Almuerzo Para El Alma

Display_NocheBuena_12242011By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Each Wednesday Trinity Presbyterian Church, in cooperation with Riverside Presbyterian Church and other partners, hosts a luncheon and worship service for day laborers and other needy Hispanic people in Herndon, Virginia. This luncheon has been held weekly now for seven years.

The typical schedule is simple. Around 11:15 a.m. the volunteers gather for prayer. At 11:30 a.m. a van and other cars pick up participants near the local 7-11. Lunch is served. Participants are asked to introduce themselves and say where they are from. Several sets of Latin praise music are played and sung.  A sermon is preached in Spanish (or translated in real-time from English). Everyone is dismissed with prayer. The van and other cars then return participants to the 7-11.

Since July, I have been a weekly volunteer. My role is normally to assist in picking up and dropping participants, hang with the participants during lunch, and watching the worship leader’s kids while he sings and plays. I preached once in September and everyone was graciously attentive to my mumbling in Spanish. The volunteers, including the pastors, are all highly motivated because we know that for many participants this is their only church. Lunch is important but participants come for more than simply the food.

Participants come from many Latin counties, but primarily from Central America—especially El Salvador and Honduras. It is humbling to speak with participants. Most day laborers live a hand-to-mouth existence working only a couple of days each week—enough to survive and occasionally send checks home to their families. Many have been here in the U.S. for over a decade and still speak little or no English and live in virtual obscurity. Conversation focuses on encouraging them to open up and share.

Several observations come out of these conversations. The first observation is that most participants are Christians and their spirituality runs deep. Few are Presbyterians; many are Pentecostals; almost all have a Catholic upbringing. This observation is obvious watching Spanish language television—shows are mostly family oriented; people pray and consult their pastor in times of adversity. The second observation follows from the first. Because most participants are Christians, the number of participants with social problems (addictions, psychiatric issues, etc) is low when compared with a typical food bank or shelter population. The third observation is that the problem of narco-trafficking in Central America has seriously impacted many participants. For example, one regular participant recently had two sons murdered by drug gangs who randomly stop people on the street, exhort money, and shoot people unable to provide cash on demand. The fourth observation is that the recent shutdown in the Federal government has hurt local employment.

Attendance at the luncheon has grown dramatically in recent weeks.  Typically attendance in the summer was15 to 20 guests.  In the fall after the Federal shutdown, attendance doubled and tripled the summer rate.  For Thanksgiving, we had over 80 guests.  For Christmas, we had 280.  While there is normally an uptick in need in the winter, guests that I have spoken to in recent weeks have seen little or no work.

November 15, 2013 marked the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism. The first question in the catechism[1] remains most meaningful: What is your only comfort in life and in death? The answer begins: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. At Almuerzo para el Alma, we serve body and soul.

Reblogged from NCP Online Monthy (

[1] Faith Alive Christian Resources.  2013. The Heidelberg Catechism.  Online:  Date: 30 August, 2013.

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Barnes Interprets Heidelberg; Offers Postmodern Reading

Barnes_10152013M. Craig Barnes.  2012.  Body & Soul:  Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism.  Co-published:  Grand Rapids:  Faith Alive and Louisville:  Congregational Ministries Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

November 15, 2013 is the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).  The HC famously begins with this question:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?  The answer is:  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (165).  The HC consists of a 129 questions with answers structured in much the same manner.

The HC is straightforward, yet a bit intimating.  Many protestant communicants continue to study it, yet the prospect of being tested on its contents is intimating—and not only for teens.  The appeal of a short book which talks about the theology and origins of the HC is obvious.

Author Craig Barnes (biography at: is an intriguing candidate to write an introduction to the HC.  Dr. Barnes has a doctor of philosophy in church history and began 2013 as the new president of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He was previously on the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of a church.  Perhaps most interesting is that he also serves as a professor of pastoral ministry.  Being a professor of pastoral ministry implies that his primary job is to teach aspiring pastors the art of pastoring.   It is interesting that this pastor to pastors has placed a high priority on communicating the details of the HC—I like his priorities.

Body and Soul is organized in six chapters around the structure of the HC itself.  Before the HC discussion is an introduction.  After the discussion is a reproduction of the HC itself and a brief set of notes on the history.  The HC reproduced is the new 1988 translation from the German and Latin complete with the scriptural references that were previously not readily available.  This translation represents collaboration between the Christian Reformed Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America (163).

Chapter 1 is entitled:  The Only Comfort—question 1 (abstracted above).  The chapter starts with three vignettes of people lost in pain—a pastor coming home from a funeral; a firefighter having trouble making ends meet; and a new widower visiting his wife’s grave.  The chapter then proceeds through a number of contemporary problems.  The headings are descriptive:  contemporary anxiety; is religion the answer; an inheritance of faith; help from the sixteenth century; a holy conversation; my only comfort; I belong; to my faithful savior.  Barnes makes a compelling case that the HC is 450 years old but still very applicable to the problems we face today.

Body and Soul is a neat little book. Barnes is an artful story teller who is able to bring amazing historical and theological insights into his presentation of the HC.  Barnes’ stories make his written accessible to a wide audience, much like the Q&A format of the HC itself.

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