Thursday, June 24, 2010

Washington, DC Area Church (Immanuel’s) Strikes a Cord with the Beltway International Community

Silver Spring, Maryland - June 22, 2010

By Frederick Nnoma-Addison

This Silver Spring based Church ironically does not have the word “international” at the tail end of its name as most churches have these days, yet it is perhaps the “United Nations” of churches in America. Immanuel’s Church has 65 different nationalities represented in its membership. I have personally photographed national flags displayed in the rotunda, had lunch at the Café of the Nations and seen the congregation pray for one of these nations during worship service each Sunday.

In the past six months that I followed the ministry and its leadership I have witnessed Messianic Jews preach from the pulpit as well as Christian native Indians, who have even used their native drums as back drops for their sermons, a taboo setting in other ministries. I have seen announcements being made by foreign nationals like myself with heavy accents, and a parade of international costumes, worship styles and dances. These observations and many others grabbed my attention and made me wonder what kind of church it is.

During this same period the ministry has also hosted multiple screenings of Maafa21, a powerful documentary film on Black Genocide in 21st Century America, hosted the mostly black Morgan State University Choir, dispatched missionaries to almost every continent and welcomed new members from various ethnic groups. Each Sunday an offering basket is dedicated to evangelism and development in some country on some continent and Pastor Charles Schmitt (73) the founding pastor of this 26 year old ministry has unabashedly asked for contributions for the work in the following areas:

  • Neediest Children Feeding Ministry
  • North America’s First Nations
  • Latin America’s Hispanic Nations
  • North Africa’s Muslim Nations
  • African Nations South of the Sahara
  • Europe’s Unreached Nations
  • Israel, Palestine and the Arab Nations
  • India and Nepal’s Hindu Nations
  • Central Asia’s Buddhist Nations

I was there when the Sudanese Ambassador to the United States visited one Sunday with his delegation and was acknowledged and prayed for during the service.

Not only are the positive characteristics I have itemized needed in an extremely diverse nation like this one, they also foreshadow the church that Jesus Christ will marry according to Revelations 7:9-10.

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hand. And they cried out in a loud voice. Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” NIV.

Active church membership at Immanuel’s is estimated at a little below 4000 (men, women and children) according to Pastor Charles and he adds that sub-Saharan African nationals are by far the largest people group in the congregation. They represent at least 25% or 1000 people, a number big enough to fit the definition of a “mega” church in America. The beauty of Immanuel’s Church is that while one people group may represent the largest demographic you could still not refer to it as an African, Caucasian or Hispanic church.

Although everything about the ministry is typically American, it would almost seem out of place to even label it that way. Immanuel’s is simply “the church,” a worship place for believers of every tribe, tongue and nation. Pastor Charles and Dotty Schmitt (the founding pastors) are both Caucasians but beyond their looks, that factor is inconsequential. In a weird way the church is both sensitive to the needs of an international community (the very fabric of America) and at the same time is race or people group blind. It finds a way to cater for the needs of such a diverse group without making a big deal about it which perhaps is the secret to their success.

In my interview with Pastor Charles I asked him how this diversity came about. “I cannot say that it is anything specific that we do, I would probably say that it is a God thing… and He has given us the grace to accommodate this level of diversity in our midst. There were a couple of prophecies over 20 years ago about this which confirms that God has been operative in our midst. Honestly we never found it to be difficult pastoring such a diverse church… of course we have made some blunders in the past and have learned from them, overall there has been a real harmony in our midst between all the races and I am thankful to God…”

The church does not merely celebrate the diversity of its members, instead it sees this as an important part of ministry to the nations and a bridge to ministry fields beyond the United States. According to Pastor Charles, one thing he wishes for is that a hand full of millionaires will join the congregation and bring their wealth to support the work of Christian ministry. “The needs in the church and the communities we serve always exceed the provisions we have and being able to meet these ministry needs is one of my greatest desires.”

True to the modus operandi, many of the foreign nationals within the church have successfully built bridges between this ministry in the United States and others in their home countries. To date the church actively supports and partners with ministries in India, Israel, Guatemala, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and many other countries - a dedication to the nations which resonates with and attracts the international community around the beltway. It could also be the level of inclusion that the ministry strives for. During Sunday service on June 20th (Father’s Day) it was hilarious to observe Pastor Charles introduce his Ivorian born personal assistant for that service. The gentleman wore the colors of the flag of his home country (orange, white and green) in solidarity of their soccer match with Portugal (FIFA World Cup.) For Pastor Charles that may have been just a light moment but for that brother it certainly wasn't. It was a historic moment in which he and his developing West African country (La Cote d’Ivoire) were recognized, affirmed and validated.

I was quite amazed to see the map of Kenya projected onto two large screens during a service one day and the congregation asked to intercede for that East African nation. The “nation of the week” prayer time during Sunday services in my opinion is a true demonstration of the church's commitment to ministry to the nations which is the heartbeat of the great commission (Mathew 28: 16-20). Probably the best part of all this international flavor is the retailing of Guatemala coffee to support a missionary in that country.

Many ‘mega’ churches in America like to pride themselves in the level of diversity of their membership, the same way corporate America would do with its employees, even if the representation of smaller ethnic groups were less that 1%. The fact of the matter is that it is one thing professing to be a multi-racial, multi-cultural or multi-ethnic church family and another thing actually embracing that diversity and making every one, especially those from the less fortunate parts of the world, feel a part of the family. Without suggesting that Immanuel’s is the perfect church model, I have observed that many churches pride themselves in being a diverse church only as a marketing tool, and this perhaps is how Immanuel’s stands out.

When I first started visiting the church in January of 2010, I was struck by the attire that Pastors Charles and Dotty wore in the photograph used for the weekly bulletins. They wore African clothes and I wondered whether they were just not American enough, were Africanists or simply liked foreign clothes. For someone born in west Africa (Ghana), that simple choice of wearing African attire in this photograph strikes a cord with me and makes me feel less of an "alien" in that space. If corporations, nations, businesses, churches and families can learn from each other’s examples then I strongly believe that the Church in America can learn from the example being set by Immanuel’s Church in the Washington, DC area.

Asked about the church’s most important role in the local community Pastor Charles answered, I think the biggest contribution to the local community is through Camp Sonshine, which is a world-class 30 year old Christian summer camp for children and youth. "Camp Sonshine has a sweeping impact on families in the area and we are glad to be able to offer such a program to the community …The church is also involved in food donation programs to the area's needy.”

Immanuel’s Church was founded in 1982 in the Schmitt’s home in Maryland. The heartbeat of the church is "To Know Christ And Make Him Known." The church facility located at 16819 New Hampshire Avenue sits on a 20 acre land that used to be an apple and peach orchard. Based on my personal experiences these six months I am no longer surprised that the church’s slogan is “You will be loved at Immanuel’s Church.”

Pastor Charles is the author of several Christian books - The Life Of David, Song Of Solomon, 40 Foundations Of Our Faith and End Time Truth for End Time People.

Below are photo expressions of various aspects of a worship service taken on Father's Day June 20th, 2010.

Pastors Charles & Dotty Schmitt (Founding Pastors)

Choir Ministration

Entrance to Café of the Nations

Kid Worship

Poetry Recital - Book of Ecclesiastes

Youth Dance Ministration

Worship In the Sanctuary

Youth Dance Ministration

Youth Dance Ministration

Worship Team

Cross Section of Congregation

Cross Section of Congregation

Rotunda - Flags of the Nations

Rotunda - Flags of the Nations

Cross Section of Congregation

Pastor Charles Schmitt

Holy Communion

Nation of the Week

Entrance to Café of the Nations

Poetry Recital - Book of Ecclesiastes

Youth Dance Ministration

Written by:
Frederick Nnoma-Addison

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