Saturday, April 30, 2011

ABCs For Multicultural Church

There are a lot of reasons to grow our congregations into multiethnic, multiclass, multigenerational communities.  This is what I learned from Dave Olson of the Evangelical Covenant Church of America, at a presentation during Exponential 2011 last week:

Reasons to Become Multiethnic, Multiclass, Multigenerational Congregations

·      It’s the right thing to do. We’re all people who grow faithfully best together.
·      Monoethnic churches reproduce inequality and affirm oppression – in fancy educational language, it is the implicit curriculum – the teaching – of church life.
·      Monoethnic churches strengthen racial division and political separation – again, because what we live is separation, rather than meeting and understanding our neighbor.
·      Monoethnic monoclass churches keep us from dealing “honestly with the corrosive effect of affluence on our personal lives.” Why? Churches not only separate by race/ethnicity, but by class and we are far less motivated to know our neighbor’s situation and feel like we have enough when we live in the same kind of separation American housing already generates – competitively, rather than compassionately.

All that same stuff about division and not knowing and caring well for each other that applies to race/ethnicity, applies also to class and age.

We know that we need 20% of American congregations to become intentional multicultural, multiclass, multigenerational (M-3) congregations for all congregations taking that diversity seriously. 20% is where accountability in democratic communities begins to be effective.

Gregg Kappas, a long-time pastoral coach and seasoned minister, in conversation with Shaun King of Courageous Church, the ABCS of becoming intentionally multiclass, multigenerational, and multicultural:
·      Attitude to Worship Arts
·      Building Relationships
·      Cross-Cultural Staffing

Our Attitude to Worship  matters. Worship is for giving thanks, for celebration, for turning to the holy, for traveling through and forming our spiritual lives, for offering ourselves to what matters most. Transformation Church, an M-3 community in Ft. Mills, NC, puts it this way: Upward (to God), Inward (Our Selves), and Outward (The World). Worship grows us in all three ways. If we offer only one style of worship, with one or even a dominant cultural flavor, then we’re teaching two things that diminish our calling: assimilation and that dominant culture matters more than everyone else. Healthy M-3 worship will reflect the cultures gathered and the cultures of the wider community, involve and invite people from all economic levels, and involve and invite people of all ages. At Davies Memorial UU Church, visitors are invited with a FAQ, with the mission statement clearly saying they are multicultural, and with clarity about sources of music that shows accommodation, not assimilation.

We have to Build Relationships, thick, meaningful, important relationships, in mixed multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass small groups. One of the things I appreciate about Transformation Church is that they have no affinity groups – because those corrode their mission. Everything they do as a church builds and nurtures thicker relationships between people across age, class, and culture. All members 12 and older at Transformation serve on worship teams and are in worship. All small groups at Transformation have people from all ages, all classes, and the cultures present. Courageous Church in Atlanta builds relationships through missional outreach and service to the larger community, like its Home For Haiti Program, feeding people, and tending the other works of justice, activism and mercy we see the early church doing in the Book of Acts. It is intentional and messy, but it you look at a congregation like Mosaic in Little Rock, AR, you’ll see how deep, meaningful relationships have borne fruit over more than a decade of nurturing. Mosaic isn’t part of the Little Rock community; it reflects the Little Rock community, drawing from all segments of society, connected to all the divided communities within the city.

We need Cross-Cultural Staffing – paid and volunteer. The fastest way a visitor can have a sense of possibly belonging is to see some aspect of our selves in a place – language, ability, age, race/ethnicity, class, gender or sexual expression. The fastest way we will know that the community is intentional about being in deep and meaningful relationship across social barriers and live what we preach and teach is when we experience cross-cultural staffing at every level and way of being church together – inside and outside the walls, through the leadership and through the followership. That’s when we are safe enough to risk being messy together, practicing cross-cultural engagement, learning from and teaching one another, discovering what we share and what we don’t, and honoring each other in our differences as well as what we share. Cross-cultural staffing also keeps us honest about accommodating, not assimilating, and paying attention to the real experiences and perceptions of our shared life of faith. Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church, was so committed to showing cross-cultural staffing that in his first year of ministry, he divided his salary in two so Transformation could add Paul Allen as executive pastor. Transformation's team clearly reflects their community.

We don’t want to undermine and inadvertently teach against our faith by living in ways that subvert growing that faith fully. That’s why we need to pay attention to the ABC’s of Multicultural Multiclass Multigenerational Congregations.

Faithful Church Planting

When people share their thoughts about starting a new congregation, people who watch and support the church planting world will frequently ask: who’s your target group?  They’re not usually looking for the answers I’d be likely to give: the folks excluded and abandoned, people who want to worship and work for justice in a multicultural multiclass multigenerational way, or, humanity. No, those coached in the misunderstood and misapplied Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP), want to know an ethnic/racial/economic/educational group – preferably one to which the prospective planting team members belong, which is a weird assumption anyway when more and more of us, especially in Unitarian Universalism are folks who identify as multiethnic/multiracial, who’ve known well several economic strata, and who live always in multigenerational community. (But even then, how many multicultural multiclass multigenerational planting teams are we encouraging?)

The Homogeneous Unity Principle observes that we will often most attracted in faith to those who are most like ourselves, for we will know already we belong, and we will understand those who are teaching and leading. The misapplication of that principle has resulted in more and larger monoethnic churches reflecting the competitiveness and disparity in American church life across the United States. That misapplication means that HUP has become one more excuse in racial and ethnic and class separation. That misapplication has let churches off the hook for living lovingly in diversity – the way our world needs to live.

I’m looking forward to Mark DeYmaz’ new e-book, due to be released June 1, clarifying what Donald McGavran, who first named and taught the Homogeneous Unity Principle, and looking at how unbiblical that principle is for churches. I’ve heard Mark talk about it, and he named a lot of the reasons I’ve been uncomfortable with the principle and feel it is an unfaithful way to start new congregations. It is, in fact, the way that has allowed American congregations to so clearly reflect American class segregation and to give wealthy, whiter suburban congregations the best chances of becoming very large churches, furthering that social divide, and transforming faith from one about risking well for greater love, justice, and mercy out of gratitude and wonder to the source of being, to a faith that is functionally about what makes me comfortable. That’s not faith, that’s consumerism.

Unitarian Universalists have no business whatsoever with the Homogeneous Unity Principle. Yes, building intentionally multicultural multiclass multigenerational churches is hard – because they are places of deep faithing and risking against the social divides that still exist and deny people dignity, destroy lives, and devastate our world in exploitation - but not impossible, and we need to stop treating the misapplied HUP as the great religious commandments many Unitarian Universalists would otherwise go out of their way to avoid. 

We have to risk the messiness and discomfort that comes from not being able to assume we know our neighbors (people unlike our selves), from life-long learning, from humility, from sharing and vulnerability. 

We cannot be communities of reconciliation, of hope for humanity and for the planet, of joyful celebration of life’s amazing diversity and blessings as essentially monoethnic, monoclass, monogenerational communities. That isn’t how the world is today. It isn’t how the world will be tomorrow. It isn’t the heart of a faith that declares one world, one humanity, interdependent and committed to meaningful change that bends our world toward abiding love and justice.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Building Houses of Hope

Have you ever seen a religious community with a sign on the door that says “All Are Welcome” but when you peep inside, everyone looks to be from the same economic class, or about the same age, or the same ethnicity/race? Was that welcome sign even in your mother tongue? If you have, how did you feel about that “All Are Welcome” sign?

I’ve certainly had those experiences, and while I’ve often tried to join in, I’ve also often felt quite apart and not quite welcome. And if you’re identified as a minority in the American context, every day is filled with plenty of experiences of not being fully part of the dominant culture. So folks are that much more prepared to experience that not really welcome in our religious communities. There are also plenty of experiences now – thanks to lots of ongoing work and continuing civil rights struggle and meeting one another in our larger communities, in our schools and sports teams, in recreation and in work – where many of know what it does mean to live fully immersed in multicultural contexts. Where we’re frequently failing even more in the U.S. is keeping those multicultural contexts multiclass and multigenerational. But there’s an expectation and a hope that when we see signs that say “All”, those places really mean it.

Yet our religious communities often have a long way to go to live into the promise of all.

Scott Williams, a former campus pastor for, whose ministry team with LifeChurch modeled living that promise of all welcome, all belong here, has written a new book: Church Diversity: Sunday, the Most Segregated Day of the Week. Scott’s book lays out the reality of the American Christian landscape and also encourages all of us with some powerful examples and reasons in how we can begin to pray, imagine, and live our way into multiethnic/multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass reality. Unitarian Universalists need to pay attention to the questions Scott asks and take a searching moral inventory of how it really is our congregations and leadership.

As Scott Williams reminded those of us gathered to learn about healthy multiethnic churches at Exponential 2011, we measure what we value. If you look at Unitarian Universalist numbers by race/ethnicity, we’re looking very mono-ethnic.  Most of our cultural diversity is coming out of multiracial/multiethnic people (4% of our communities). Whoa. In 2008, only 1.7% of U.S. population identified as multiracial. But we have 4%? (Based on 2008 Pew Forum Religious Landscape vs. UUA 1997 Fulfillin the Promise Survey) Why? Xers and Millenials, which means we have a growing number of people whose whole lives are multicultural/multiethnic and we have some indication that folks want us to be living into that promise of all belong here.

Scott’s primary message to religious communities is to remember our bottom lines. We are not for-profit businesses. Our communities need to stop being focused so much on dollars and cents. If we spent as much time on living the practices of multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass community as we do on balancing the books or wordsmithing theological disagreements then our communities would be in a far healthier place and really mean what we say. If Unitarian Universalists truly believe our calling is to affirm and live into 1 world, 1 humanity celebrated in diversity and called to unending love and justicia then our bottom line as a religious movement is making a house of hope for all peoples.

Some of the things we need to be measuring, to give us the courage to keep working in relationship with the people we are called to become:

·      Diversity in leadership, practices in staffing and volunteer life.
·      Ensuring multiple voices, especially paying attention to those three keys of multigenerational, multicultural, multiclass, in all places and practices of congregational live. Multiple voices may mean multiple languages. How are we intentionally nurturing & ensuring the language of belonging for all?
·      Cultural competence matters. Cross-cultural engagement, training, practice, multiple languages. As Mark DeYmaz observes from his eleven years of healthy multiethnic multigenerational multiclass ministry experience: accommodation, not assimilation.
·      Ask ourselves: in everything we do, how are we embodying and embracing the house of hope for all peoples?
·      What diverse organizations and businesses are we partnered with in the wider community? Where do we spend our money? How are we living with our neighbors, in the neighborhood, not just in our sanctuaries?
·      Name and share how are lives being changed by our creaton of a house of hope for all peoples.

Scott Williams told me, so now I’m sharing that with you: we need evidence daily of how we’re living what we say we hold as our bottom line. If we’re building a house of hope for all peoples, every day we ask ourselves, today, how well are we living this calling of justicia and community that we name living on the side of love?

Scott Williams (2011) Church Diversity: Sunday The Most Segregated Day of the Week. New Leaf Press. (On Twitter: @ScottWilliams)
Mark DeYmaz (On Twitter: @MarkDeYmaz and @mosaix ) - Mosaix Global Network
John Buehrens & Rebecca Parker (2009) A House for Hope. Beacon Press.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Exponential 2011

We need courage to live in ways that clearly demonstrate our commitment to love, justice, compassion, ecology, and peace. It is easy to sell those things – buy this to show your love, buy that for fairness, pay for those for mercy or sustainability or peace. Package a cause. Sell the soul right out of it.

While there are many things made easier by technology and many things humanity has learned that can make life better for all, the dominant culture is still telling us that if we’re living right, life will be easy and full of things. And so we’re caught up in anticipating that next thing, in the wanting, but not in the difficulty of creating.

I’m heartened by the number of people insisting they get in on the difficulty of creating, of envisioning something that isn’t right now, like having regular hours working with undocumented immigrants to follow the path to citizenship, or creating a home for lbgtqi homeless youth, or building a multiethnic multiclass multigenerational congregation where 30 languages are spoken & people from all over the place are working to end human trafficking and rebuild a healthy city.

It takes courage to see what isn’t working, imagine something different, and then really work to make something new happen.

It takes courage to not cut at leaders for failures or personal disappointments or simple discomforts, but to contribute to real and transformative actions based in stronger and deeper values.

It takes courage to hold onto a bold imagining of what could be based in peace building, ecological healing, merciful action, a life of equality and justice, and a love that holds all people.

It takes courage to risk our selves in trying to transform the world according to values that are truly not commodities and cannot be sold in the marketplace.

If I’m saying something takes courage, then we’re dealing with the enmity of fear, of what’s never been done, of what’s true sacrifice for the greater good, of feeling alone and of living with ostracism and persecution. And you can’t buy something that holds that fear and makes you more courageous. We have to grow that courage, make space for it, nurture in each other as part of living into this calling for a different world.

Our religious communities are truly living into those values when we can take bold action through fear for that wider vision. We truly know what we value when we can’t stop ourselves or be stopped by others from living into those values.

Is your heart really for diversity? For the unity of humanity in our amazing differences? Are you ready to give up friends and family and work and social acceptance if you enjoy any of those things? Are you ready to risk stronger friendships than you’ve ever known, meeting people unlike you who become the most important people you know?

Is your heart really for everyone to know that they are loved and loveable and can contribute something to this world that is good? Who frightens you? What will you need to do to be with those folk?

Ask yourself the same questions about compassion, peace, ecology – whatever you believe are your core values of goodness. What fears must you confront in order to bring that value fully into reality all the time, everywhere? What courage will you need?

Wherever I turn, whatever session I attend at Exponential 2011, we’re dealing with what we value most, really and truly, and what we need to do to nurture the courage necessary to act, one moment at a time, to make those values real.

What fears do you need to confront? How will you nurture the courage you need to go fully into the values and vision calling you for goodness?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Multicultural Congregations: Tough & Wonderful

I have the honor and blessing to be attending Exponential 2011, a church planters’ conference primarily for evangelical congregational planters. Why am I here? I’m here for the multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-class church track.

For years I’ve been told healthy multicultural multigenerational multi-class (M-3) congregations are easier for evangelical Christians, than for Unitarian Universalists, because there’s agreement in theology. So I came to Exponential to find out the truth. And whaddya know? What I’ve been told about M-3 congregations isn’t true. They’re hard, risky, counter-cultural, heart, mind, body, soul work – no matter who you are.

How we live in our congregations – whether as intentional multicultural multigenerational multiclass communities or, as most congregations in the United States are, as monocultural, ageist and class segregated communities – speaks the truth to our theologies. Our actions show what we believe, and if we believe in one humanity (UU) or one in God (evangelical) then we’re called to intentional multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass community nurturing, risking, and growth.

I heard today from Derwin L.  Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in Ft. Mills, North Carolina. All you folks near Charlotte who want to experience an M-3 community in action are welcome to go visit Transformation. Any UU folk who want to go with me to Transformation on the Sunday of General Assembly are welcome. I’ve asked. We’re invited to come on and see a model community, where youth of twelve and over all serve on worship teams, where everything is shaped by the mission that living the gospel calls multiethnic, multigenerational, and multiclass congregations to be transforming themselves, each other, and the world – because they are transformed. But it wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy.

I heard today from Shaun King, who pastors an intentional M-3 congregation in Atlanta, Courageous Church, and the ways we are tried and tested in doing this work, the ways we must be changed through cross-cultural, cross-class, cross-generational engagement. It isn’t easy. But the work remains worthy.

I heard today from Mark DeYmaz, pastor of a successful M-3 congregation, Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AK, author of three books reflecting the lessons his community has learned along the way, books that hold hard-won wisdom. What did Mark talk about today? Seven common challenges to M-3 ministry. This is difficult work. It isn’t easy. But it can also be done.

There's no cookie-cutter here. There are guiding principles, but there are no templates, because each of our congregations needs to reflect the larger community where we are – where we truly are – in leadership and followership, in worship and in study, in sharing and in caring, in justice and in mercy, out of persecution and into peace, out of fear and into love.

Books by Mark DeYMaz:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Singing Belonging

When I needed a religious community so badly my withered spirit rattled against my bones, I was encouraged to check out some congregations, and, along with that, Unitarian Universalism. The congregation I ended up with had a lovely and fairly lively musical program, but it wasn’t, by and large, the music I knew. I had to learn it.

If we grow up in a fairly steady musical cultural and religious tradition, one that isn’t changing a great deal, I suppose it is possible to learn without being aware of it. These are the songs of our faith; these are the songs of belonging. But I wouldn’t know that from experience. My experience is one of mixing and change, of racial and cultural barriers dissipating, and culture and history becoming more important in knowing musical meaning, as sharing around the world has become easier and easier.

I know plenty of congregations where folks hold onto a set canon of songs of belonging, marking all others as strangers. But neither the wider world, nor those congregations are places where cultural and religious change aren’t happening. Fencing which songs are the tradition and refusing to learn any new songs is an act of rejecting spiritual growth and change. 

We learn something when we learn the songs of our neighbors and friends, when we have to learn tonal scales unfamiliar to us, or rhythms that move our bodies – and thus, our spirits – in new ways. Contextualizing and introducing all songs and not assuming some “we” know and some “we” does three things well:
·      invites us into greater appreciation and understanding of who “we” are
·       makes no assumptions about who’s present; and,
·      teaches us a wider and deeper faith and way of being in the world.

There are some terrific resources for singing the kind of belonging hinted at in Unitarian Universalism, particularly from three song books published in the past ten years:
·      Las voces del camino: Un complemento de Singing the Living Tradition (the purple edition is the new one, with poetic, idiomatic Spanish)
·      Singing the Journey (supplement to Singing the Living Tradition)
·      Come Sing A Song With Me (UU Musicians Network arrangements of songs to sing everywhere – not just in the sanctuary or with accompaniment)

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) blog for leaders, Interconnections, posted about using contemporary music in worship recently, highlight Vance Bass’ blog Liberal Religion Gets Loud. The UUA Worship Web page on music makes many more wonderful connections to resources, including composers active in the UU Musicians Network (UUMN), so that you can find out what’s newest and also commission new music.

If you want to widen the circle, if you wish to actually make room for who’s likely to already be present, who’s visiting, who’s in your wider community, if you wish to meet your neighbor and honor them, one way to practice that is in singing.

We belong to one another already, just by being born. We have responsibilities to one another and to this world, to our histories and our future. Singing a wider circle is one of the ways that love may truly win. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Denying Our Neighbor

An ugly practice is moving from city to city, criminalizing compassion. What I’m talking about are new ordinances dramatically restricting or ending feeding hungry homeless people. The issue lit up the wealthiest council of London a few weeks ago. West Palm Beach, Florida did it in 2007.  Orlando  has recently adopted similar strictures, supposedly to preserve parks (rather than, say, preserve those parks with better facilities and more services), and St. Petersburg is preparing to join in denying our neighbors decency.

We cringe and speak ill of folks who deny and take advantage of their neighbors after natural disasters. If we hold an ethic of helping our neighbors made homeless through a hurricane, why would we not hold the same ethic of compassion for our neighbors homeless by other means? Why would we make caring illegal?

We belong to one another in this world – we have obligations of care and responsibility for the planet and for each being on it. People handing out sandwiches in public parks are not disrupting the common good. They’re trying to nurture that good, just like the folks setting up mobile medical clinics and the folks working on affordable housing and the folks picking up trash along the canals and the people removing habitat-destroying species from the Everglades.

Do not tell me how much you love this country or how you are a person of faith and then, as we drive by a homeless person, tell me how much that person hates this country and needs to get a life and pray so God will help that person. Stop. Back up. Get out of the car and meet the person you just dismissed and denied. You are God's hands and heart in this moment and in this place: what you do matters. Through you and with you is how what's holy and what's not moves in this world.

One of the important stories this week in Christian scriptures involves Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, being told he will deny risking himself and knowing Jesus three times in public (retold in all four gospels, which is pretty rare). We disavow and deny living compassionately and faithfully when we’re denying our neighbor help and heart, food and shelter.

An important story in Jewish scriptures is playing out this week in Passover, when the whole community remembers what it is to be exiles and strangers, slaves escaping for freedom, and dependent upon help where it may be found. We disavow and deny our own histories, gratitude for the opportunities we’ve had and the infrastructures from which we’ve benefitted, and the possibility that in another series of chances and storms, we might need help, too.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail: “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Moral law calls us to love our neighbors, to be generous with one another, to help one another.

Every single one of us is rendered a stranger and exile when we remove compassion from our common life. We need to care for one another to have healthy, vibrant communities. We need to be able to lend one another a hand, a home, a heart. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Whose Are We?

We belong to love beyond imagination. We belong to the past and to the present and to the future. We belong to the earth and we belong to all of life. We belong to our failures and we belong to our aspirations. We belong to each other. We belong to ourselves. We belong to love beyond imagination and justice and mercy who are ever in the company of that love.

Whose are we? Asks the child learning about where we come from, and so we tell that child. We come from here, we come from there, these are the ancestors of blood, of memory, of fear, of reverence, of honor, of wisdom, of failure, of loathing, of longing, of hoping, the ancestors so much like who we are and shall be for future generations. We belong to these.

Whose are we? Asks the elder in wonder at all that passes for today, and the peoples of all ages gather to wonder together. Where are we going, who shall we become, how shall we be? Shall we be people of care and of justice, of building peace, of constructive conflict, of innovation, of tradition, of awareness, of self-indulgence, of narrow heartedness, of freedom, of mercy? How shall we serve the future, whose we are?

Whose are we? Asks the one sitting in the tracks of destruction, surrounded by the cacophony of uh-oh birds. Where shall we begin in healing the devastation wrought wittingly and unwittingly, by human hands and by natural causes? Whose are we if not of and for this earth that gives us life and to which we return in death?

Whose are we? Asks the one hungry and worried and feeling very much alone. Will the whole community answer? Will even one? Whose are we, if we do not belong to one another, to caring for and encouraging one another? Whose are we?

Whose are we? Asks the angry and afraid, for we clearly do not belong here. Really? How is that possible in one human family, on one world? How do we not belong to one another, in trial and in exultation, in care and through accountability, with mercy, for peace, with hope, for justice?

Whose are we? I’ll say “God’s” and you’ll say “Krishna’s” and you’ll say “Allah’s” and you’ll breathe “YHWH” and you’ll say “Mother’s” and you’ll say “Love’s” and you’ll say “Truth’s” and you’ll say “Wonder” and you’ll say….and you’ll say… and you’ll say…and together, we make the chorus of sounds that sings of our experiences and our cultures and weaves anew how we are connected to life, to one another, to tradition, to innovation, to the past, to the future, to the present moment.

Whose are we? We answer that every moment with every breath and every action, with every song and every aspiration. Sometimes, we’re even reaching toward that beautiful calling past our limitations and our imaginations. Sometimes, we’re right in that presence and we no longer ask, whose we are, for we know and we are and this is the work and the love and the being right now.