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“Syttende Mai” and “Cinco de Mayo”

May 17th, 2009 by Beth A. Lewis

My husband worshipped in a Lutheran church in Arizona this morning where “Syttende Mai” was celebrated. The 17th of May is Norwegian Constitution Day. I am guessing that there are quite a few Lutheran congregations that made mention of this heritage day during worship services today.

But, did we celebrate “Cinco de Mayo“, Mexican independence day, on May 5? Probably not quite so many Lutheran or other mainline Christian denominations celebrated this heritage day.

And yet, as we strive to be followers of Jesus who welcome the stranger, wouldn’t we be better disciples of Jesus to celebrate the latter rather than the former? There aren’t too many Norwegian immigrants coming to our North American shores these days. But, there are quite a few of God’s people coming to North America from Mexico! What are we doing to invite them to God’s table?

Authors Stephen Bouman and Ralie Deffenbaugh, in their book They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration connect God’s story of the people of the Bible as people who were strangers, but welcomed to the stories of Lutheran immigration from northern Europe to North America in the 17th through early 20th centuries. They site three reasons for immigration of both the people of the Bible and Northern European Lutheran immigrants: because of family ties, because of economic need/work opportunity, and for freedom. They note that these three reasons haven’t changed through the centuries. As they write, “The Bible is full of companions on the road. We must link the feet of our biblical ancestros with the feet of our immigrant grandparents and with the feet of our new neighbors.”

This is a fine book for individual reading (which is what I’m doing), for small group study or for congregational book clubs.

We talk about being warm and welcoming Christians. Stephen Bouman and Ralie Deffenbaugh challenge us to put that talk into action. And, given their expertise, Stephen as Executive Director for the Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission unit of the ELCA and Ralie as President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, their voices are well worth heeding.


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Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress
  • I hate to nit pick but Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is a very small holiday in Mexico but one that is widely recognized by Mexicans in the United States as a way to embrace and support their cultural heritage.

    I agree that there’s a need of the Lutherans to reach out to not only Mexicans but whatever local immigrant group predominates in their local area. Living in NYC, depending on your neighborhood, we have Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and many other groups. Not all would welcome a Cinco de Mayo celebration but I think all would welcome being a part of a church that celebrates and allows immigrants to tell their story and feel grounded in their new homes.

  • Beth A. Lewis

    Thanks for the correction! We live and learn! Of course, you exactlly nailed my overall point…that we need to be welcoming of all people in our congregations, honoring their traditions, as we honor those of the majority of Northern European descent. I believe that our congregations and our lives as Lutheran Christians will be enriched if we will open our doors and our hearts to immigrants from around the globe!

    I had a conversation with a relative who lives in a small midwestern town about a year ago about the number of signs I saw as I drove to his farm that were in Spanish. He scowled a bit. I then started talking about how the farm workers from Mexico and Guatemala were doing exactly what his grandfather did….coming to the USA to make a living and provide for their families and he provided for his. This particular relative’s eyes got quite big and he became very quiet. It was clear that this parallel path was a new thought for him. He is a devout Christian, active in his Lutheran congregation. But the thought that these newcomers were settling here for the same reason his grandfather had settled here was clearly a new concept. I pray that as each of us has conversations like this we will be able to help people be more invitational to others. There is certainly ample evidence in the Bible that this is what Jesus urges us to do!

    Thanks, again, for your note re: Cinco de Mayo.


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