Presbyterians Envision a Truly Diverse Denomination

Multicultural ministry is a field most, if not all, historic mainline denominations have focused on heavily in the last few decades. Churches are still struggling to diversify its pews, and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is no exception.

However, this month, 1,100 Presbyterians from Asian, Hispanic, African, Middle Eastern, and European dissent, gathered for a multi-cultural event in one of the most diverse cities in the nation: New York.

The four-day symposium at Columbia University in mid-July attracted church members and clergy, as well as representatives of middle governing bodies and those interested in the church, according to the Presbyterian News Service.

The attendants celebrated the vision for a church that is enriched by a broad spectrum of race and culture, and called for God’s transformation as they shared experiences, partook in workshops, listened to experts, and networked with colleagues.

“It is a church that is engaged in the world,” said Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the PC(USA)’s 216th General Assembly and a speaker at the event. “It is a church that has worship that is vibrant and open to the traditions of the entire world.”

Special workshops addressed issues on how to transform a church by developing leaders in multicultural ministry. Some workshops stressed the method of creating transformational worship, and understanding the changing demographics of the U.S.

“They’re getting a sense of hope that it can be done,” said the Rev. Steve Boots, a conference organizer, to PC News. “They’re getting it not only from the keynoters, the workshop leaders, the worship; they’re getting it from each other. That’s one of the purposes of this conference — to bring people together to share those visions.”

Meanwhile, conference speakers challenged participants to live out the Great Commission by taking risks, crossing social, cultural, religious and racial barriers to create a Pentecost church and demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel, according to PCNews.

“We talk about salvation, and we talk about God’s grace, and we talk about God’s hope, the hope of transformation, the hope of resurrection, in a way that is premised on this idea of change,” said the Rev. Cynthia Rigby, a professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The minority population in the U.S. has sprouted over the years, and now a quarter of the population is of African, Asian and Hispanic dissent. That trend is growing; sociologists say that by 2056, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-European and non-white.

The PC(USA) currently has about 1,900 congregations that relate to at least one multi-cultural model – only a sixth of the denomination’s 11,200 churches.

During the opening worship service, Clifton Kirkpatrick, the top staff of the denomination, set the tone for the gathering as well as the tone for the future Presbyterian Church:

“I believe God is calling us in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to go far by going together, to be a church that welcomes and encourages the small church and the large church, that encourages people of every race and tongue and nation among us.”

The gathering was sponsored by the Presbyterian Multicultural Network, the Evangelism Racial and Cultural Diversity Office, the Network for Churchwide Transformation, the Office of Congregational Transformation, Stony Point Conference Center and the Office of the General Assembly.