From 1884 until recently, the Bridgeport church that currently houses Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors Lutheran Church was known as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. But over the last 127 years, the congregation has become increasingly insular and removed from the growing diverse contingent of neighbors surrounding it, and it was time for a change.
So says the Rev. Jonathan Hevita, pastor and spiritual leader of the church and the first person from the nation of Namibia to be ordained as a full-fledged church leader in the history of the Evangelical Church in America.
“The previous church had not taken as much of an active role in the championing of most of the denizens of Bridgeport as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America would have liked,” said Hevita. “So, as a result of the deeply entrenched, centuries-old lack of interconnection between the old St. Paul’s and the outlying community at large, I took it upon myself to engage with the people of Bridgeport in my new capacity as the new pastor of the new Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors to ensure that a new course and a new ministry of cooperation and compassion would be the new banner of hope and heroism for this venerable building.”
Recently, the minister penned a sermon in which he drew parallels to the struggle of people of faith and diverse backgrounds in the 21st century and the legendary exodus of the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt.
“As I see a new upsurge of political, sociological and historical innovation in Connecticut’s most diverse, intellectually expansive city, I feel fervently that the only way to achieve salvation and recognize our greater calling to longevity and freedom lies not in taking the route most generally traveled, but rather in understanding that the power of the spirit is only emancipated by the willingness of the population to rise out of their comfort zones and strike out into the resplendent, intelligent unknown,” he explained.
In his home nation, wracked by the terrors of political rage, incendiary warfare and apartheid, the reverend grew up in a world where men and women were subjected to cruel and unspeakably heinous acts of insensitivity and savagery beyond the realms of imagination for most Americans.’
“I know firsthand what warfare, ignominious degradation of the human soul and the vulgarities of the dark side of human nature can inflict from a very personal level as I lost my own older brother, Boetie, when he joined a side in the protracted civil war in Namibia, which resulted in the senseless slaughter of so many thousands of my country,” recalled the minister.
Hevita feels he understands the heartache and pain that so many of his parishioners, neighbors and friends in this Bridgeport community feel as they contend with the heart-wrenching loss of their loved ones and family members to the despair of the mean streets.
“To my chagrin, whenever I asked longtime residents about their opinions about this particular church, I invariably received replies of, ‘Well, that’s that old German Social Club pretending to be a church,’ or ‘Oh, that’s the place that doesn’t have any place for people of color,’ said Hevita.
However, as the congregation of St. Paul’s vacated and he was asked to create a new chapter there, Hevita renamed the church Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, wishing to hearken to the story of Joseph, son of Jacob from the book of Genesis, who had been gifted with the power of dream divination and a multi-colored tunic from his father.
A bond of diversity
“We have constantly reforged a powerful new bond with a multilingual, multicultural congregation, which has grown to about fifty regular parishioners over just the last three months, with more coming to us every day with life issues, concerns about their livelihood and great questions about their personal dilemmas of today as well as thoughts about their spiritual life beyond this one,” he said.
As the church operates under a vision of renaissance and renewal, Hevita hopes to create a wealth of new and exciting programs aimed at education, intellectual substance and the creation of cultural breadth and scope.
Programs for youth
One such program is the Teen Mother Education Initiative and College-Bound Mom, a coordinated set of educational programs dedicated to ensuring that young single mothers, who have temporarily interrupted their own education as a result of having children at a very young age, pursue the goal of attaining higher education.
“This program will be run and overseen by Paula Dofat, an experienced leader in community activism and an extraordinarily gifted professional educator with over a decade of experience as a formal teacher at the high school level,” said Hevita.
The church is also creating a spoken word/live music/thespian and theatre arts program for people between the ages of 13 and 21 to hone, craft and recognize their innate qualities for artistic quality and the “potent majesty of both the written and poetically intoned word,” explained Hevita.
“This program is actually run by one of Connecticut’s most esteemed scholars of African music, spoken word and thespian arts, Robert Jefferson, who brings an extensive cache of experience in both performing and instruction stretching back over 40 years,” said Hevita.
Another program for young people who have forsaken their formal education was designed to reintegrate them into a concept of excellence in education called the After School Academy.
“As well, we have created a Multi-Cultural/Urban Young Life Club, which takes place every Friday night here at Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors between 7 and 10 p.m.,” he said.
The church’s Urban Young Life Club was created to provide a safe, positive outlet and place for personal expression for young people in the city as an alternative to pursuing some of the more “tacitly derailing influences lying all around,” said Hevita, while the Multi-Cultural Club has been designed to meet the varying spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the community’s youth from the evangelical point of view.
“Both of these programs are headed by Barrabas Duberry, a brilliant youth organizer and fervent supporter of the best that our young people can possibly become,” Hevita said.
For older folks
There is also a program for people aged 50 and up called EXCEED! “With EXCEED!, we are introducing our most venerable senior citizens to the technological marvels of computers, along with the skills to navigate such wonders as the World Wide Web, computer data processing and the like so as to facilitate the transition of so many people in this age demographic into new, state-of-the-art lifestyles and professional positions,” the minister said. “This program is overseen by Maxine Hines, president of the Caribbean World Chamber of Commerce.”
Neighbors to Neighbors (www.LSSNE.org/N2N.aspx) is a partnership program between Fairfield County Lutheran Churches and Lutheran Social Services designed to help those suffering from the debilitating effects of infirmity, sickliness and destitution with companionship, lifestyle accommodation such as shopping and cleaning, and simply accomplishing the task of helping people in dire need with the most basic amenities of life and learning.
“The coordinator for this program is Jeanette Harris, a prolific social activist, spiritual counselor and liberator of fractured lives,” Hevita said.
“I firmly believe that faith in God and the Creator of the universe will inevitably connect you to the power of God, and this experience will lead one to the place wherein one’s own journey begins,” Hevita stated.
“In my case, as a result of my own journey into the realms of my own spiritual evolution, I found myself in my own native Namibia during the liberation struggle against apartheid, wherein I happened upon a woman in a hospital weeping copiously as her husband died from wounds inflicted upon him by the racist white South Africans. In my capacity as a pastor, I inquired about her woes. After recalling the direness of the situation, I offered my condolences. However, even in the midst of her unimaginable pain, she still told me with great dignity that God is present, even in the midst of her pain and suffering,” he said.
“Hence, I feel empowered to bring this sort of positive sense of renewal and change here to the beleaguered city of Bridgeport. Even as Bridgeport suffers under the onus of disenfranchisement, spiritual ennui, violence, depreciation of the human spirit and decimation of the educational system, I wish to ensure that my ministry at Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors will be a beacon of hope wherein God is always omnipresent, omnipotent and always creating viable solutions for the malaise that people suffer, everywhere,” he said.