U-C: What I See

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A few thoughts on multicultural churches

I've been thinking a lot about multicultural churches over the past couple of months. I went to the multicultural conference in Dallas back in April, and I was very impressed by what I saw. As I’ve worked with Valerie in the Louisville office to determine priorities for my travel and visits, we’ve agreed to focus on multicultural churches wherever possible in order to encourage their work and be able to share their stories.

At the moderator’s conference in Louisville the third week of November (a conference I get to plan for moderators of Presbyteries from across the country), we’ve agreed to focus on the challenges and opportunities in building the multicultural church.

In the first few months of my time as moderator, I’ve spent time in several churches that are making a serious attempt to build a multicultural community. They are diverse in their approaches. One thing that is becoming clear to me is that, like most churches, there are no guarantees of success, and those that are successful know that they can never stop being intentional about their work in building culturally diverse communities.

In order to qualify as multicultural, there must be above twenty percent non European-American members. There are many different models (an anglo church nesting a new or developing church, a church that remains essentially a “traditional” U.S. Presbyterian worship service but has racial diversity, churches that are trying to embrace a variety of cultures in their worship, congregations that are attempting to move with a neighborhood as it shifts from European American to multicultural to an entirely different make-up, congregations that bring a strong focus on trying to work on racism, etc.

Here are quick descriptions of the first ones that I’ve seen (in the order in which I’ve visited them):

Westminster: This is the small church in Trenton that I spoke about in my speech before the General Assembly. What I love about this one is that its group of older white folks made a strong commitment to reach out to their changing neighborhood and to change their own understanding of church in order to become genuinely relevant to their community. Worship is vibrant, and they’ve embraced dvd technology and Christian hip hop style music to reach out to the young people, although they’ve continued to hold onto some aspects of their traditional service as well.

Oakhurst: http://home.earthlink.net/~oakpres/. This is a successful middle-sized church well-known for its thirty year effort to become a genuinely multi-cultural church in Decatur GA, just outside of Atlanta. Its pastors, Nibs Stroupe and Caroline Leach (who are married), are kind of the gurus of multicultural and anti-racism work in the Presbytery and across the denomination. There’s also an interesting attempt to really work on racism both in their Presbytery and through an ecumenical effort in the area that works to partner 75 African American and 75 European American churches with one another. Different cultural styles of worship are consciously blended together in this church, and like my own multicultural church in Tucson, worship often runs to two hours in order to do justice to the different cultural and worship commitments in the congregation. If you’re interested in their story, they have a book published by Westminster/John Knox Press last year called O Lord, Hold our Hands: How a church thrives in a multicultural world. I’m just finishing it, and it’s a great read!

Central: This is a church in Norristown, PA that was more than 800 in its glory days, but it had dropped to well under one hundred as of a couple of years ago. As in the case of Westminster, Central’s older, Anglo members saw the writing on the wall and agreed to risk their endowment on trying to make a transition from Anglo to bicultural (with a focus on the Mexican population moving into the area), and potentially to all Hispanic as the neighborhood continues to change. They have used two models to try to do that work. One is that they’ve tried to strengthen the traditional social services that they have offered in the community – things like a meal on Saturday nights for those who need it, a clothing closet, among other things. The goal is to focus on how to use the large building effectively as a resource in a changing community at risk. Then, they also partnered with the Philadelphia Presbytery and the synod and denomination to invite a pastor from Guatemala to come for three years to try to reach out to the Hispanic community and build a Hispanic congregation within the church.

There are all kinds of potential for difficulty. Neither of the pastors is entirely fluent in the other’s language. The styles of ministry are different, and there is tension (most days creative tension) between the two as they try to determine what their priorities in ministry should be. The worship styles of the two groups (the traditional Anglo and the emerging Hispanic) are so different that at this stage they are worshiping at different times. The fifteen new members recently admitted to the congregation are all Hispanic and they all worship in the Sunday afternoon Hispanic service. The two pastors admit that they don’t have all the answers and don’t always agree, but also affirm that they are committed to continuing to try to do this work in partnership.

Church of All Nations: This is my friend Jin Kim’s church in Minneapolis. Jin is second generation Korean, and this multicultural church is nested at a first generation Korean church in Minneapolis. They planned carefully for several years with the Korean church, and then launched this new church development (ncd) last January first. It’s pretty unique, in that their worship happens between the two services of the larger Korean church on Sunday morning. They are growing rapidly and are genuinely multicultural with an English speaking congregation. You can check them out at www.cando.org.

Southside: This is my own church in Tucson. This church has the most unique origins of multiculturalism of any church I’ve ever seen. They started as a mission church with the Native American T’Ohono O’Odam tribe in the 1920’s. Then, over the years they called a Mexican-American Pastor, an African American pastor, and a couple of Anglo pastors. As a result, they have a genuinely multicultural service today. They’ve been very intentional about building their worship in a multicultural style (another church with a two hour service as a result), and all of their life together flows from that moment. http://www.southsidepresbyterian.org/

My plane is boarding, but these are the efforts that I’ve seen so far. Pretty diverse, and very interesting. I recommend that you contact Raafat Girgis in Louisville if you’re interested in learning more about the possibilities. He can be reached at rgirgis@ctr.pcusa.org.

Blessings on each of you,

Friday, October 08, 2004

Young Adult Volunteer Opportunities

Hi folks,

I spent a day in Colorado with the National Young Adult Volunteer Orientation last week. We met at Highlands camp up near Estes Park. Doing the orientation for our mission programs, especially the young adult programs, is one of my favorite things to do. My wife Kitty and I have been helping with those orientations for several years now. Kitty, who has a masters in inter-cultural relations, typically does several sessions on how to manage cultural difference, how to handle culture shock, and how to handle different ways of making decisions when working in groups. For the last two years, I’ve been doing two or three workshops at each orientation on the implications of trends toward economic globalization for our task as missionaries.

If you don’t know about the Young Adult Volunteer programs, I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to check out their website at http://www.pcusa.org/msr/youngadult.htm.

I think this is the hottest thing going in our church. Our way of supporting young adults in mission is worlds better today than it was when I became a Volunteer in Mission almost twenty years ago. The YAV’s are placed in clusters in nine different sites here in the U.S. and a similar number of sites internationally. Often they live together, although in some sites they live in different houses or even live with host families, as they do in the Guatemala site. If they’re near one another, usually that means that they will meet regularly (once a week or more) for prayer, support, bible study and reflection on their work. If they’re farther apart, there is still an effort to gather together every six weeks or so in order to check in.

The YAV’s are expected to help raise money for their support, and the connection they provide between their churches and the rest of the world is remarkable. They make a real difference in schools, teaching ESL, doing human rights work, working as part of pastoral teams, running community programs, working with at-risk kids. The work is varied and meaningful. It’s basically like a faith-based Peace Corps program.

What matters just as much is what happens to the YAV himself or herself. This program will change your life. Last year we had four young women working with us in Tucson. Jen worked as the intern at Southside Presbyterian Church, where she got turned on to working with migrants through Southside’s shower program and through the “No More Deaths” movement to support migrants who are at risk of dying in the desert (see www.nomoredeaths.org). Laura worked with Humane Borders, which is the church-based, volunteer organization that puts water stations in the desert where migrants are dying (see www.humaneborders.org). Natalie worked with the House of Neighborly Service, which is a Presbyterian run community center on Tucson’s southside where the population is close to 100 % Hispanic. Kelly worked with me at BorderLinks (www.borderlinks.org) where her job was to lead delegations of church groups and students through a hands-on border experience to learn about the implications of trade and immigration policy.

What’s just as cool as their work is what they are doing this year. Kelly is now the mission intern with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (thewrongkelly@yahoo.org), where her job is to recruit college students into nonviolent direct intervention work like what we’re doing in Colombia. Jen and Laura are both students this year at McCormick Theological Seminary – and they’re among almost fifty percent of the YAV alumni who choose seminary next. Natalie moved to Indianapolis, where the last I heard she was looking to get involved in Hispanic outreach in that Presbytery.

The point is that this is where it’s it. Young adults are getting a chance to explore their vocation as followers of Christ in really hot projects all over the globe. If you know somebody who would be a good candidate, please put them onto this program.

Finally, there’s a really cool new website at www.pcusa.org/onedoor where you can find out all about options for service in one easy location. Hope you’ll check it out.

What we really need is a church where it’s normal to give it up for Jesus, don’t you think?


Friday, October 01, 2004

Next steps on Colombia Accompaniment

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Last week, the General Assembly Council approved the implementation of a plan for accompaniment with the church leaders and human rights workers in Colombia – with a special focus on the situation that I’ve written to you about in Barranquilla. The resolution also called Presbyterians to be in prayer for the people there, and they asked our staff in Louisville to send a letter expressing our deep concern about the human rights abuses there, with special attention to the murder of Alfredo Correa and the detention of Mauricio Avilez.

Here’s what happens next on the accompaniment piece. This week the staff from the Worldwide Ministries Division and the Peacemaking Program will meet to coordinate how they will work together. By next week, we will begin looking for volunteers who might go as part of a team for short term trips this fall. We’re especially looking for folks who have some Spanish, who may have had experience in Colombia or similar situations in the past, and who can give up two to six weeks for this kind of work.

Further, the Worldwide Ministries Division will begin looking for a person who could be placed long-term in order to do accompaniment work and coordinate delegations of Presbyterians to the country. There are a couple of people interested in this position already, but it you or someone you know fits the bill and you’re interested, you should be in touch with K.T. Okles, the recruitment person for the Worldwide office.

The job description of the short-termers will be to attend meetings and events organized by the local, ecumenical human rights committee in Barranquilla, to support the documentation work of the human rights office housed on the Presbyterian University Campus there, and to create a highly visible PC(USA) presence among other non-governmental organizations and in governmental offices in Barranquilla. The early volunteers will have to be both patient and creative as you begin to work out the details.

Our early brainstorming, yet to be firmed up, is that we are thinking that the Louisville staff will partner with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to develop an orientation and training for the short-term volunteers. We’ve begun those conversations this week, and we’ll have to see how it unfolds.

In terms of money, I expect that most of the expense will have to be raised through local congregations and peacemaking committees of Presbyteries and Synods. Expenses in the country should be pretty low, because I’m hoping that our partners there will help us with housing and other logistical support.

This is a great example of a new way of networking and partnering in mission. Our partner in Colombia comes to us with a clear request, there’s already a country network that’s been developing among Presbyterians over the last year and is anxious to help, the staff in Louisville is anxious to be helpful and open to sharing the work with volunteers, and local Presbyterians and congregations are invited to step up.

I’ll share more as things develop. Stay tuned!

With the peace of Christ.


theological grounding for accompaniment work

Dave Roberson was a participant at the Stony Point Center Peacemaking conference this week.

He handed me a handwritten piece of paper with these quick reflections on biblical passages and stories of accompaniment. I offer them verbatim for your reflection:

St. Paul used his Roman Citizenship to change the dynamic of his encounter with the Roman Military. Faced with death threats from a violent local faction, he allows himself to be imprisoned, but gets the protection of the empire for himself to continue God’s work. What if we used our citizenship in the world’s only superpower to give cover for God’s work in the world?
There are many instances of God’s people working in companionship: Jesus sent the seventy out in pairs (Luke 10:1). God gives Moses his brother Aaron to help his mission. Paul and Barnabas; two spies who stayed at Rahab’s place in Jericho (Joshua 2), and many more.
David and Jonathan: when King Saul kicks David out of his presence, his son Jonathan intercedes with Saul and accompanies David back to court (I Samuel: 19)
David and Abiather: David takes shelter in the city of Nob and tricks the priest Animelech into aiding him. Animelech and his fellow priests are ratted out by Saul’s chief goon Doeg the Edomite (Doeg is an early example of a paramilitary!). Saul orders them all slaughtered, but his soldiers balk. But Doeg does the dirty deed and goes on to completely destroy their town. Animelech’s son Abiather escapes to David, who claims responsibility for the act., and tells Abiathar “Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for te one who seeks your life seeks my life; you will be safe with me (I Samuel: 22:23)
Deborah and Barak: The military leader of Israel is afraid to fight the Canaanites unless accompanied by the Judge and Prophetess Deborah. He says to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; if you will not go with me, I will not go.” (Judges 4)
The fourth man: When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace, a mysterious man or angel appears with them through the trial. (Daniel 3)
Tobias and Azariah: The deuterocanonical book of Tobit is a piece of Jewish folklore that tells the story of a young man who has to undertake a dangerous journey to a far city. On the way, he has to rescue a beautiful woman from the spells of a powerful demon. Fortunately, his traveling companion, who he believes to be a distant cousin, is actually the archangel Raphael in disguise.

Can we be the fourth man? Or the Archangel in disguise?

Thanks to Dave Roberson (dhrober@yahoo.com)

What do you think, you’all?