It is often said that 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.
As the Christian Reformed Church approaches its 150th anniversary, the majority of its members are still Caucasian and of Dutch extraction. But in the last quarter-century, the face of CRC congregations has been changing.
This evolution is documented through the voices of church leaders in Learning to Count to One: The Joy and Pain of Becoming a Multiracial Church, edited by Al Mulder.
“The CRC’s journey in trying to become more multiracial and multicultural is God’s call on the church,” says Mulder, a retired Christian Reformed minister who pastored a Navajo student ministry in Utah and a multiracial congregation in New Mexico and also worked for Christian Reformed Home Missions.
“This is a wonderful thing that God is doing,” Mulder continues. “In Antioch, Christians were first called by that name when Jews first started sharing Christ with Greeks. People couldn’t define the group ethnically any more, so the distinguishing feature was that they were Christ-followers.”
Learning to Count to One features chapters written by people of various races and cultures serving in pastorates or multicultural ministries in the CRC. In the context of their own experiences, they describe colleagues’ challenges and successes in welcoming African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and First Nations people into the CRC community, where just 4 percent of congregations are truly multiracial.
Big changes are slow in coming. Part of the problem is historical—Mulder notes that the CRC’s charter members built the denomination around an ethnic group instead of around neighborhoods as the Roman Catholic Church did. And as long as a single ethnicity shapes our worship, we’ll stumble on the road to multiculturalism.
African Americans, for example, often come into the denomination through the “front door” of theology, only to exit through the “back door” for cultural reasons such as worship style, says Bob Price, leader of Home Missions’ Black and Urban Ministry Team.
There’s also a need for diverse leader ship. Gilbert Varela, pastor at Sol de Valle / Sun Valley (Calif.) CRC, sees a need for congregations to “recognize and affirm Hispanic pastors for their gifts without discrimination based on educational achievements.”
“The fact that I went to Calvin,” he says, “doesn’t make me better than others who may have gone to Bible institutes.”
Despite the challenges, there has been progress. Mulder highlights churches from Vancouver to Philadelphia that show what multiculturalism looks like in the CRC, including his own congregation—Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Dave Beelen, Madison’s pastor, said such congregations are a unique demonstration of God’s transforming power. “When people actually choose to be together in this way, it speaks clearly to the power of the gospel,” he says. “Christ’s glory shines with greater brightness and clarity in a multiracial setting.”
Learning to Count to One: The Joy and Pain of Becoming a Multiracial Church will be available from Faith Alive Christian Resources this summer. For more information, call 1-800-333-8300; log on to www.FaithAliveResources.org, or visit the resource center at 2850 Kalamazoo SE in Grand Rapids, Mich., or 3475 Mainway in Burlington, Ontario.
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