The Church of the Brethren as a denomination is giving serious attention, in its “Together” emphasis, on being transformed by God’s Spirit. One expression of this quest is highlight-ed by the deeply searching question, “What are God’s yearnings for Church of the Brethren?”.
After much prayer, study, research, and deliberation, our committee concluded that one essential part of the answer to that question is for us to be SEPARATE NO MORE.
We accomplish this by deliberately and intentionally moving toward becoming much more intercultural than we currently are. Our reasons for this conclusion are Biblically-based.
We began with the Revelation 7:9 vision:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
The text goes on to describe the profound worship experience of God’s angels and people of diverse backgrounds.
We believe that this vision is not merely a description of God’s church at the end of time, but a revelation of the true intended nature of God’s church in the here and now.
Acts 2:9-11 lists fifteen (!) ethnic or language groups as being present at the Pentecostal “birthday” of the church when the Holy Spirit came upon the people of faith. Some Bible scholars suppose there were more than that, saying that the list was intended to represent “every nation under heaven,” (v.5). The sense that the church should be ethnically diverse is emphasized broadly in many other New Testament passages. These passages include, but are not limited to the following:
Jesus' ministry was to people from many different backgrounds. He expressed God's love for all people in his teachings. The Bible describes the church as being intercultural (1) at birth, (2) throughout the New Testament and (3) as being so at the end of time. We believe that God loves and values the many faithful monocultural churches (a majority of members from one culture) in our midst. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, monocultural churches have been and can be effective. We also believe that God has long yearned and still yearns for the church to be intercultural – that is, different cultures united in one “Christ culture” (Colossians 3:10-11), furthering Jesus’ mission to make “all things new (Revelation 21:5).” Thus, Jesus calls us to be SEPARATE NO MORE but instead to truly be one whole body. We pray that we can all be open and supportive of this long-range goal and undertake incremental steps toward achieving it.
In the parable-telling style of Jesus, we share a summary of this story from India. It demon-strates how our individual journeys of faith can limit our experience of God. The summa-rization is far too brief to capture the beauty or full impact of this story, but adequate to illustrate its main point:
“Six blind men, after much disagreement about the nature of the elephant, decided that an actual encounter with an elephant would be most informative in assisting them to discern the true nature of the elephant.
Which man was right in his perception of the elephant and which man experienced him best? Each of the six had a separate, but only partially correct perception of the elephant. Later in the story when all six perceptions and experiences were combined, a more comprehensive picture of the elephant emerged.
The story illustrates that none of us has a monopoly on the one “correct” perception of God from our faith journeys. But by attention to God’s Word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, plus the willingness to share our faith journeys and experiences of God with brothers and sisters from different cultural backgrounds, each of us can experience and see God - and his vision for us - more fully. Only then are we transformed to embrace what this report calls a “SEPARATE NO MORE” philosophy, leading to that richer and fuller experience of God.
There are other reasons why it is imperative that we become a more intercultural denomination. They include, but are not limited to the following:
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul held up the Macedonian church as an exam-ple for emulation. We also have examples of other denominations that have made sub-stantial progress toward becoming more intercultural. For example, our committee has drawn from the experience and models for progress in intercultural ministry found in denominations such as the American Baptist Churches USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church of America, and the Mennonite Church USA.
Lutheran theologian Dr. H.S. Wilson, in his article about multicultural churches, “A Bouquet of Multiple Flowers,” maintains that when churches became too comfortable with a monocultural norm, it was - at least to some extent - a sliding away from God’s pre-ferred norm. He says this: “Embracing multiculturalism is not an option for Christians, but a mandate. It is a call for discarding a false notion of Christian community, despite its long-cherished legacy.” How can we embrace true Christian community? We can embrace Christian community by following Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors from diverse backgrounds – by building lasting and deep relationships with them that result in the Christian community to which Christ calls us.
As a result of many conversations over our three years together, we feel there is an urgent need to celebrate our current diversity and build on it. It is very clear that we, as a denomination, widely agree that despite differences in how we worship and relate to God, we are members of God’s family and have shared faith values.
These values and our discipleship in Christ unite us and allow us to see past our differ-ences, even when they manifest themselves in different ways. These same forces allow us to focus on being God’s family - a family that builds authentic relationships and commu-nity by embracing, respecting and loving each of its members, regardless of their background.
Merely acknowledging or tolerating another’s existence is not enough. Healing and recon-ciliation must occur because Christ calls us to love our neighbor, with all its ramifications!So, where do we begin?
First and foremost, let us seek God and be open to God’s leading. We then need to make a long-term commitment to achieving more of the Revelation 7:9 vision. We must be real-istic about what a commitment to this journey entails and know that change does not occur quickly. We also need to recognize that there will be challenges to building a whole body of Christ so that we are prepared to work through them in love.
Secondly, listen, listen, listen to each other and respect one another! While we share common aspects of believing in Christ and “being Brethren” that transcend our divides, ultimately we need to transform our worldview to see others as Jesus sees all of us by growing in the likeness of Christ, by gaining greater self-awareness and by learning more about those from other racial/ethnic cultures. We build our diversity by building deeper and more authentic relationships with one another. Flexibility and adaptability are key con-cepts for relationship building.
We need to be careful not to make assumptions about or judgments of others who are different from us. The willingness to expand our Brethren identity by not “doing church” the way we’ve always done it can keep the larger vision of Christ’s calling in front of us. Living “Christ’s call to oneness” through the intercultural family of God will require that we as a denomination be intentional, inclusive and committed to transformation and healing.
This study committee’s work commenced with the adoption of two queries and five tasks at the 2004 Annual Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Of the five original tasks assigned to the committee, two remained unfinished at the time of our report to the 2006 Annual Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. They are:
While working on the tasks assigned to us, we realized that many people were drawn to our denomination because of our core values. For clarity on this matter, the Church of the Brethren Website (http://www.brethren.org) states , “Faithful following of Jesus Christ and obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures have led us to emphasize principles that we believe are central in true discipleship. Among these are peace and reconciliation, simple living, integrity of speech, family values, and service to neighbors near and far.” In repeated conversations with majority and minority ethnic and racial church members, almost all who came into the church from outside the denomination cited our peace witness, service to others, and community as the top three reasons they were attracted to the Church of the Brethren.
We also attempted to explore demographics related to the various ethnic/racial minorities within our denominational and congregational make-up to understand our current diversity. In doing so, we found that there is a severe shortage of reliable and useful informa-tion about the ethnic, racial and other cultural elements in the Church of the Brethren. The only centralized data collection tool is the three-page Congregational Statistical Report Form sent each fall to congregations by the District offices.
To the best of our understanding, the Ministry Office and the Brethren Press staff who work on the yearbook share this tool to collect demographic information about congregations and the pastoral body. The form has few cultural diversity indicators of any sort, and those that do appear only relate to the denomination’s pastors. Cultural diversity within congregations is generally interpreted by the respondent rather than by using standardized definitions of ethnicity, race or other forms of cultural diversity. The response rate is poor.
Therefore, there are no reliable demographic statistics to provide a current “snapshot” of who the Church of the Brethren is in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Lastly, we reviewed Annual Conference papers and recommendations (1989, 1991, 1994) and Annual Conference resolutions (2001) related to interculturalism (please refer to 2006 interim report to Annual Conference for details). We examined these recommendations’ implementation status. This exercise elicited:
- Great admiration for the deep theological insight, Christian integrity, and idealistic nobility of the stated goals, ideals and expected outcomes of these documents.
- A feeling that our committee has been assigned to “reinvent the wheel.”
- Consternation that, for all the resolutions and recommendations, there have been few applications or results.
We concluded that the application of the recommendations and lack of outcomes resulted from:
These issues are acknowledged at all levels within the Church of the Brethren. Today, there appears to be cautious willingness to find funding for intercultural efforts, a willingness to consider some structural changes and more champions for the cause. To reiterate, we as a committee, recognize that the move to interculturalism within our denomination will not happen overnight, but requires intentionality, commitment and priority, resulting in a fun-damental shift in the way we “do church.”
The Church of the Brethren as a denomination has taken some steps to move toward the diversity depicted in Revelations 7:9, such as starting churches for separate language groups. While this strategy of planting “language churches” is a stepping stone to achiev-ing Christ’s vision, we must not stop there! The vision is to be SEPARATE NO MORE, meaning that we all worship Christ together. Further, the Church of the Brethren has been involved in mission work in other countries, resulting in separate denominations in some of them. Is God now calling us to be SEPARATE NO MORE in regard to our sisters and brothers in other countries? One suggestion we have heard that requires further prayer and exploration is to establish a worldwide Church of the Brethren, which could help draw us all together.
God has led us as a committee to recommend specific actions that we as the Church of the Brethren can take at all levels of our denomination, so that together we might realize more of the Revelation 7:9 vision and experience God more fully.
Many common ideas emerge in the literature about interculturalism and among denomi-nations that have made strides toward it. They are non-specific but foundational and nec-essary underpinnings for intercultural efforts to come to fruition.
To paraphrase the New Life Ministries’ Diversity Project Findings by Mennonites Rocky Kidd and Alan Rowe (see resource list), the Church of the Brethren as a denomination needs to commit to the following:
Task 1: Recommend actions we must take to bring us (the denomination) into conformity with the vision of Revelation 7:9.
Task 2: Formulate a mechanism to report intercultural ministry progress at Annual Conference through 2010.
As we prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, we call all our sisters and brothers to recommit themselves to radical discipleship that embraces our traditional witness of peace, simplicity, compassion, and stewardship of God's creation. We give thanks for the old wineskins (Matthew 9:17) that faithfully carried forth the living witness of Christ in our world. But in the spirit of transformation found in Romans 12:2, it is time to make new wineskins for the future of the Church of the Brethren. Therefore, we recommend that the denomination widen the relevancy of our witness to those "from every nation, people, tribe and tongue" by adopting Revelation 7:9 as our denominational vision for the remainder of the 21st century. Thus, we can clearly artic-ulate to ourselves, our friends, and the unchurched that we are – and will be – SEPARATE NO MORE.
We further recommend that the Annual Conference and its reportable agencies:
We recommend that Bethany Theological Seminary:
In regard to structure, we recommend that a full-time, funded specialist position be estab-lished within Congregational Life Teams that would:
We recommend that we as a denomination renew our commitment to existing and new urban ministry sites and intentionally work toward planting new intercultural congregations.
We recommend that the accountability for monitoring the implementation of these recommendations rest with the Annual Conference Standing Committee. Annual Conference and its agencies will report on their applicable progress at Annual Conference each year until 2010, and every two years thereafter.
We recommend that Districts:
We recommend that each District Board be accountable for the implementation of the above recommendations by reporting on the District’s progress on intercultural activity at the end of two years during their District Conference, and every two years thereafter, with progress reports sent to the General Board.
We recommend that each District implement and promote an annual event emphasizing the blessing of the increasing intercultural nature of our Church of the Brethren family, and our need to move even closer to the Revelation 7:9 vision.
We recommend that Districts be intentional about collecting congregational and pastoral statistics using the Congregational Statistical Report Form which will be revised to include diversity indicators.
Across numerous discussions, case studies, readings, etc. in which our committee members engaged, the salient principles of churches moving toward becoming an intercultural family of God include leadership, intentionality, adaptability, and integrated worship. The appendices contain “Stages of Intercultural Church Development” (along with key principles, actual case studies and resources), which may be a helpful guide to congregations desiring to become more intercultural.
We recommend that:
We recommend that:
How can we experience God more fully? What does it truly mean to be God’s family? What does it mean to truly be one in Christ? What prevents us from realizing the vision of Revelation 7:9? What do we need to do to achieve this vision?
As an intercultural team, these are the questions we have wrestled with and prayed about over the last three years. We have sought God’s guidance as we worked together to answer them and complete our assigned tasks. What we found was that God has taken each one of us on an amazing journey. We have heard God calling for the complete transformation of each of us, of our churches and of our denomination.
This is a plea for transformation, calling each of us to more fully and completely follow Christ’s example of loving all peoples – in loving our neighbors. Through Christ’s love, we become the all-inclusive family of God envisioned in Revelation 7:9.
To do this, we must be completely open to God’s work in us and among us. In truly open-ing ourselves to God, there is no limit to what God can accomplish. This is the way it was in the church described in Acts 2. This is the way it was with our roots in Schwarzenau, Germany. We began as Christians who allowed ourselves to be transformed.
God is calling us today, to be transformed into a whole body of Christ, so that we are SEPARATE NO MORE. So this is not merely a paper containing recommendations. This is a call for transformation. Without transformation, there may be no effective implementation of the recommendations. For as Matthew 9:17 says, “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
Sisters and Brothers, this is a call for new wineskins – for total transformation through being open to God’s guidance. This is the only way to realize more of the Revelation 7:9 vision. In this transformation and moving toward this vision for the church, we are called into reconciliation – and God can use this message and ministry of reconciliation to liter-ally transform and heal our society and our world.
Respectfully and prayerfully submitted by the Intercultural Study Committee:
Asha Solanky, Chair
Darla Kay Bowman Deardorff
Thomas M. Dowdy
Nadine L. Monn, Recorder
Glenn Hatfield, Ex-officio, American Baptist Churches USA
Action of the 2007 Annual Conference: Annual Conference approved the report of the Intercultural Study Committee.
This Congregational Life Team position includes a specialty element and by virtue of its function is a highly collaborative position. Salary Range: $ 40,000 - 42,000
This staff person would carry the duties of Congregational Life Team members but their portfolio would include functional expertise in areas of collection and analysis of cultural demographics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity and gender. The person would also collect, monitor and analyze intercultural efforts and ministry occurring within the denomination and make recommendations when and where appropriate. The individual would also compile and report data on these activities to be included in the Annual Report presented to Annual Conference.
Note: The person in this position would not be responsible for prescribing or directing intercultural activity within the denomination. Rather, the person in this position would serve as a conduit for information and connecting persons with specific needs regarding intercultural ministry and activity to known experts and other available resources within the denomination.
Report to the Director of Congregational Life Ministries.
The following criteria will be considered in the discernment of an appropriate candidate: Pastoral experience (five years) or equivalent service
Master’s level education
Demonstrated intercultural competence Bilingual: with both verbal and written fluency
Demonstrated ability to communicate and network effectively with persons from a variety of ethnicities, races and cultures Expertise in data collection, analysis, and reporting
Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
Actively collect data and compile data about intercultural activity, ministry within the denomination (through routine contacts with other Congregational Life Team members and own initiative).
Serve as resource who would connect persons with need to persons with the expertise for various intercultural activities: contact, set up meetings.
Find and connect to translators for various denominational events. Involve youth and young adults (Youth and Young Adults under CLM).
Compile information about available statistics on minorities within the denomination with input from Ministry Office and Yearbook Office.
Compile written report to be included in an annual report to Annual Conference that would include an update on intercultural activities within the denomination.
Congregations can be anywhere along this continuum (including in between stages), may move back on the continuum before moving forward again…
1) Closed Monoculture – Church is comprised of those from only one ethnic group and members are not open to persons from other cultures
2) Open Monoculture – Church is comprised of those from mostly one ethnic group but members are open to persons from other cultures as long as they become “like us”
3) Predominantly Monoculture – Church is comprised mostly of those from one ethnic group but are welcoming of those from other cultures and aware of/tolerate some cultural difference
4) Mixed Culture – Church is comprised of those from two or more ethnic groups and is welcoming and accepting of those from different cultures; one cultural group still dominates; some leadership in place to move vision forward
5) Partially Integrated – Church is comprised of those from two or more ethnic groups. Is welcoming and adapting to those from different cultures, including visuals, music, worship; strong leadership in place to move vision forward
6) Fully Integrated – No one culture or ethnic group dominates, leadership is shared by those from different cultural backgrounds, church has created a “new” culture which moves fluidly between different cultural backgrounds; members see from Christ’s perspective (not through their own cultural lens); strong leadership continues to move the Rev 7:9 vision forward….
Developed by Dr. Darla K. Deardorff, Durham, North Carolina 2007
By Rocky Kidd and Allan Howe
Biblically: People must know why biblically we should have multicultural churches. See: Rev. 7:9-12; Acts 6:1-17, 11:19-26, 12:1-3; Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 2:14-22; Gal. 3:26-28.
Strategically: The urban reality is multicultural and the church must not lag behind the world’s diversity, but, instead, demonstrate a healthy model of unity in diversity in Christ to the world.
Through messages: The pastor must speak about it frequently in his messages.
Through planning: Diversity usually doesn’t just happen; there must be intentionality in our plans to grow as a diverse church.
Through worship, outreach, and ministries: Worship should be enriched by elements from diverse cultures, and ministries should be developed or redefined to be sensitive to con-cerns of diverse cultures.
Pray for God to direct you to the people of other cultures God has to grow and serve with you.
Pursue those people, challenging them with your vision and their role in it. Disciple/train them to grow and serve with you.
Celebrate diversity: It’s a foretaste of heaven that we can relish right here and now!Evaluate dynamics: Be alert to how people are interacting on deeper levels.
Learn how to identify warning signals: Factions, undercurrents, and “mysterious disappearances.”
Facilitate communication: An ongoing need to not only solve problems but maximize what God intends diversity to be.
Recognize how the dynamics of a multicultural church affect the already complex issues of assimilation, mobilization, and charge.
Affirm your vision for multicultural churches by enlisting a multicultural team from your church to go start another multicultural church.
Prepared by Rev. Thomas M. Maluga, Senior Pastor, Uptown Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois
Pastor Marisel Olivencia
Pastor Irvin Heishman
Vision Statement (affirmed by the congregation in 1995): "We are called to build a Christ-centered, multicultural community in the inner city shar-ing the love, healing, peace and justice of Christ."
In 1996, First Church celebrated its 100th anniversary. The church was started by rural German Brethren who were moving into the city for work. The city was much smaller then so the church was actually located on the edge of the city. At that time, the church neighborhood consisted of white, blue-collar workers.
By the 1950s, the city had grown to the point that First Church was clearly located in the inner city. A major crisis developed in the church as the neighborhood began to radically change, with a variety of ethnic minority persons moving in and racial tensions flaring. There was a strong feeling among many that the church should re-locate to the suburbs, as many of the church members were. However, the congregation's prophetic pastor helped support those who felt called to stay in the community to serve the new groups of people moving in. In the end, the congregation decided to assist in the development of a new church plant in the suburbs, forming the Ridgeway Community Church. At the same time, those choosing to stay with the congregation took on a major building project and added staffing to launch new and extensive community outreach programs.
The community outreach of the church has remained consistently strong. However, the focus of the vision formed in the 1960s was primarily on service, with little emphasis on evangelism. As a result, the congregation attracted a unique, wonderful, but mostly white membership with a high percentage of former volunteer service workers. The congregation has also suffered from several decades of gradual decline in membership and attendance.
This pattern of decline is beginning to dramatically change. Current leadership has been emphasizing the importance of balancing service and evangelism. The addition of a Spanish language worship service has been the most effective evangelistic effort to date.
After decades of gradual decline, average worship attendance at First Church has increased 62% in just two years. In addition to this increase, our Latino worship group developed a relationship with a new church plant (averaging 75 in attendance) in Bethlehem, PA, which now wants to affiliate with the Church of the Brethren. We are now in the process of being "adopted" as the mother church for this new fellowship!!! If we count the Bethlehem group the two-year rate of growth would be 122%.
|January 2000||206** and growing!|
* This low figure does not include attendance at a Saturday evening worship service, a first attempt to start a second worship service. This effort did not thrive and has been discontinued. Unfortunately, most of the people who did come to this evening service are no longer with us. However, lessons learned from this experience have contributed to the success of current efforts.
** This monthly average excludes a winter weather Sunday when both services experienced unusually low attendance.
The period of decline from 1985 to 1997 reflects a pattern that actually extends back sev-eral decades. A significant part of this decline was due to the aging of the congregation.
There were 12 deaths during one of those years. Losing a significant number of members to death will continue to be a drain on the membership strength of the congregation for some time.
However, in the two-year period ending in December of 1999, average worship attendance had dramatically increased to 193, due in large part to the addition of the Spanish language worship service. Most of the new attenders have been new believers. Some new attenders in the morning English language service were attracted to the church because they were impressed by the congregation's outreach to the Latino community even though they did-n't speak Spanish themselves! On January 30, 2000, attendance at the Spanish worship service was 107, surpassing 100 for the first time. We may see the first Sunday in which attendance at the Spanish service is larger than that of the morning service sometime this year.
First Church has a long and successful history of sharing its building with community groups and other worshipping groups. The congregation currently shares its building with a Cambodian Fellowship affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church. This group has been using our building free of charge for fifteen years (the fellowship is contributing to our building campaign).
In the past, the church shared its facilities with the Hispanic Mennonite Church as it was getting started. That congregation now has its own facilities and is located in another part of the city. Our Latino group and the Mennonites hold joint worship services and enjoy a positive and supportive relationship.
Brethren Housing Association is now ten years old. This separately incorporated ministry has purchased and renovated six properties (on the same street as First Church) with a total of sixteen living units. These are used to provide transitional housing for homeless families. Case management services are provided in cooperation with a sister organization, DELTA Housing Inc. BHA currently has an annual budget of $140,000 and is supported by a network of eight member congregations, individuals, and grants. A weekly food distribution takes place at First Church on Fridays. More than two hundred families come for supplemental food each week. This ministry is a cooperative ministry with Freedom Chapel, an independent congregation. To balance service with evangelism, families are invited, on a totally voluntary basis, to come early for a Bible study before receiving their food. The response has been surprisingly strong and several people have begun attending the church through this outreach.
A number of programs are offered for children including a computer club (in which children completing the class receive a free computer to take home with them), KIDS Church (a lively evening worship service for children), after- school tutoring, and scholarships for children to attend summer camp.
First Church is experimenting with "income-producing ministries" to see if its community outreach ministries can become self-funded. A thrift shop to sell used clothing and small furniture items is being operated out of the church basement. This is our first experiment with this concept. Free clothing is given from the shop to families in need. First Church is also making arrangements to rent its parking lots to downtown workers.
The building is heavily used by community groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.
First Church has enjoyed surprisingly strong financial support from its members. The congregation's 2000 budget (fully funded by congregational commitments and other income sources) is $290,143. In addition to this the congregation raised $361,000 in a capital improvements campaign. The Spanish worship service was started in the middle of the cap-ital campaign. Funds to bring our Latino pastoral team on staff were raised by preparing a budget for the ministry including the salary package. This budget was then projected five years into the future. Then the total budget was divided into pieces (like pieces of a pie). A variety of con-gregations, our district, and groups were invited to become funding partners, each cover-ing a piece of the "pie." Over the five years, the new Spanish fellowship is projected to pick up more and more of the financial costs, with the group projected to be financially self-sufficient in six years. So far the projections are on target, except that attendance has grown faster than expected.
During the past year the congregation has struggled with questions regarding how to reach out more effectively to our English-speaking neighbors. We have grown in our appreciation of the key role that worship style plays in this.
Experiments with blended worship styles have revealed the potential but frustrating limits of this approach. Therefore, plans are currently being laid for developing a new cell group based contemporary/ black gospel English language worship service. At the same time we plan to keep the current traditional style worship service fresh and meaningful by continuing to slowly introduce gradual change and variety.
We hope to maintain the Anabaptist ideal of community by expanding the number of joint worship services involving people from all the worship groups, developing cross-cultural small groups, and supporting activities like the Anglo/Latino youth work camp in Puerto Rico.
Over the life of Peace Covenant Church, planted in Durham, North Carolina in 1994, there consistently has been a yearning to be what God wanted the community to be. With the closest Church of the Brethren 80 miles away and the group comprised of members in their 20s and 30s (most from Brethren backgrounds) in an urban setting, we knew it was-n’t going to be business as usual.
From the beginning we knew challenge #1 was going to be translating the Brethren mes-sage into a context understandable by a population that had basically never heard of us. This meant expanding our Brethren identity and not “doing church” the way we Brethren were used to. So, who were our neighbors? What context did they live in? What were their needs? Where was the Anabaptist message going to fit in this part of North Carolina? So, we took a look at our surrounding community and noticed that the community is indeed very diverse! People from all over the world are drawn by our three major universities (Duke, NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill) and the global corporations in Research Triangle Park. Yes, Durham is about 40% Caucasian and 40% African-American, but the growing Hispanic, Indian, Asian, and African communities are all increasing at a remarkable rate. It wasn’t long until we realized that we as Caucasians were a minority in our community, and we wondered why our church didn’t represent that demographic.
So, then we began to not just ask what our neighbors needed from us, but what did we need from our neighbors? What gifts, talents, traditions, passions and spiritual strengths did the people around us have that could strengthen us as a body? And that helped us to turn a corner in our ministry. We were no longer looking for the poor and neglected and those who suffered injustice to give to them, but looked at the people around us and longed to be in community with them and to learn from them and to worship God together.
First though, we realized that our members needed to feel more comfortable with cultural differences. Through prayer and study, we concluded that we needed to intentionally reach out to people in the international community.
So, how did we reach out? Through celebrations of cultural and racial diversity in a variety of ways:
1) We began doing IFFF events on the first Saturday evening of each month. IFFF stands for “International Food, Friends, and Film” (we all know how Brethren like to eat!) and involves an international potluck meal followed by a foreign film (often in other languages with subtitles). Electronic invitations are sent regularly to the area university international offices, neighbors, colleagues, English-as-a-Second Language teachers in the community and so on. These IFFF events have become quite popular with an average of 30-40 persons per event and over 10-11 countries and 5 continents often represented. These events have also become an excellent way for our members to become more comfortable with cultural differences, including different foods and different languages – all in a fun, social event.
2) Another event started was our Friday Nite Forums to which the community is invited. These forums, usually held every 2 months, deal with world issues and participants are able to discuss practical ways they can address these issues in their daily lives.
3) A third step our church has taken is in adapting our worship, music, art, and imagery to represent a more diverse picture of God and Christianity (including rhythm instruments from different cultures, banners in different languages, welcome signs in different languages, and décor from A Greater Gift).
We are three years into our journey of intentionally diversifying so that we can be a more complete community, experiencing the many faces and races of God. Each week we thank God for the new voices, accents, languages, traditions, music and liturgy from around the world and in our backyard, and feel we are closer to God than ever. On any given Sunday, we now have around 30-35 worshippers from 4-5 different countries. We have learned that persons from other cultural backgrounds are drawn to Peace Covenant through the warmth, genuineness and caring of its members and through the denominational peace witness (and in fact, we learned that the Peace Pole in front of our church building is what brought some of our members through the door initially).
It has been an amazing journey that we’ve been on with God – full of joys and struggles. Through it all, we have learned that when we open ourselves fully to God’s guidance, there is no limit to what God can do in our midst!! As with any intercultural church, there are challenges that we must continue to confront – with God’s help. Some of those challenges include diversifying leadership, dealing with the multiple languages issue, learning to be true community together, basically learning to love in many languages. But what comforts us is that we believe this in not our vision, but God’s vision for the church and he already has a way forward into this glorious vision of Revelation 7:9; we just have to be faithful to discerning the vision, courageous and open to follow it and humble to live it.