It was standing room only at the First Presbyterian Church in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, March 23. I was lucky enough to be in the congregation, which enjoyed lively music and the joy of people from Angola, Cuba, and the US. It was a wonderful Sunday.
Hector Mendez, the pastor of the church, has been at the church for about 20 years. Over that time he has led the congregation to develop ministries that serve people in the neighborhood in a variety of ways. Psychologists run a phone line and receive walk in visits from people suffering depression and loneliness (Friendly Phone). A Tai Chi instructor welcomes and trains older adults who come to the church to maintain health and flexibility.
A volunteer operates a lending library that circulates religious literature and film, and also houses after school and summer school programs for youth.
Local organizations, such as the youth choir that we heard perform on one of our last days at the church, use the space for rehearsal and performance.
Hector makes the point that urban ministry is –or should be— contextualized. Too many churches, he told us, don’t pay attention to the world around them; they talk about salvation, but they do not serve the people. Hector’s ministry is living proof that engaging people where they are and bringing the gospel to people who are hungry for it makes for a lively congregation.
I am grateful to have had the chance to visit the church, a trip made possible through the presbytery partnership that has linked my congregation, Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, with the First Presbyterian Church in Havana. I traveled with a group of nine terrific women, and we were all enriched by the service and witness of the Reformed Church in Cuba. Thanks to Hector and others for a wonderful week.