Bogotá’s many Christian churches closed their doors with the coronavirus outbreak and doing their part to mitigate infection among the faithful. Even though Lent has been as seriously disrupted as our lives with the national lockdown, it won’t be too long before religious services resume with plenty of social distancing in the pews.
So, if searching for a place of worship that speaks English in Bogotá, here, a few findings:
United Church of Bogotá
UCB refers to its mission as “a non-denominational, Bible-based Christian church.” It is also entirely English-speaking (although plenty of native Spanish speakers attend, and both pastors, Andrew Lupton and Andrew Baxley, speak Spanish as well). UCB has Sunday services at 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
Although all services are performed entirely in English, there are simultaneous translation services into Spanish available each week. All sermons are recorded and uploaded on the UCB website, and there are written Spanish translations of the sermon available as well. The congregation is diverse, with attendees from over 20 countries. They find the church not only a place to gather and worship in English, but to make friends.
“We get each other,” said Jeremy Young, a marketing professor at Pontifica Universidad Javeriana and UCB member. “Many of us are far from home, and we are looking for support and community,” he said. Young found the UCB through Google when he first arrived in Bogotá, nearly five years ago. He didn’t speak much Spanish at the time and wanted to meet like-minded friends in the area, as well as find a place to worship. He now serves as deacon at UCB and is part of the Promise Kids ministry, which serves underprivileged families in the community.
UCB also offers a number of home groups and other services for attendees. These include the biweekly Language Exchange program, the Young Adult Singles lunch group, the Young Adult Married group, and women’s and men’s Bible studies. www.ucbogota.com
Parroquia de Las Aguas
On the outside, Parroquia Nuestra Señora de las Aguas is a colonial Bogotá as colonial comes, constructed in 1644 and one of the oldest places of worship in historic La Candelaria. But this traditional-looking church is home to something unusual in the city: a Catholic mass in English every Sunday at 11 a.m.
Like any Catholic mass Las Aguas includes singing, the passing of an offering plate, readings from the Bible and communion. The singing, however, is led by Canadian priest Father John Roderick, a cappella. The offering bags are carried by small children not much bigger than the bags themselves. Bible readings are assigned at the start of the service to anyone who wants to participate; readers have a minute or two to look over their portions before walking to the pulpit. Attendees are from many parts of the world: Colombia, U.S., Canada, Italy, to name a few.
Nathan Macklin, a Las Aguas attendee who is two years into his four- year U.S. embassy posting in Bogotá, said he likes that Father John pays attention to the kids in the congregation. Macklin and his wife, Laura, have two daughters. “Most churches here are quiet and people don’t bring their kids,” said Laura Macklin. “So, this is really nice.”
Outside of the weekly English Mass, Father John is available to provide spiritual guidance or Confession upon request. If you would like more information about English masses at Las Aguas, send an email to: email@example.com and ask for Father John.
Nuestra Señora de Lourdes
The beautiful Nuestra Señora de Lourdes church is one of the best-known landmarks in Bogotá and has a little-known secret: English masses every Sunday at 11 a.m. Not in the main sanctuary though, but on the Calle 63A side of the church. The English masses are held in the oratory. It’s generally a small group, says Father Juan Carlos Osorio. “Between 15 and 34,” he said. “The largest group was 34. We almost didn’t have enough room.”
Father Juan Carlos, a Colombian, has been leading English masses at Lourdes since September of 2016, and performs weddings in English on request. He says attendees have come from many different countries, including India and the Philippines.
English Masses at Lourdes, like at Las Aguas, include song sheets and pianist accompanying the congregation. “I’m glad there’s a piano today,” said Steve Stoup, who attends with his wife, Paz Regina Ortíz. “It can be hard to sing without music.”
Stoup grew up Methodist in the U.S, but “was awful at it,” he says, laughing. He wasn’t religious until the age of 63 when he converted to his wife’s faith, Catholicism. They attend English Masses so Ortiz can practice her English. Alejandro Méndez, a Colombian music teacher, also attends to practice his English. His wife lived in the States for over twenty years, and he and his family plan to move there soon, so he wants to be able to speak well enough to work there.
“My favorite part of attending here is that I can meet different people Sunday to Sunday,” said Méndez. After the service, there is always a coffee-and-crackers hour to practice English and Spanish. www.basilicalourdesbogota.com.