At the end of the New Testament’s Book of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” With sombreros, scarves, and international flags flying, with two police cruisers in the lead, some New Haven “disciples” tried to do exactly that.
They took on that task on Saturday as they staged a first-ever “Disciples of All Nations” parade.
The occasion: They were marking the 27th anniversary of their church, the Walk of Faith Church Disciples of Christ, on Fairmont Avenue in the Annex neighborhood.
The idea was to take literally and seriously the gospel injunction to get out there and evangelize among the nations. On a perfect day beneath a bright sun you couldn’t pick a better place to start than the multi-ethnic and multinational Fair Haven and Annex communities.
The parade formed up at that community’s geographical heart at Grand Avenue and Ferry streets.
There church Pastor Walter Williams spoke of how he used to lead the Thomas Chapel on White Street. In 1986 he decided to expand the work, as he put it, by forming his own congregation.
The congregation was soon established on Fairmont Avenue just off of Fulton with a solid brick church building on spacious grounds overlooking the port, the destination of Saturday’s parade.
“There are 15 or more nationalities” represented in the current 100-family congregation, said Williams. He wants even more.
“Are we proselytizing? Yes,” said Williams as he began distributing flyers with church information. He then turned aside and pasted on his plastic mustache with amusingly turned up ends. Why? Because of course he was leading the detachment from Ecuador.
Where did he get the idea that a big curly mustache was representative of Ecuador?
“In my imagination,” he said.
The parade was organized with eight different members responsible for creating an eight-unit or eight-country parade. Each unit had a car or costumed walking troops and each had to contain at least one native of its designated land: Jamaica, China, St Kits and Nevis, Poland, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, or Puerto Rico.
Since the church currently has no Polish or Chinese congregants, church members through work or their circle of friends did some recruiting, or evangelizing, as it were, for the parade.
At 11:20 a.m., parade organizer Terence Davis called out, “Politicians and pastors behind the flag” (which is pictured at the top of the story). Soon the troops were formed a line on foot and in cars. They moved out in front of C-Town traveling south on Ferry and tooting their horns behind a police cruiser.
The paraders included mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez and Fair Haven Heights Alderwoman Brenda-Jones Barnes, the only official and would-be official present, although all mayoral candidates and all area aldermen had been invited, according to church member and New Haven Livable City Initiative (LCI) staffer Linda Davis.
Cars honked, and sound truck played music and its operator called out “Ola, hallelujah” while passers-by waved.
Just beyond Exchange Street, Pastor Williams popped out of the parade line to shake hands and leave a flyer with Edwin Veraga (pictured). He and his dad Mario have owned VB Motors for eight years. He said he thought the parade a nice idea and said he might drop by at parade’s end at the church for all the ethnic presentation including food from the eight different lands.
As the procession ascended up the Ferry Street Bridge (pictured), Mary Riddick, who was walking with the Nevis detachment, said she has been a member of the church from the beginning. She heads its hospitality committee .
“We’re celebrating for the nations,” she said.
They Don’t Look Chinese
The parade proceeded down Farren, then turned right on Fulton and then onto Fairmont, where Shema Hobby (at the window in back seat), the church member leading Team China. Her friend from Dean College in Massachusetts, Mokyang Tok, who is from Hong Kong, planned to join them by Skype beneath the China tent when the parade reached the church grounds.
As each car pulled in, Pastor Williams extended greetings and thanks for participating. A Polish sport Mercedes pulled in with Izabela Maternowski, among others, inside. She was participating through her friendship with ten-year church member Janet Jackson because they are colleagues at work, at Hartford Hospital.
Maternowski’s daughter did not want to wear the beaded vest from Cracow, Poland, so her good friend, 7-year-old Chani McClain, happily wore it in the nations parade.
After he welcomed all the teams to the church grounds, Williams helped the Ecuador contingent get its propane tank set up so the grilling of the carne asada could begin.
The parade was the middle feature of an all-weekend celebration. On Friday night young people showed off their artistic talents with an international flavor. Then organizers put together a Sunday culminating worship service.
Other activities for the year include members receiving training in a program Williams called “Everyday evangelism: how to share the message of Christ in a non-combative way.”
Walk of Faith Church is growing, Williams said. That growth includes an upcoming merger this fall. The small New Birth Church of Christ on Nichol Street will cease operating in Goatville, and its 30 members will join Williams’s congregation in Fair Haven.