A “Browning” of the PCUSA – 500 Gather for Multicultural Church Conference

( [email protected] ) May 07, 2004 02:53 PM EDT

Nearly 500 Presbyterians from across the nation joined in one spirit to take part in the annual Presbyterian Church USA Multicultural Church Conference, April 22 – April 26. The successful conference in Dallas drew almost twice as many attendants than last year’s event in Seattle, many of whom were of Asian, Hispanic, Middle Easter, African and Native American dissent.

With the theme, “Living the Vision, Dancing to a New Song,” the PCUSA leaders expressed hope that one day, the denomination may truly become multicultural, multilingual and multigenerational.

”I invite you to look around and see what I am seeing,” the Rev. Raafat Girgis, associate for Office of Evangelism, Racial and Cultural Diversity (ERCD), told a record crowd in a hotel ballroom here. “I am seeing the true signs of a united, yet diverse community of faith that God is giving birth to. I see you as a beacon of hope for all our mainline churches and of this nation.”

The ERCD, part of the evangelism and church development program in the PCUSA sponsored the colorful event.

“Waves of immigration and shifting demographics are calling Presbyterian congregations to be more inclusive and more culturally diverse. PC(USA) officials believe the denomination has about 350 congregations that are “multicultural” — that is, incorporate the traditions of more than one ethnic or racial group. Several hundred other churches are attuned to a single ethnic or racial culture,” continued Girgis.

However, Girgis said the PCUSA must take further steps to incorporate different traditions and heritages within its walls.

“We believe that the church is not just about good music, fine programming or community service,” Girgis said. “In order to be the church, we must intentionally be something more, something new to this world, something that intentionally incarnates the faith, hope and love of the Christ to all.”

“You have come to celebrate and proclaim the good news of tomorrow's church. A church that is vital, colorful and energetic,” continued Girgis. “Those who don’t see the mounting diversity taking place in this nation as a blessing the Lord is sending to our doorsteps are giving in to wrong perspectives and thus giving up faith in the future. Their wrong perspective is imprisonment to their souls, but the right perspective is empowerment.”

Rev. Helen Locklear, associate director of the racial-ethnic ministries program area, the keynote speaker at the conference said she hoped for a “browning of the church” in the near future.

“Americans now are eating more tortillas for breakfast than bagels or biscuits or pita bread,” said Locklear. “The year 2056 is the magic date cited by sociologists as ... when the majority of the U.S. population will be non-European, non-white. As it is now, Asians, Africans and Hispanics make up one-fourth of the population.”

“This ‘browning’ of America will offer tremendous opportunities as well as alter everything in society, from politics and education, to industry, values and culture,” said Locklear, a Native American who works with Asian, black, Hispanic, Korean, Middle Eastern, Native American and immigrant congregations and in the PC(USA)’s anti-racism program.

The stated clerk of the PCUSA’s General Assembly, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, also called for diversity in the congregation.

“God is calling us to have the same zeal that those disciples had in the Book of Acts,” Kirkpatrick said. “To be a church of all nations, to turn the world upside down to the gospel, right here in the United States. Friends, we've got a Pentecost world. God is calling us to be a Pentecost church.”

Kirkpatrick encourage those who were present to let this conference be a ‘movement’ rather than a meeting.

“I’ve been in three (conferences) this week,” said Kirkpatrick, who led worship on the event’s final day, “but I decided here yesterday that I had been in two national conferences and one movement of the Holy Spirit.”

There were also several worship events that took place throughout the conference.

In one of the “multicultural extravaganza” festival, conference-goers in native garb, danced, clapped their hands and moved to music from around the world.

According to PCUSA news, “A group from the African Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Dallas banged out African tunes; an orchestra from Nor’kirk Presbyterian Church in Carrollton, TX, performed pieces by Strauss and Wagner; the Choctaw Dancers from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery performed traditional dances; the El Divino Salvador Presbyterian Praise Team from Dallas belted out contemporary praise songs; and a choir from Dallas’s Oak Cliff Voices of Praise sang such classics as “Down by the Riverside.” There also were a singing dance group and a youth bell choir — even a magic show by Nor’kirk Presbyterian member David Woolcock.”

By the final day, the attendees agreed to create a new Presbyterian Multicultural Network (PMN) as a vehicle for lifting up multicultural ministry in the denomination.

In total, there were more than 40 workshops and events lined up throughout the conference. Next year’s Presbyterian Church USA Multicultural Church Conference will take place in New York City.