For a very long time, some American Christians have worried about the lack of racial diversity of people attending worship services on Sunday mornings. Indeed, that 10 or 11 a.m. hour sometimes has been called the most segregated hour of the week in this country.
Some of the racial makeup of congregations has been a natural result of segregated geography and of the widespread human inclination to hang around people like ourselves. But a good deal of the lack of diversity grows out of the history of bigotry in this country starting at least as far back as slavery.
The question of what can be done about all of this now was the subject the other evening of an American Public Square gathering at Redeemer Fellowship in KC's Midtown area. A rabbi moderated a panel made up of four Christian pastors in a conversation called "Religion & Race: Chasm or Bridge?"
It was a useful evening with lots of worthwhile topics tossed on to the table, and APS is to be commended (again) for providing a forum for talking civilly about difficult issues that face us, though the evening would have been strengthened considerably had the panel reflected the religious diversity of the Kansas City area. Instead, there were four Protestants and the moderator was a rabbi. That's not good enough.
But for today I want to focus on something said by one of the panelists, Brian Key, who is pastor of spiritual formation at Redeemer Fellowship. (He's on the far right in the photo of panelists above. To his right is Tina L. Harris, pastor of Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church. In the center is panel moderator David Glickman, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom. To his right is Linda Collins, associate pastor of New Life in Christ International Ministries, and to the far left, holding the microphone, is Rick Behrens, senior pastor of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church.)
What he has learned from others, said Key, an African-American pastor at a predominantly white church, is that unless you make a determined effort to have it look otherwise, your church will mostly likely look like the people who show up at your dinner table.
I think experience bears that out. If we live in a world that is truly integrated -- not just at work but in our family time and free time as well -- we will want something similar in our faith community. At my house over the years we've certainly had a racial, ethnic and economic variety of people at our dinner table, but the truth is that most of the time our dinner guests look a lot like the middle class white folks that my wife and I are. And our church, Second Presbyterian, though it has some racial minority members, looks mostly like our dinner table.
There are many good reasons to want a diverse church, as some of the panelists noted. But it takes an intentional effort. Which means not just being welcoming but being inviting. And it takes being aware of the unstated cultural messages and hurdles we put up (often without meaning to offend) for visitors.
This might be a time when what happens in our homes can change what our churches look like and whom they include.
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PRAYERS FOR A SICK GIRL
Regular readers of my blog may recall this post from last June in which I talked about an interfaith effort by Kansas City area teen-agers to help a Muslim girl, Rania Bouzahzah, who had been diagnosed with cancer. The girl and her family recently have returned to Belgium, from which they had come to the U.S., so they could be closer to family and for other reasons. I and others just received this update from the girl's father, Boumédiène Bouzahzah, and wanted to pass it along to ask for your prayers and good thoughts on behalf of Rania. Here's what he said: "Hi, everybody. As I mentioned previously we returned back home to Belgium. Thank God, we made it home safely. Rania was tired and had some headache and vomited a couple of times. We had a very good welcoming and a very nice dinner together with about 2/3 of our family members. Rania was overwhelmed. Things are going slowly but we need time and support from family members. We will update you. Thank you for being there for Rania. Love to all of you. Best wishes, Boumédiène and family."