Mainline Churches Desire Change in Ethnic Makeup

Some of the country's largest mainline denominations are stepping up efforts to fight membership decline, partly by diversifying their predominantly white churches.

African Americans, Hispanics and others are still in the margins of the Presbyterian Church and "underrepresented," said the Rev. Fernando A. Cascante, assistant professor of Christian Education at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education.

Union-PSCE, a predominantly white seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is installing the Rev. Brian K. Blount as its first African American president on Wednesday.

A pre-inauguration conference explored how to best educate and train the next generation of African-American leaders in the PC(USA).

There is a need to analyze and bring the margins to the center and "to think that another world is possible," Cascante said, noting that a lack of diversity is present both in theological education institutions and in churches, according to the Presbyterian News Service.

"Each of us here has been a boundary breaker in one way or another," Blount said Monday.

"It will be, for me, a wonderful thing to be a … part of this boundary breaking event in the company of so many of you boundary breakers in the faith," he added.

The PC(USA) joins the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in recognizing the need for a multicultural denomination and diverse leadership.

Last month, the United Methodist Church approved a 12-year-old initiative to strengthen the African-American churches.

There are more than 2,400 African-American churches and 432,354 African Americans among the 8 million United Methodists in the United States. The theme of the initiative, "Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century," is transformation and resources will help train churches to increase their effectiveness, mission and ministry. The initiative will also explore the strengthening of relationships among United Methodist churches outside the United States.

ELCA presiding bishop Mark Hanson spoke at the United Methodist Church's quadrennial meeting last month, informing them of a desire in ELCA for more diversity. ELCA membership is 97 percent white, Hanson often notes.

"We white folks must be pruned of our power and privilege. We will not bear fruit in mission if we are not pruned of the racism within ourselves, our church and our society," Hanson said.

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