Dr. Soong-Chan Rah speaking at the Mosaix Conference.
Last week was full of travel. It started with a flight to Dallas for the Mosaix Conference, an every-three-year gathering focused on the multiethnic church. I've attended many of these conferences over the years and am always impressed how the organizers, led by Pastor Mark DeYmaz, manage to include so many different practitioners, academics, and other advocates for multiethnic ministry.
If there was one theme which raised to the surface for me at this year's event, it was the role of BIPOC leaders in the multiethnic movement. While not a new theme, it was emphasized by many of the speakers from the main stage. The one workshop I was able to attend was led by Dr. Oneya Okuwobi, professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Okuwobi's research focuses on the impact of multiethnic churches (often white-led) on leaders and staff of color. It's not a pretty picture!
Dr. Okuwobi detailed the cost extracted from most of the leaders of color whom she interviewed. Having to navigate church cultures which value them mostly for their representation rather than for the experiences and expertise they bring is exhausting. It is demoralizing coming to realize that what these churches said about their goals for justice and reconciliation are nowhere near their intentions.
Someone in the workshop asked about whether the business world was any more hospitable to leaders of color than are majority white and many multiethnic churches. Dr. Okuwobi chuckled and said, No, they are just as bad. The important difference, she pointed out, is that most people aren't expecting their workplaces to behave as healthy communities. Our churches, on the other hand, often portray themselves as life-giving families which increases the capacity to seriously wound those who've taken us at our word.
Recognizing the tendency to appropriate leaders of color, many of the speakers called for a new era in the multiethnic movement in which those leaders are freed to lead fully from their gifts and identities. The major shift here is a move away from white-led multiethnic churches or from majority white churches seeking to become multiethnic, to leaders of color leading genuinely multicultural communities. It's a hopeful vision and one I support enthusiastically.
(What is the role of white leaders in this new era? Because that is a regular topic of reflection in this newsletter, I'm going to set the question aside for now though I'm sure we'll return to it again.)
Pastor Jeff Krajewski and Pastor Clarence Moore.
After 24 hours at home, I hit the road again for a weekend in Indianapolis. I was visiting at the invitation of two great churches, New Era and Common Ground, and their pastors, Pastor Clarence Moore and Pastor Jeff Krajewski. I'm mentioning these churches and pastors by name because they're up to something really good in their city.
Pastors Moore and Krajewski got to know each other a few years back and have been slowly and intentionally building a friendship. New Era is a majority Black congregation; Common Ground is mostly White. Both churches have a long-standing commitment to their city and the pastors recently began co-hosting a podcast which explores themes of reconciliation and justice.
Oftentimes, when presenting the themes from my book, someone will ask for an example of a church which is purposefully engaged in the work of discipleship toward racial solidarity. During this visit I got to see one example for myself. Pastors Moore and Krajewski have fostered a personal friendship and their churches have found natural ways to collaborate and serve together, but they are not planning to merge the churches. In fact, I'm not sure either congregation is actively trying to become multiethnic, though they are both incredibly hospitable.
Instead, these pastors are intentionally growing in their solidarity with one another. Before they ever began planning the combined worship service at which I preached, they had been doing good work in small groups and justice-oriented projects. Pastor Krajewiski, importantly as a white pastor of a white congregation, has been leading his members to grow in their own capacity to cross lines of segregation and injustice, to grow in their cross-racial hospitality. He's been discipling them.
As we gathered in New Era's packed sanctuary the joy was palpable. Corporate worship, led by a combination of both church's teams, was so encouraging and edifying. It was a gift to be in the pulpit but even more to watch the interactions between members of both congregations. There is still a lot more ahead of these two communities; during a discussion following the service we got to hear about some of the planned collaborations in the coming months. It will be challenging and really good work!
So, what's the state of the multiethnic church these days? I don't really know, but it certainly involves increasing numbers of leaders of color who are imagining communities beyond the boundaries of white cultural dominance. And it very certainly involves congregations like New Era and Common Ground doing the good, persistent ministry of crossing those old boundaries for the sake of the gospel.
During my visit to Indianapolis I got to spend the night at Fall Creek Abbey, a beautiful urban retreat center run by Beth and David Boorman. The Boormans are both spiritual directors and they gave me a copy of their book, When Faith Becomes Sight. I'm about halfway through and it's really fantastic. Our church has some big decisions in front of us and I've found Beth's and David's paradigm for listening for God's voice to be so helpful.