When the third largest jurisdiction in The United Methodist Church launches its annual learning event next month, congregational vitality will be the focus, with specific attention paid to Cross-Racial/Cross Cultural ministry’s impact on that vitality. The brochure for the North Central Jurisdiction Commission on Religion and Race event states, “Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural appointments represent a nexus point for our prevailing conversations on congregational vitality, denominational growth, and relevance.” The Rev. Deborah Thompson chairs the NCJ CORR and spoke with GCORR about what’s motivating the discussion.
Was there a specific issue that prompted the attention on Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural ministry?
REV. DEBORAH THOMPSON: The United Methodist Church is ordaining people from all places, not just from in the U.S but around the world. Most pastors are not sent to serve in the congregations of their birth so they come from different communities, with different understandings of who God is. And they have to gain an understanding for the church they will serve of who God is in their new community. They have to gain an understanding from the church’s point of view;
the church’s worldview.
Who is the audience for this event?
THOMPSON: Everybody is in a cross-cultural context. It does not matter whether you all look the same; your experiences, [as a pastor] and your relationships [with the congregation] and your worldview are usually different than the congregation that you’re serving. The question is, how do I come in as a pastor and connect with you and [recognize that] I’m different. How can we learn from each other on this journey of faith?
The 2010 census exposed a major cultural shift in the U.S. with statistics showing that racial/ethnic diversity is greater in the adolescent population than in the adult U.S. population. What insights do those stats provide in understanding the need to be culturally adaptive?
THOMPSON: My kids engage in all kinds of communities; my daughter speaks Mandarin Chinese and Spanish fluently. Her life reflects a global relationship to the world. This is a Liberian-American kid who just traveled to Canada over the weekend to have a Taiwanese experience; her girlfriends are white, from the Philippines, Peru, Argentina, Taiwan. My daughter’s generation identifies themselves and each other in very different terms than my generation does.
We are a church of all people for all people. We need to be open to listening to people with accents and not say, ‘I don’t understand’. We need to listen. I don’t think that I have an ear for Spanish, or the ability to speak Mandarin Chinese or Korean but when someone is speaking English with an accent I can hear what he or she’s saying. I may have to listen harder. I think people can make excuses for not being open to each other, so we look for an excuse why we don’t want a woman, a person of color, a person who speaks English as a second language, to lead our congregation-which has nothing to do with being the church.
The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference will host the NCJCORR 2012 event in Bloomington, Illinois. The Learning event, titled, “Living into the Vision, the Beloved Community,” runs from Friday October 19 to Sunday October 21 and will feature workshops, panel discussions that discuss best practices, and strategies for building relationships. Featured speakers will include GCORR General Secretary Erin Hawkins, spoke word artist Erica Granados-De La Rosa and Rev. Rob Kirby, Campus Minister, Wesley Foundation, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Link here for more information.