From Tuesday to Sunday, I was at the PC(USA)’s National Multi Cultural Conference, a gathering of about 250 Presbyterians looking to nurture congregations composed of more than one race, ethnicity, and culture. It was very inspiring to see church leaders from dozens of countries and backgrounds come together around our one identity in Jesus Christ even as we each bear the marks of our own individual context.
One morning at breakfast I sat down with a new friend with a great name, Traci Truly. As we got to know each other I asked her what her church (First Presbyterian Church of Garland, TX, a suburb to the northeast of Dallas) is like. She told me that it was about two hundred members and until recently it has been very homogeneous, like Garland.
In the last few years, however, FPC Garland has seen an unflux of Christians from Cameroon, to the point where now the congregation is between 15 and 20% Cameroonian. (You can glimpse the composition of the congregation in the picture to the left from their website.) One woman from that country began to worship there, and then some of her friends came, and then some of their friends came, and now it’s too the point where on Easter, the new members class of around ten people had one white woman (the interim pastor’s wife) and nine men and women from Cameroon!
The wonder and delight in her voice was so inspiring. I said, “It sounds like God is up to something.” “Oh yes,” she replied, “God is definitely up to something!” The church has taken baby steps toward worship that reflects both traditions by collecting the offering in the Cameroonian tradition on the third Sunday of every month—rather than passing the plates, everyone who wants to give back to God financially dances forward, down the aisle, to the front of the church. Traci told me that one of the matriarchs of the church (around 85 years old) decided to bring her offering a different Sunday so that she could dance down the aisle with her new and old friends. Apparently this saint wanted to be sure to set an example for others of the dominant culture who might be reluctant to worship in this new way.
About a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to go to Italy to learn about multiculturalism from the Italian Presbyterians (who are called Waldensian). The Waldensian church has seen a huge influx in immigrants so they have trained cultural mediators making the rounds in congregations so that there is no resistance to changes like the one seen at Traci’s church in Garland.
I asked her if there were any programs like this to help the two cultures interact. She laughed and said that they didn’t really know what they were doing; that’s why she came to the conference. Other than that, she said, “They seem to feel at home, and all of us older members are awfully concerned that they feel at home.”
I hope and pray that everyone who attended the National MultiCultural Conference learned new techniques and perspectives and programs to help encourage more diverse congregations. Sometimes, however, it can be as simple as joining in with what the Spirit is up to already. Thanks be to God for Traci and First Pres, Garland!