Multicultural Congregational Development: Worship, Leadership, and Community Development
by Melissa Hinnen
Dallas, Texas, July 29, 2011--Using the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 as an illustration of crossing boundaries in ministry, Doug Cunningham and Dionisio Salazar led a diverse group of church leaders through three sessions at the School of Congregational Development about how to build a multicultural congregation. Participants included representation from clergy, laity, conferences, local churches, agencies, and district levels of the UMC who were interested in sharing ideas and learning meaningful ways to build multicultural community in their churches.
Cunningham, who is the founding pastor of New Day UMC in the Bronx, New York, started the church as a way to connect people with God by crossing boundaries--race, sexual orientation, class, and age--and to confront the injustice in those boundaries. Pointing out that The United Methodist Church demographics do not reflect the demographics in the US, Cunningham said that boundaries are socially constructed realities designed to keep people in or out of different areas. To be truly reflective of the Kingdom, it is necessary to stretch beyond being inclusive--which implies accommodation--and to become intentional and courageous about building the body of Christ.
The group discussed challenges they are facing in their congregations. One pastor explained that while some see a "black" church when they look at his congregation, the reality is that his church is multicultural, with people from Africa, the Caribbean, and different economic backgrounds, as well as African-Americans. There is a richness of experience, but also a need to understand the dynamics at work among the different cultures and the heritage they each bring that blend into a fullness of worship.
Building a Hispanic/Latino Ministry
Another pastor said that her mostly Anglo church provides outreach to the Spanish-speaking community but does not have an intentional way to welcome them in the congregation. Salazar, who leads the Office of Hispanic/Latino Ministries at Global Ministries, offered helpful suggestions for crossing boundaries in a way that is inviting to Hispanic communities. He pointed out that most importantly conversation must happen with those in the community. There is no one model that will fit every situation, and open and honest dialogue is the only way to fully understand the realities and needs in a particular mission field.
Salazar also suggested that investing in children and youth ministry opens numerous opportunities. Providing a safe space for young people often meets a critical need in many communities. By inviting them into the church, the children can grow in God's love and be nurtured by the community. Children's programs provide the parents with an entryway to the church. Because most of the children speak English, they can serve as interpreters if their parents don't speak English.
After discerning what God is already doing, connecting with key leaders, and identifying resources in the community, the heart, head, and hand can come together and learn through doing. While the focus is on the local community and ministry, churches should understand and utilize the resources of the conference and of United Methodist agencies. Salazar and Cunningham advised that once all the leaders are in place through the connection and the community, it is time for a leap of faith--with the understanding that it will not be done perfectly.
The Rev. Cecil Stone, one of the participants, agreed, saying, "Where there is no vision, there is no creativity, and when there is no creativity, there is death. We are sometimes afraid of failure because we are part of a system that grades us. We can forget that it is God we are to please."
Acts 2:1-6 as a Model for Boundary Crossing
Looking at boundary crossing through the experience of Pentecost, Cunningham said, "It is the nature of the Spirit to cross boundaries and move people to action. Of everything the Spirit could have done at Pentecost, it caused the people to speak in every language." He asked, "Is it possible to do Spirit-filled ministry without crossing boundaries?"
Looking at the Scripture, he pointed out "they were all together in one place in preparation." When opening a church to the community, there needs to be a commitment from all who are involved that each person will shift as needed to allow for the Spirit to move in a way that incorporates the gifts of all God's children.
Salazar reminded the group that when weaving in the Wesleyan heritage in a new multicultural community, the language and style of the traditional United Methodist liturgy and hymns might be foreign to the congregation. "Be intentional with shaping the Methodist traditions in a way that is meaningful to the people you are trying to reach," he advised.
Changes in an existing structure will be necessary to become a truly multicultural community. The shifts may include leadership, music, and language. It may include embracing someone whose gifts are not apparent to the pastor--but could very well be the connector for someone who walks into the church for the first time. Leadership in the church must be multiethnic, and when a primary language is used, worship can be supplemented with translation, multilingual readings, and different traditions of music.
Cunningham concluded, "To build a multicultural congregation is to overcome our own fears of crossing boundaries and trust the Spirit in building a community of people who listen to one another, aren't afraid to make mistakes, and are willing to stand up for each other."
The School of Congregational Development is an annual event sponsored by the General Board of Discipleship, Path 1, and the General Board of Global Ministries. CDs and DVDs of worship and plenary sessions are available at gntv.info.
Melissa Hinnen is the information officer of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Aug 04, 2011