By Neva Rae Fox
One building, two congregations. One expression of love, two languages. One faith, many ministries. St. Paul’s and La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrección have bridged languages, cultural differences, and class to focus on mutual ministry.
St. Paul’s was founded in Mount Vernon, Washington, more than a century ago. Resurrección was created 25 years ago to serve the Mexican migrant workers working in and eventually relocating to the area.
“Resurrección and St. Paul’s were started as two different ministries,” said the Rev. Paul Moore, rector of both congregations. Resurrección was founded primarily as an outreach to undocumented field workers in Skagit County, where a lot of fruits and vegetables are grown for local markets and beyond. At some point, Resurrección moved into the building of St. Paul’s, and now pays a nominal rent for use of the facilities.
“When I came two years ago, both congregations had gone through some rather profoundly difficult times,” he added. “The bishop’s office asked me to come to revitalize both congregations. I was born and raised in Latin America of American missionary parents, so the fit has been a good one. I serve two congregations who share history, a space, a tradition, and a priest.”
Moore remembered a bilingual Lenten program he conducted during his first year, focusing on the spiritual discipline of hospitality.
“An interesting question came up that for me is iconic of the relationship,” he said. “Someone from St. Paul’s asked the representatives of Resurrección what they saw in St. Paul’s that they valued. The answer: ‘An established and stable congregation.’ The question was reversed and the answer from St. Paul’s was ‘youth and vitality.’”
While separate services are celebrated in English and Spanish on Sundays, bilingual services occur on holidays, fifth Sundays, and Ash Wednesday.
Then there are the joint celebrations and events that bring the congregations closer. Moore mentioned a pre-pandemic bilingual posada, a popular Mexican procession celebrated in December that commemorates the holy family’s journey to Bethlehem. “People came from both congregations. It was a huge success.”
Sharing a building is more than just sharing the same space. “We have separate leadership, and we have two distinct congregations with intersection points,” said Sara Young, senior warden for St. Paul’s. The cross-pollination, I think, is increasing. It’s lowering the sense of ‘otherness.’”
While the two churches maintain their historic identities, one of the joint hallmarks is justice. “Right off the bat the two churches stood together in community about immigration,” Moore said. “We stand together at pro-immigration rights rallies and protests. We have worked in the past, collaboratively, on helping people sign up for DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and other programs.”
Moore cited a new joint venture, One Parish, One Prisoner, in which “we will welcome someone recently released from prison into our communities.”
Resurrección is renowned for its Summer Day Camp, offered in partnership with St. Paul’s and other congregations throughout the Diocese of Olympia.
Resurrección suffered harder in the pandemic than St. Paul’s; nonetheless, another bridge was crossed. “Closing has hit hard,” Moore said. “Many are undocumented. Zoom is difficult. Children have Chromebooks from school.” Thus, a church-sponsored tutoring program for students was born.
Where is this leading? “We have launched an experiment of mutual sharing,” and “the end goal is relationship.”
Young agreed. “The long-term goal is community — healthy, thriving community that feels balanced, with no sense of otherness.”
The relationship “a work in progress,” Moore said. “The desire for a closer relationship exists on both sides, but in a way that does not lose the integrity of either congregation. I do not see any mergers on the horizon. My dream is that this becomes kind of a binary star, two congregations in intimate relationship, each sharing what they bring to the table to enrich the other and to minister in greater ways in the wider community of Mount Vernon.”