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Ethnic and Cross-Cultural Churches Important in United Methodist Future

by Elliott Wright

School of Congregational Development 2010.
Christian Love knows no racial or ethnic boundaries.
Image by: Cassandra M. Zampini
Source: GBGM Administration
Ministry Tracks, Classes: Annual Conference Strategies for Racial-Ethnic Ministries
School of Congregational Development 2010.
Image by: Cassandra M. Zampini
Source: GBGM Administration

Nashville, Tennessee, August 3, 2010--Racial and ethnic communities, along with immigrants, will play important roles in the future of The United Methodist Church in the United States. More cross-cultural ministries are also emerging. These facts were clearly in evidence at the 2010 School of Congregational Development meeting in Nashville July 29 to August 2.

One-fourth of 21 four-session course tracks on starting new churches focused on African American, Hispanic, and Asian populations. Several four-hour sessions dealt with multicultural congregations. Virtually every course or presentation on revitalizing older churches included attention to shifting demographics as both a challenge and opportunity.

"There no longer seems to be any doubt that ethnic and racial groups show great potential for the church in this country," said the Rev. Francisco Canas, coordinator for the National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries, one of five national or ethnic plans within the denomination. "And, actually, that is where population growth is taking place."

Two of the ministry tracks involved Hispanic/Latino church development and explored African American church revitalization. One focused on second generation Korean and other Asian communities. Strategies for racial-ethnic ministries were the topic of a special track for bishops, district superintendents, and annual conference leaders. This included one on Native Americans as well as a general course on cross-cultural outreach.

There are five racial/ethnic or language US "national plans" within the United Methodist system. More than a third of the registrants in the School of Congregational Development were from racial/ethnic communities.

Two new themes regarding racial/ethnic and cross-cultural ministry strongly entered the congregational development sphere this year. One was the presence of immigrant clergy or lay pastors who are in the US working with either immigrant communities or cross-cultural churches. The second was an acknowledgement that ethnic congregations have opportunities, and sometimes the responsibility, to minister to other racial populations that remain or move into their areas, or who just want to be part of particular congregations for various reasons.

The General Board of Global Ministries sponsored the participation of persons originally from Brazil, Ghana, Liberia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Sudan, several of whom work with immigrant churches in the US. The Global Ministries group also included pastors who work with African American, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander congregations.

"We are realizing that congregational development in the US is becoming increasingly global," said the Rev. Kelvin Sauls, a native of South Africa who is an executive for congregational development at Global Ministries.

The annual School of Congregational Development is jointly sponsored by Global Ministries and the General Board of Discipleship. This year, PATH 1, a special emphasis on new church starts, joined the sponsorship.

The theme of ethnically-constituted congregations engaging in ministry with persons of other cultures came up in two plenary sessions.

The Rev. Sam Park, lead pastor of the Community Church at Holliston United Methodist Church, Pasadena, California, poignantly described the experience he had of his Korean-American congregation in relation to a small group of elderly white members of what had once been a thriving Holliston Church. The Korean congregation shared the facilities with the "heritage" members, but the latter became older and fewer, unable to sustain a full-time pastor. What to do?

A resolution came in the merger of the two congregations into one, with Park as pastor. The young clergyman spoke of the lessons he had learned as the pastor of people from another time and outlook. He made a strong appeal to churches in generational and cultural transition not to see the older members as enemies. He added a reminder that seniors are potential players in congregational development.

The Rev. Stephen Handy, the first African-American pastor of historic McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, explained in a course on "renewing downtown churches" that his congregation is being rebuilt, with the enthusiasm of long-time white members, as a multiracial church. "We now have 25 percent African-American members with no attrition among the 200 or so Anglo members. As the pastor, I am not interested in a one-flavor congregation."

The Rev. Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in downtown Houston, told the story of the "first three white men, all tall," who joined his faith community. The pastor, who identifies himself with Methodist founder John Wesley as a "short man with funny hair," was initially apprehensive. He said he had to ask the question: "Am I too black to be your pastor?" It turned out that he was neither too black nor the three tall men too white to worship God in the same congregation.

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Date posted: Aug 03, 2010