This is Part I of “At The Border,” a three-part series following the journey of hope that La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio is on, involving church-planting, reconciliation, and immigration in Eastside San Antonio, TX. Here, SP staff Jennie and Mark Cloherty share their vision for their church to be central to community transformation.
While living in the United Kingdom, Jennie and Mark Cloherty were discerning a full-time call to urban ministry. They felt particularly called to church-planting, but they never anticipated what would come with church in Eastside San Antonio, Texas.
For some time, Servant Partners had been partnering with a local church in Eastside San Antonio. But after God invited Jennie and Mark to move into this neighborhood, they observed a clear and pressing need for a church plant that supported their primarily low-income, immigrant community.
“We just feel a church is the catalyst for everything that happens that's positive in this community,” Mark said. “Unfortunately, this community has a history of the church being segregated. Maybe some churches not being as active in the community as they could be. And we wanted to build a church that represented the whole neighborhood.”
Jennie and Mark planted La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio four years ago, and now the church body of 100 is made up completely of people who live in this neighborhood. In empowering local leaders and engaging the community in multiple ways, this church plays a key role in personal and community transformation in Eastside San Antonio.
“There's a need in our community, mostly for a church to be really central in holistic change in our communities,” Jennie said. “Not just an organization here or a faith-based project here; we really wanted to see a church coming around [our] own community and offering the things the community needs.”
Through La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio, Jennie and Mark are joining neighbors in asking questions like: How can the church come around this collective need of ours? How can we connect with others in the city doing similar things? How can we build up this community from the inside out?
“We want the church to be integral as the city grows,” Mark said. “We want to give voice to our neighbors through the church, to talk about the good things and the challenges.”
By 2040, San Antonio is projected to add at least 1 million people to its population. As this traditionally affordable city burgeons and expands, Jennie and Mark share a growing conviction that the church should stand at the center of it. La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio works with neighbors to uplift the Eastside’s voices on housing issues and gentrification. They work with legal advocates to navigate the complex, strenuous world of immigration. They coordinate several sports teams in the community, building relationships with families in the city.
“God has overturned and expanded much of what we knew about church-planting,” Mark said. “For example, we’ve learned that our work requires a great deal of patience. This is a slow work.”
Indeed, the work of church-planting and community transformation is slow—but worth it. This church is a shining reflection of Jesus’ light in the neighborhood, boldly beaming into the places of darkness in San Antonio’s Eastside. You can follow La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio’s journey here, and partner with Jennie and Mark’s work here.
“At The Border” is a series following the journey of hope that La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio is on. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we explore how La Iglesia Luz en el Barrio is cultivating reconciliation and relationship in a largely segregated city.