Eliot Presbyterian Church is a diverse community of Christian believers, learning about and sharing God's love through Jesus Christ.
We invite and welcome all people to worship and serve God with us.
After more than a century as a traditional New England congregation, Eliot Presbyterian Church began a multicultural ministry in the 1980s.
We began reaching out to refugees who came to Lowell fleeing the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Introduced to Christianity in refugee camps, these weary souls felt safe in a church. They trusted our mission to provide them with friendship, shelter, food, ESL, and acculturation in addition to a Sunday worship service.
Over time, many of the "strangers" we welcomed began new lives in Lowell, and became increasingly involved at Eliot. They formed a choir, singing hymns in Khmer. They were ordained as Deacons, taught Sunday school, served on committees, and became Elders. Three are now PCUSA leaders at the national level, serving on the Advisory Committee on Southeast Asian Ministries.
The Cambodians appreciate learning through worship and participation what it means to be a Christian and how to pass their faith on to their children. They meet on Saturday mornings for prayer and support and on Sunday mornings for Bible study before worship.
In 2007, Rev. Thysan Sam, once a Buddhist monk, ten years a member of Eliot, was ordained at Eliot as a minister of the word and sacrament. He is the second Cambodian to become a Presbyterian minister. Cambodians are now one-third of our membership.
In the 1990s, Eliot Church made a conscious decision to reach out to Lowell’s next wave of immigrants — Africans from many nations seeking relief from oppressive governments and economic hardship. As our two initial African members spread the word, more came, and we now delight in a large, vibrant group of all ages.
The African choir sings one Sunday a month and shows us how to move with the music. A member from Ghana organizes the multi-cultural crew that runs Eliot’s annual free Thanksgiving dinner for several hundred guests. Africans make up one third of our membership.
Among our members, we also count families and individuals who immigrated to Lowell from Taiwan, Scotland, Nicaragua, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Ireland. These, along with the “Anglos,” make up the remaining one-third of our church.
We have no predominant culture. We are one church, not a cluster of fellowships. We serve and reflect the urban melting-pot that is Lowell, Massachusetts.
Truly our congregation has been blessed with a diverse group of Christians. We have learned new dimensions of faith, hope, love, joy, and courage. Our founders gave us a deep understanding of mission, and they have become examples for us in becoming open to new ways and in remaining ever watchful for God's newest acts of love.
Each new group to join our congregation has added a layer of richness that we could never have imagined before their arrival. With the addition of each new ethnic group, we have also seen the addition of new Anglo members who have been attracted to the diversity at the table. There is a sense of excitement and energy that pulls us into this circle. There is a sense of anticipation for what God will have us do next.
Years ago, when many Cambodian immigrants joined Eliot, our Sunday-school classes filled with children who did not speak or read much English. Their presence raised a concern for some parents who feared it would lower the reading level of the classes. In fact, the immigrant children soon mastered English and brought a beautiful gift to Eliot Church from their culture: the example of how siblings can show love and care for each other. Today, our children's nativity pageant boasts a cast of African and Cambodian shepherds and angels and sheep.
The traditions of polity, the requirements of being a Session member and attending meetings — these too have presented challenges. Many of our members work two jobs, have families, and also go to school to advance themselves. They have no time to serve on committees. Many are not comfortable reading in English, and the Book of Order is difficult for them. Many of our practices require thoughtful explanation.
Our building dates from 1876. Along with its glorious space and beautiful painted glass windows come staggering upkeep costs. Many of our members work for minimum wage and have large families to support — children here and relatives in their countries of origin who rely on them. Offerings are not consistent. We are accustomed to being in the red and to dreading the fuel bills that arrive in the winter.
For many years, Eliot Church was very conscious of its cultural diversity and placed much focus on this aspect of our life as a church. We feel the Holy Spirit is gently freeing us from this burden of self-consciousness. In recent years, we find that we are easing into our diversity and relishing the simple activities that make us one.
We cook together. Eliot has a long tradition of serving meals to the homeless and the lonely. Once a month we work together to serve a meal for St. Paul's Kitchen in our building, and every few weeks, we prepare a meal together that we serve at the YMCA down the street. Something about chopping and stirring and baking in our kitchen promotes easy dialog and curiosity about each other’s cultures. When Eliot serves, guests are treated to such menus as fried plantains and fufu, stir-fry and egg rolls.
We sing together. We have three music groups – our Cambodian Choir, our African Fellowship Choir, and our traditional Inspiration Choir. One Sunday, when the Cambodian Choir sang How Great Thou Art in Khmer, a member from Ghana stepped forward to support their singing with African drumming, The spirit spread as many began to sing the chorus in their own languages. Unselfconsciously, we all praised God together.
We learn together and we pray together. We have an active Sunday school program. We read scripture and study the Bible study in all “our” languages. Occasionally, different groups set the Communion table with cloths woven or embroidered in their home of origin and serve wearing cultural dress.
We celebrate together. Our growing Cambodian, Anglo and African families offer us countless joyous opportunities — services of baptism and marriage, showers and feasts honoring special events. Sharing in the preparations and planning are natural exercises in cohesion and draw us together far more effectively than studying workbooks on inclusion. These events are also our most successful outreach strategies. People come to these events as guests and “want more of what they get at Eliot.” We realize that although there are all-Cambodian churches and all-African churches in the area, people choose Eliot because they feel at home.
We are blessed with faithful, long-time Anglo members who opened their hearts and their minds to the multicultural mission many years ago. How grateful we are for Yankee septuagenarians who dance up and down the aisles at the baptism of an African infant and respectfully place their hands together when passing the peace to a Cambodian member. Their vision helped build a new, lively, hopeful tradition in an old New England church.
Let us welcome you the next time you are in Lowell.