I had been told that the Multicultural Conference was one of the most inspiring and energetic gatherings of the church, and last week I discovered for myself how true that really is. There were approximately 480 participants – including volunteers and walk-in local attendees – in San Antonio, Texas, for the Ninth Annual Multicultural Conference. They represented congregations, presbyteries, synods, seminaries and agencies, all coming together to celebrate, learn, build relationships, worship, pray and support one another. This conference started in 2000 with less than 80 participants, and has been growing every year ever since.
In the light of the Kingdom vision, which I personally experienced there, it is interesting to note that the demographics of the United States have changed dramatically in the past 25 years. In 1985, the PC(USA) was 95.8% White/Non-Hispanic; 2.2% African-American; .7% Hispanic; 1.1% Asian & Pacific Islander; and .2% Other. By 2006, the percentages were 91.7% White/Non-Hispanic; 3.2% African-American; 1.3% Hispanic; 3.1% Asian & Pacific Islander; and .6% Other. Thus, in spite of a goal set by the General Assembly for the PC(USA) to be 20% racial ethnic by 2010, we are lagging both behind our PC(USA) goal as well as the country as a whole.
Of course, this is just a measure of membership, and does not include worship attendance at immigrant and other fellowships, which are not counted in the annual statistical report. According to church development and redevelopment congregational grant proposals that we receive each year, more than 60% of the proposals are coming from multicultural and racial ethnic churches, with 60% of the eventual grant recipients being congregations that are racial ethnic and multicultural. Even so, and aside from numerical goals, it is our intention as well as our constitutional mandate to be diverse!
"The Church is called to a new openness to its own membership, by affirming itself as a community of diversity, becoming in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, and conditions, and by providing for inclusiveness as a visible sign of the new humanity.” (The Book of Order of the PC(USA) G-3.0401b)
“The Church in its witness to the uniqueness of the Christian faith is called to mission and must be responsive to the diversity in both the church and the world. Thus the fellowship of Christians as it gathers for worship and orders its corporate life will display a rich variety of form, practice, language, program, nurture, and service to suit culture and need.” (BOO, G-4.0401)
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, as well as different marital conditions … shall be guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the decision making of the church.” (BOO, G-9.0104ff)
And numbers aside, there are many places in which cultures other than English- speaking Anglos are represented, or even predominant. Leading up to this conference, I met in Synod forums with both the Synod of South Atlantic and the Synod of the Sun. As executive presbyters and other presbytery representatives at the Synod of the Sun shared news of their presbyteries, I was struck with how many times racial ethnic fellowships, congregations and initiatives were mentioned. Two of the presbyteries in Synod of the Sun have worship in 11 languages, "and growing" as one said.
Multicultural does not mean in all cases that multiple cultures are represented in a congregation. While there is repeated bemoaning that "Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week," there is a place for congregations predominantly of one racial ethnic culture or language, and the Presbyterian Church celebrates and encourages those as well as congregations that combine two or more cultures. As we move forward in faith to grow our PC(USA) deep and wide, may we be always mindful and intentional about welcoming and encouraging all such expressions of the Kingdom.
Read a related feature - 9th annual multicultural conference kicks off in Texas - by Evan Silverstein of the Presbyterian News Service.