Up until this point, this series has highlighted secret church visits, but this one is a little different because it’s my former home church. When I say “church,” I don’t mean the building. I mean my familia, a group of individuals who remain connected regardless of time or place.
The Iglesia Adventista Hispana del Septimo Dia de Lynwood is located in Lynwood, California. Snugly hidden between apartment buildings, schools, and businesses on a busy street, its location speaks to a mission that is common to many hispanic churches: community and outreach. Similar to numerous Adventist congregations in the area, the members lease their worship space. The only indicator that I was entering an Adventist church was a white banner set out facing the street.
While I felt anxious returning to a space that now felt foreign, as soon as I entered the sanctuary, la hermana Luna approached me with open arms and a wide smile. To her, I am not Raquel, I am Raquelita, the baby she held in her arms and the child she taught in Primarios. Right next to her, el hermano Luis, who very patiently taught me how to drive, came up to me with another warm embrace. One by one, hermanos y hermanas approached me with greetings of Feliz Sabado, kind words, and affirmations. As I walked into the new building, the space was unfamiliar, but the faces felt like home.
Sitting in escuela sabática, I saw more familiar faces, many of them notably aged since the last time I shared worship with them. Like me, the young people of my generation had left off to college, new states, and new stages of life, leaving a congregation of mostly older adults. With less than thirty people gathered altogether, a teacher led the group through the lesson. One member shared the importance of being united in Christ, as Paul commanded the early church. Other hermanos chanted amén! in agreement. Sabbath School came to a close with prayer. I watched as a few children and teens began entering the sanctuary, but saw nowhere near the amount of young people that had been present when I attended.
In between la escuela sabática and el culto divino, two diaconisas shared a praise report from a recent health fair. With a picture slideshow projecting behind them, the women noted the many ways that church members contributed to the success of the event. Several hermanos invited members from the community, resulting in a total of 53 attendees. Some hermanas made tostadas and pupusas for the fair, while others made aguas frescas. And, another group met attendees at a prayer booth, taking note of their prayer requests and ensuring that the requests were addressed at the following culto de oracion. Seeing the pictures and hearing the report reminded me of the many events I participated in growing up. This familia has long been a haven for individuals seeking solace, support, and a sense of belonging. It was heartwarming to see how it continues to serve others as a community.
Not only has their mission as a church body remained unchanged, but it appeared their commitment to tradition was ever-present as well. A solemn Jehovah Esta en su Santo Templo marked the start of culto divino. The congregation was then invited to stand as they sang along to conference-made hymn tracks and slideshows. Offerings were collected as the church sang Traian En Silencio Presentes al Señor, shortly followed by a sermon. It was the kind of service that provided a sense of comfort, especially in knowing exactly what to anticipate upon entering an Adventist Hispanic church. However, this sense of familiarity also raised questions about the church's resistance to change and growth and whether its faithfulness to tradition might hinder its ability to adapt to the evolving needs of its congregation and the broader community.
As the preacher wrapped up his message on Abraham’s faith, the service concluded with the same reverence. Outside the sanctuary, I joined in on animated conversations, and a palpable sense of the familia I cherished slowly came to life. These moments of connection were not just ordinary interactions but rather a reflection of deep bonds made over decades within the church community. Members asked about my husband, my latest whereabouts and professional ventures. They were questions that transcended small talk, instead speaking to the love and care they showed throughout my childhood and adolescence. It was evident that this congregation was still much more than just a group of individuals who gathered for worship.
Churches like la Iglesia Adventista Hispana del Septimo Dia de Lynwood show the crossroads of the larger Adventist world. In this community, there are individuals who regularly visit the sick, donate money to families in need, gather to celebrate life events, and show support for the younger generations. This church wants to grow and share the good news of Christ. To label this church as conservative or traditional would be to place them in a monolith and could stop someone from experiencing a community who loves deeply through action, just as a familia does. Perhaps there's an opportunity to strike a balance between preserving tradition and embracing new approaches that can foster continued spiritual growth. As for me, I know that returning to this iglesia will always be a prodigal experience.
Editor's note—Thank you for reading this installment of the 12 Churches Project, a special 2023 series from Spectrum.
Thanks to readers like you who donated to our Grow the Vision campaign for the Bonnie Dwyer Journalism Fund, we’re commissioning reporters to visit 12 different Adventist churches in the North American Division and write about the experience. We’re aiming for diversity—at least one in each of the nine NAD unions—with a focus on key examples of various church bodies and worship styles.
Post-pandemic, what’s church like? Who’s showing up and who’s not? What’s changed? What’s working? What needs to change? The goal is not deeply investigatory but merely to witness worship and share. Hopefully, we can all learn something from these first-person experiences.
Previously in this series:
“What It's Like to Worship at Crosswalk Redlands” by Ezrica Bennett.
“ Visiting the District Community Church Plant in Washington, DC” by Jacklyn Frias.
“Visit to SuCasa, A Spanish-American Church in Tennessee” by Josué Vega.
“A Visit to the Cedar Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church” by Samuel Girven.
Raquel Mentor is the associate digital editor of Spectrum.
Photos by Raquel Mentor.
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