Materials for Module 4: Welcome and Inclusion

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Leadership in Multicultural Congregations

by Jacqueline J. Lewis, former Alban Institute consultant and Senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church, a vibrant and growing multicultural congregation in Lower Manhattan, NY. (Adapted) Although American congregations share the call to inclusivity, studies show that more than 90 percent of U.S. Protestants worship in congregations in which 90 percent or more of the congregants share their racial/ethnic heritage (see Mark Chaves, National Congregations Study, National Opinion Research Center, 1998). Even churches with a sincere desire to diversify may encounter barriers such as location, language, and worship style. My consulting/research practice at the Alban Institute has included work with chaplains, pastors, lay leaders, and denominational officials who are accurately reading that in a time of shifting demographics, the valuing and building of culturally and racially diverse faith communities increasingly will be the norm. Yet the numbers speak for themselves: achieving diversity and inclusion is difficult work. Concurrently with my action-research with Alban Institute clients, I have experienced two other learning environments—a one-year conversation with a diverse group of clergy, denominational leaders, and Alban staff on what it means to negotiate cultural boundaries (see Jeffrey Haggray, “In Mission on the Boundaries—On Purpose!,” Congregations, Summer 2003), and my doctoral studies at Drew University, where I am writing a dissertation on the identity development of clergy who serve racially and culturally diverse congregations. I suggest that clergy are able to tell compelling stories of a new world order as they build congregations that celebrate difference. Although my research still is in process, it seems clear that leadership is key to building authentic community. I use “leadership” to mean “the ability to create a safe environment or container in which the uniqueness of individuals, difference in culture and experiences, and healthy conflict can be affirmed.” Leaders need these capacities to create this safe container:  -A clear, consistent ethic that “being on the frontier” is a critical theological task  -The ability to bring critical analysis, faith tradition, and a learned articulation to bear on situations  -The willingness to be wrong  -Courage to speak the truth, and to know when to be quiet and listen  -Strength to live with ambiguity, including the dissonance between what we think the relationship between God and humanity ought to be and what it is  -Determination to address conflict head on  -The savvy to know that borders shift—today it may be race and ethnicity, tomorrow gender and sexuality  -The humility to be self-aware and self-reflective, to be open and take in information  -The boldness to be visionary and prophetic, and the spiritual willingness to act when action is not popular, knowing that deliverance is coming  -The patience to live on the border amid tension, even death  -The knack of recruiting allies and partners for ministry that is lonely work  -A binding vision, the ability to articulate it, and passion for the work  -The skills to read and interpret the environment  -The authenticity and integrity to “walk the talk” and “practice what you preach”  -The grace to be hospitable and welcoming  -A sense of humor, and the capacity for play  -A willingness to step on and over the edge, knowing that folk on the edge are sometimes cut

Valuing All Voices

One way leaders build diverse communities is through storytelling and structured conversations. We learn several truths from these conversations: The stress of racial difference can make people mistrust their voices at the table. Those in the minority, and even white men, can feel that their voices do not count. Trust must be built so that people learn that their voices are valued. When sharing stories, people can at times feel that there are parallel histories—one black and the other white—and Hispanic and Asian peoples may feel left out of the story altogether. How do we learn to value all the stories and to weave them together to create one? Stories may overlap and yet differ substantially. It is important to value all perspectives. Language and word choice are important. Attentive listening helps heal wounds. While it takes time to create a container for difficult conversations, groups feel uplifted by candid exchanges, and when success is celebrated, they are more likely in the future to enter into meaningful exchange.


Are You on Middle Class Standard Time? by Andrew Willis Garcés In Communion with One Another: Characteristics of Successful Multiracial Congregations by Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook Welcome and Inclusion (slides) (pdf)

(Optional) For Further Reading:


5 Replies to “Materials for Module 4: Welcome and Inclusion”

  1. Jean Spencer

    It is interesting to read the article on Middle Class Standard Time and it felt a very familiar scenario. But more. Moms and Pops all over the country are saving for college for their kids to get the best chance at the “American Dream”. Lots of local businesses die with Mom and Pop and we all are headed towards MCST (or dare I say imprisoned) via the best college we can afford or go into debt to get through. I wish it would all explode somehow, and reform into a slower and more enjoyable life for everyone. We need to get off the treadmill..

    • Frank D. Coon, III

      Loved MSCT also. It hurt a bit, both by the fact that it has undermined my own effectiveness in all elements of my life and by the fact, that I was less aware of, that the language and process of living that way excludes those who do not live on MCST.

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