The Mountain View community church of today is vastly different from the one Guy and Lorrie Kneebone left Iowa to begin almost exactly 25 years ago.
After meeting at Urbana High School for 13 years, the church now spans two campuses — one in Ballenger Creek and one in Urbana — and averages about 1,000 worshipers each week.
The congregation has also changed in ways other than size, said Guy Kneebone, the church’s senior pastor.
As Urbana has grown from a rural community to a more suburban one, it has become racially and ethnically diverse. Over the years, the racial and ethnic makeup of regular Mountain View attendees has followed suit.
On Sunday, the church held its second “Festival of Nations” to highlight the multitude of cultures represented in its congregation and give members the chance to share food and music from their home countries with each other.
“We live in a time when things can pull us apart in the world,” said David Moreno, Mountain View missions pastor and event organizer. “But this event is an opportunity to come together and celebrate each other’s differences, the beauty of each other’s cultures.”
Moreno, who grew up in Colombia, said there were a total of 23 countries represented at the festival.
Inside the church, worshipers danced to lively Christian music or strolled, balancing stacked paper plates of aromatic dishes. Many wore traditional clothing from their cultures or wore brightly colored football shirts representing their home countries.
Around the room were tables representing Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Honduras, El Salvador, Ukraine and a dozen other countries.
Near the door, Lionel Hounkanrin handed out Dixie cups filled with a dark magenta liquid – hibiscus tea, a traditional drink from his native Benin, which contains the hibiscus flower, as well as vanilla, sugar and cloves.
Hounkanrin, who has been attending Mountain View for about a year and a half with his wife and son, arrived in Frederick to study at Frederick Community College in 2006. He has been in America ever since.
On Sunday, he learned that other countries are serving a type of drink similar to West African hibiscus tea. Congregants from Mexico and El Salvador stopped by his table to share that they were already familiar with the drink, although people in their countries call it different names.
A few meters away, Marlene Facine eagerly displays an illustrated map of Ecuador, the country where she grew up. She pointed to Guayaquil – the port city where she is from, which borders the Pacific Ocean – and Quito, the country’s capital.
Facine moved to America in 1988, when she was young and naïve, she said with a laugh. She was happy to share three traditional dishes with her fellow worshippers, although one of them – empanadas – quickly sold out.
“Where there is food, there is happiness,” she said.
As the Mountain View congregation has changed, the church has changed with it. During services, people sometimes pray in their native language. One day, says Guy Kneebone, he hopes the church will be able to give sermons in Spanish, as well as English.
The mission of Mountain View congregation members is to reach their neighbors, the next generation and the nations for Christ, Kneebone said.
God loves everyone, he said, quoting verse 16 of the third chapter of the New Testament, which reads: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe in him not perish, but have eternal life. .”
“We are a church for everyone,” Kneebone said.
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