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English Circle Builds Church Community

Food and fellowship are big at United Methodist churches. A Maryland congregation took this hospitality a step further. Members reached out to clients of the church food pantries to ask what other ways they could enhance life in their community. When neighbors asked for more help learning languages, a popular social group called the English Conversation Circle was formed.

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(Silver Spring, Maryland)

Jayne: “What would you like today?”

Pedro: “I want to buy a sandwich.”

Xiong: "I need a bread."

Participant: “What kind of meat?”

Xiong: “Buffalo. Buffalo chicken.”

Pedro: “Italian bread. 12-inch.”

Each week at Silver Spring United Methodist Church in Maryland, language classes and lots of laughter build community.

Xiong: “Do you need a toast? Oh, no no. What kind of cheese?” (both laugh)

The English Conversation Circle is a place where English learners can practice with native speakers, and English speakers can brush up on their Spanish.

Pedro: “You. How many brothers and sisters?” Pastor Joey: “Una hermana.”

Jayne Park, Silver Spring United Methodist Church: “Our belief is that everybody in the community has something to teach and to offer one another. And so this is sort of our effort to create a space where people can come together across lines of difference to teach and support one another.”

The circle was created after clients of the church’s fresh produce pantry expressed an interest in practicing language skills with native speakers.

Pedro: “I tried for everything to learn English. For that reason, I here in these classes.”

The Rev. Rachel Cornwell Silver Spring United Methodist Church: “There are lots of social service agencies that are feeding people, clothing people, teaching people English. We’re not a social service agency. We’re a church. We’re followers of Jesus. And so, you know, it is about meeting an immediate need. But it’s also building a relationship and being neighbors.”

Xiong Hao Lin enjoys learning American traditions and sharing about his native China. Linn feels a genuine connection to “the circle.”

Xiong Hao Lin: “For foreigner, we don’t have the many friends here. So, lonely is always a problem.”

Xiong: “American cheese. Toasted.”

In many cultures, food is a way of welcoming. This congregation runs a variety of feeding ministries from fresh and canned good food pantries to making sandwiches for emergency food programs. These efforts are starting conversations and bringing new people to church.  

The Rev. Rachel Cornwell: “It’s intentional, when you walk into church you see the food ministry. And when you walk out you see the food ministry. And when people come to be fed, they see the sanctuary.”

Silver Spring’s mission statement is to “Feed people body, mind and spirit so that no one goes hungry.”

Jayne Park: “Too often in our efforts to help and support people we end up making them feel marginalized and as if they have nothing themselves to contribute to the community and to others. And so this is really our effort to create space where people who are traditionally thought of as needy can come into space and to enter into relationships with us and others and help to teach us.”

(Group interaction) “Meteorology… weather.” Pedro: “Like on TV.”

Xiong Hao Lin: “They invited me to join to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. I have great fun with them."

Pedro: “For me, new friends. (points around the room) Very nice for me.”


For more information on the English Conversation Circle or to find out how you can volunteer, contact Silver Spring United Methodist Church at 301-587-1215.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
This video was first posted in May, 2015.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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