Micronesians continue worshiping at Christ Lutheran — for now

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Impassioned: A boy at a recent service of the Apostolic Church International of Micronesia in Guilderland shakes his fist as a song says, “I don’t know what you came for, but I came to praise the Lord.” See image gallery.

GUILDERLAND — A young girl in a yellow dress with bright flowers stands barefoot on the altar and sways gently as she sings in a clear, high voice. After her come the boys, who volunteer or are called up one by one to “preach,” each starting out with a yelled “Praise the Lord” and including in his brief, impassioned sermon at least one Bible verse in English.

From the pews come occasional cries of “Brother!” in encouragement. After the boys come the teens and men. Even the drummer and the electric guitarists and keyboardists drop their role as accompanists to take their turn at the microphone.

“Our service is in our language, so you may not understand everything, but just let the Holy Spirit wash over you,” says Pastor Robert Raed at one point in English, speaking from the altar directly to a reporter.

About 85 people, nearly all from the state of Chuuk in Micronesia, have gathered as they do every Sunday afternoon at the Christ Lutheran Church on Western Avenue for a service in their native Austronesian language of Chuukese. About half of the congregants are children.

[Related: Christ Lutheran Church closes: Other uses of the building to continue for now]

The children are not shushed and silenced, but are incorporated into the service. When the boys sing along with the gospel-rock songs, they sound as if they’re shouting. The girls, quieter, raise their arms above their heads. People clap. When infants fuss, no one hurries them out.

Asked about this, Raed said, “We have to adjust to it, because we don’t want anybody to miss the service.” During the service, he said of children, “We don’t mind them shouting to God.” He added, “During the preaching, we make sure they don’t make noise, with the best of our ability.”

He said that the May 5 service happened to include a “preach-o-rama,” something the congregation does occasionally as it tries to make sure children grow up knowing what the church teaches.






The Federated States of Micronesia is about 8,000 miles away from Guilderland, in the northern Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines, south of Saipan, and north of Papua New Guinea. FSM is made up of 607 islands comprising four states.

The state of Chuuk has the largest population of the four states, with almost 47,000 residents, according to the United States Department of the Interior. Chuuk has a vast, shallow lagoon, coral reefs, and many small islands.

The church has visitors from other islands in Chuuk, but all of the members of his congregation are from Chuuk’s outer islands, and the majority are from an island called Nama, Raed said.

This church congregation is part of the Apostolic Church International of Micronesia, which dates from the 1980s, according to Raed. It was started by a Micronesian pastor who had originally gone to California in the 1970s and been converted there to the United Pentecostal Church. He was ordained and returned to the islands in about 1983 and started the church. It is identical in beliefs to the United Pentecostal Church, Raed said, with the only difference being the language.

Raed, who is 30, said he grew up in Chuuk, steeped in the church, knowing the doctrines. “We had our own pastor, who came and trained us,” he said.

People from FSM can immigrate freely to the United States, without a visa, Raed explained, because of the 1986 Compact of Free Association between the two countries. The compact was renewed for 20 years in 2003 and will be up for renewal in 2023.

Raed came to the United States in 2003 and attended high school in Texas, where his brother lived. Upon graduation, he said, he decided to “stick with the ministry, taking care of the flock.” He was appointed to come to the Albany-Guilderland area to start a church, he said.

The church began with 15 or 20 people meeting in his living room. It moved first to the New Covenant Presbyterian Church on Western Avenue, Raed said, and then to its current location at Christ Lutheran, where it has been since about 2011.

The members of his church represent about half the Chuukese people in the Capital District, Raed said. “If all the Chuukese come together and join us,” he said, “we’d probably be full in the church.” He says his congregation of about 90 is comprised of 15 or 20 families.

But, he said of the Chuukese who do not attend, “Some of them want to enjoy what the world’s still enjoying. We try to offer them the Word.”

Raed and his wife are parents to six children, five of whom attend Mohonasen schools. The oldest is in 10th grade and the youngest will start kindergarten in the fall.

The pastor works as a janitor at the University at Albany. Some of the men in the congregation work there with him as custodians, he said.

Others work for United Airlines on the airport ramp. “It’s cold,” he said. Some have found work at BJ’s Brewhouse as dishwashers.

Some of the women work at Walmart, stocking shelves at night, or as cashiers. Other women have found employment at the HIlton Garden Inn near the airport, or with the company Trans World Entertainment, he said.

After the service on May 5, nearly every person, including the children, in the congregation came up and shook a reporter’s hand in welcome.

For now, the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will allow the Micronesians to continue to worship at Christ Lutheran for about a year, said retired pastor of the Lutheran Church, Russell Craig, while the district assesses potential future uses. The Micronesian congregation pays a donation of $1 per person each time, to use the church, said Raed.

“We would like to use this building,” he said. “It depends on the cost.” Raed would love to buy it, “if we could afford it,” he said; he expects that the price would be high.

“If there’s any way we could rent each month, we would gladly rent it,” he added.

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