Elim: A new Latino faith community birthed in Coatesville

By John W. Coleman

As it celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, Olivet UMC in Coatesville is once again a cradle welcoming a new birth. A small group gathered there on Monday, May 1, to celebrate the advent of what they hope will be a new faith community to draw members from this area’s growing Latino community.

Four trained and ready Latina church planters, all from the thriving, aptly named New Birth (Nuevo Nacimiento) UMC in Lebanon, were anointed during the celebration to undertake this new adventure. They will travel the distance to Coatesville weekly to do what New Birth UMC church planter Jose Albarron has been doing for months at St. Matthew’s UMC in Reading: live out Jesus’ Great Commission among their own people.

As planters circulate, network and foster relationships among growing Latino populations in these communities, historic churches like Olivet and St. Matthew’s are opening their doors to provide new places for new people to gather for Spanish-language Bible study and bilingual worship and ministry.

The Rev. Elena Ortiz, New Birth UMC’s lead pastor and gifted coach, along with her apprentices Luz Aponte, Ivelisse Berrios and Madeline Amil, comprise the Coatesville team of planters. They devised the name of the new faith community from the first initials of their own names: ELIM, a name also inspired by Scripture.

Elim was an oasis in the desert where the Israelites camped following their Exodus from Egypt. Exodus 15:27 and Numbers 33:9 refer to it as a place where “there were twelve wells of water and seventy date palms,” and the Israelites “camped there near the waters.”

Thanks to Olivet, located near the waters of the Brandywine River, the quartet of church planters will soon be inviting residentes of this historic, diverse but economically struggling community to encamp with them in ministry at the new Elim.

“We give thanks for this oasis in the desert,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Southeast District Superintendent, who helped shepherd this new venture. “Please continue to pray for our planters and this ministry.”

She collaborated with the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Coordinator of the Eastern PA Conference Congregational Development Team, as well as pastors and leaders of several churches in the new South District that contributed generous funds to support this new endeavor.

“This is the kind of sharing among churches to support new ministries and faith communities that I really want to see more of,” said Hendrickson, who is searching for creative opportunities to help start new churches more affordably.

The Coatesville outreach effort was a vision of Pastor Ortiz, who has taught several New Birth apprentices how to start and grow house churches and faith communities. Conversations and negotiations followed the vision, Hendrickson said, leading to the launch of Elim.

In addition to visiting and praying with residents, learning the community, and attending local events and activities, the women will start Bible studies and organize community events at Olivet, including a concert with praise music and dance on Saturday, July 29, at 4 PM. It may feature some of the remarkable musicians who provide energetic, inspirational worship experiences at New Birth in Lebanon.

“I give thanks to these faithful church planters from New Birth,” said Taylor-Storm, “but also to our district churches, the Congregational Development Team and Olivet UMC, all for their essential support of this new ministry.”