and consider becoming a mission partner with Santa Isabel.

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