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Diverse Kennewick congregation includes three languages


For Pentecost, worshipers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kennewick prayed, sang and read Scriptures in three languages spoken by members—Spanish, Arabic and English.

St Paul's Episcopal Church, Kennewick
Bishop Jim Waggoner, Jr, baptizes young man at St. Paul's

In addition to the congregation’s cultural diversity with six Sudanese refugee families, there are about 20 Spanish speaking families. The rest of about 80 family units who regularly attend the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services speak English.

Their diversity extends beyond language to include some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members, and people from “little bitty ones to gray-haired folks,” said Jody Lediard, pastor for four years.

Members also work in diverse jobs in the Tri Cities—at Hanford, at Tyson, on farms, in business and health care, and as engineers, laborers and more, she added.

Since Spanish-speaking members joined after the Church of Our Savior in Pasco closed, St. Paul’s uses some Spanish in each service. 

The Sudanese speak English, Arabic and tribal languages.  They spoke Arabic in refugee camps after fleeing the civil war. Many also speak English because Sudan was colonized by the British. That’s why many are Anglican.”

Other Sudanese in the area are Catholic, Lutheran and Baptists.

“At Pentecost, we celebrate the many tongues people speak,” she said.  “With Jesus in our midst, we are all able to understand the language of love.”

At coffee hour after worship each week, the members interact, coming to know and understand each other as they listen and seek to learn about each other, each other’s cultures and perspectives on local to global events.

When Sudanese, Spanish speakers and English-speaking members encounter racism, they talk about it.  For example, they recently discussed and prayed for the people involved in the police shooting of a mentally ill Hispanic young man in Pasco.  

“Spanish speakers shared their feelings.  We all learned,” said Jody.  “When things like that happen, we need to talk.”

Some do not speak English, and some do not speak Spanish, so each week they choose words to learn in Spanish and English.  Jody is also studying Spanish.

“Our lives are richer when we listen to people who say things in different ways because of their different languages,” she said.  “When we understand something from a different culture or point of view it enriches our lives.

“Words are important.  How we say things is important.  We all speak the language of being human.  Our humanity includes loving each other,” she said.  “Language helps us understand why people think as they do.”

Jody has also learned Spanish roots of some English words and finds that Spanish, a romantic language, often “says things in tender ways.” 

The first language of some children before kindergarten is Spanish.  After they go to school, many speak better English than their parents.

For anyone who thinks everyone should learn English, Jody reminds: Jesus did not speak English.

“I educate people to be open to different cultures,” she said.

People also learn about each other’s customs and music. The Sudanese women sing a capella and teach the congregation some traditional, repetitive songs, accompanied by drums and tambourines. Spanish speakers also sing once a month, and teach their traditional music. 

There are several Spanish prayer books and songbooks, but when the congregation sings a song in another language, Jody prints it in the bulletin.

St. Paul's Sudanese partners
St. Paul's Episcopal church has a relationship with Wampologoma Anglican Church and School in Norther Uganda.

Erina Moda, who came to Kennewick three years ago to be with her daughters, Florence Elizai and Betty Kweri, who came in 2005, recently visited family in Northern Uganda where St. Paul’s relates with an Anglican church and school in Wampologoma. 

Recently Bishop Ezekial Kondo of the Episcopal Diocese of Khartoum, Sudan, came and presided at a service.

For two years, St. Paul’s has raised money for the Sudanese church in Uganda to put on a roof, and install windows and a floor.

Jody listed some fund raisers:

• The church plans a Sudanese weekend this summer to share about the Sudanese church.

• Youth do car washes.  Most in the youth group are Sudanese.

• Members collect aluminum cans to sell for recycling. 

• Members bring traditional food to sell after church. 

• Some just give donations. 

• The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane has also helped.

• Some sewed a quilt that was raffled at a recent neighborhood block party. 

“We have raised $3,000, which goes far there,” said Jim Carter, senior warden at St. Paul’s.  “Our church wires funds directly to the director of the project. 

English speakers, Spanish speakers and Sudanese each bring food to sell, said Jody, who is in her 14th year as a priest.

Her husband, Dan, came five years ago to be priest at the Episcopal Church in Hermiston.  Both served churches in Nevada.  She was helping at Hermiston, when she learned St. Paul’s needed a priest.

“I have served diverse churches before, mostly with a mix of Native Americans and Anglos in Northern Nevada,” she said.

Jody spent 30 years as a nurse and entered ministry as a second career.  She was locally trained over 10 years in Nevada.

Among parallels she finds in these careers is awareness that everyone has times of physical, spiritual, mental and emotional pain.  Helping in those times and listening are key to being a nurse and pastor, she said.

Jody told of St. Paul’s other ministries.

Two years ago, the church opened its building for the Quest Youth Center.  LGBT and homeless youth come for food, clothing and counseling after school on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  There is a meal on Friday.  Pride, which advances equality for LGBTQ people, also meets at the church.

The church is also starting a community garden and food bank.

A group meeting one Saturday a month is learning to sew to make new clothing and to “recycle” clothing—making things fit. 

For information, call 509-582-8635 or visit

Copyright © June 2015 - The Fig Tree