by Sue Conrad Howes, Mosaic Communication Associate
Pastor Bernard Séjour grew up in Haiti. While he was studying at Hesston (KS) College, he and his family attended a Mennonite church in the South Central Conference. His family were the only people of color in the congregation. Despite the cultural differences, Séjour felt comfortable in this church. He reflects, “They didn’t necessarily call you “brother and sister” but I was treated as such.” As a result, Séjour felt the need to go back to the Haitian community to show them this new way of loving.
In 2009, he felt called by God to go Philadelphia and work with the Haitian community. Séjour did not necessarily intend to lead or plant a church, but merely to bring another perspective on how to do church. “When I visited Haitian churches in Philadelphia, I knew it would be difficult for me as an ‘outsider’ to make change where change needed to be.”
For Séjour to pass along what he had learned in Kansas from the Mennonites, he started a Bible Study in a friend’s basement. “I learned from the Mennonites, whenever there is a meeting, there is also eating. So whenever we gathered, we started eating together … to open minds, to create relationships, to study the Bible,” recalls Séjour. Soon the group began to ask, as they read the Bible, “If Jesus were Haitian, what would Jesus do?” And, Séjour, says, “We let the Bible speak.”
The group spent time getting to know each other, reading the Bible, and reaching out to others. Soon they moved from the small basement to another member’s larger living room. Eventually, the group outgrew any of their homes and decided to rent a gathering place.
As the Bible study began to grow, Séjour suggested the movement have a name: “Solidarity & Harmony.” The name was suggested, according to Séjour, because this is the mission of being church, and “this isn’t happening in the Haitian churches …. We need to help each other because we are community and family.”
Through a connection from Hesston, KS, Séjour met Fred Kauffman, who worked for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Kauffman was instrumental in helping Séjour and the church get connected to Eastern District Conference and feeling like a congregation. In fact, Kauffman became Séjour’s “right hand,” not only helping him with church life, but also preaching once a month and being a wonderful friend. Sadly, Kauffman died in December 2019, leaving a significant legacy that the church desires to pass along.
During a typical worship service at Solidarity & Harmony, many languages are used because “God speaks all languages.” Songs are sung in English, Creole, and French. The children’s sermon is given in English. If there are guests, the rest of the service, including the sermon, will continue in English and French. If everyone present is Haitian, then they proceed using Haitian Creole.
Currently the congregation size is between 30-40, but immigrant churches fluctuate greatly, depending on the political situation, the economy, and where the work is. When members move away to follow work or for other reasons, Séjour works hard to keep them connected through social media groups.
Pastor Séjour and the congregation have a deep desire to celebrate God’s love with all people. “We are a loving people,” he explains. “Get to know someone else before you judge. Haiti is known for poverty, but do not discriminate against us because we are Haitian. We would like your love, not your money.”
Join with others to pray for these specific requests from the Solidarity & Harmony congregation:
- For better understanding of discrimination in our personal lives and in our world. Discrimination is not something God wants in the church. Pray for those who are discriminated against and for all those who discriminate.
- For God to continue to be God to all people.