Igniting a Movement
Since its inception, the Church has struggled with issues of race and inclusion, asking questions: Who’s in and who’s out? Who has the power and who does not? Who makes the decisions and who does not? The 1960s raised many questions about race and reconciliation, civil rights and institutional segregation and discrimination. These civil problems were magnified in a Church that was commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the gospel to all nations (ethnicities).
I believe most pastors and church members want to practice diversity and inclusivity; however, we’re not doing a very good job of it. For this reason, there have been movements in the church to rectify this concern. The Confession of 1967 marks a clear institutional step toward reconciliation on the part of the PCUSA. Other movements have been more grass roots.
One such group was the Presbyterian Multicultural Network (PMN). The seeds of this network were planted at the Multicultural Church Conference in 2000. And then PMN was formally launched at the 2004 Multicultural Church Conference in Irving, Texas. The initial purpose of the PMN was to strengthen racial/ethnic congregations and to help Anglo congregations see the benefits and positives of welcoming all ethnicities.
The network grew quickly. There was a lot of excitement for what the network was doing and providing. The Office of General Assembly provided a staff person for the group. Workshops were held, seminars were offered, and books were published. Attendance at early conferences reached 400 to 600 participants. As understanding evolved and definitions clarified, PMN changed its name to Presbyterian Intercultural Network (PIN).
In the ensuing years, and for a variety of reasons, PIN lost its OGA staff representation and also lost a good chunk of its funding. By the end of 2020, the board had shrunk to three and those board members questioned the future and viability of PIN.
But then, the Holy Spirit nudged these three faithful individuals. And they reached out to a number of interculturally minded church leaders, interviewed them and invited several of them to serve on the PIN Board. In 2022 the new board started with 13 gifted, talented and passionate advocates for intercultural ministry. Thank be to God! I was honored to be one of those individuals.
The make-up of the Board represents the beautiful spectrum of God’s family: 3 are Native Americans, 1 was born in Guyana, 3 are African Americans, 2 were born in South Korea, 3 are Anglos, and 1 was born in Venezuela (our friend, Alfredo Delgado). There’s also a representative from the Presbyterian Mission Agency who was born in Nigeria.
After months of zoom meetings with the board, we finally gathered in person at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia in the beginning of August 2022. Here are some highlights.
We began our time together on Monday evening with praise & worship, prayer & scripture. At one point, we lifted our voices in words of adoration to our God. We asked all persons present to complete the sentence, “LORD, You are…” For me, this was a profound moment to hear different voices, different accents, different perspectives exalting the one, true LORD who unites us. Then we moved into a time of conversation, getting to know each other, hearing stories.
Tuesday morning, we began with an exercise to get to know each other even more deeply, with a particular focus on what attracted us to intercultural ministry. As we heard personal stories, we built trust. It’s hard to build intercultural relationships without first building trust and care for one another. Our conversation also included some helpful definitions and resources.
Our afternoon session focused on the history of PMN/PIN. Former board member and treasurer, Nibs Stroupe, gave us an overview of the first 20 years (much of which I shared above). He shared with us the good times and the bad times. Through it all, the board remained committed to the call of Christ to build the full kingdom of God here on earth.
The next morning, we were blessed to have a variety of PCUSA leaders meet with us via zoom to share their heart and passion for interculturalism. These leaders included current General Assembly co-moderator Shavon Starling-Louis, former GA moderator Cindy Kohmann, Seattle Presbytery Co-Executive Eliana Maxim, and San Gabriel Executive Presbyter Wendy Tajima.
I so much appreciated these leaders sharing their hearts and also acknowledging their missteps. As Cindy Kohmann said, “I don’t know about the cultural differences until I trip over them.” Those of us who seek to establish intercultural ministries can certainly relate to that!
Kohmann related the American church in the USA as a dry, drought-ridden land. When rain falls, the surface is too hardened to absorb the rain. Farmers often break up soil to allow it to absorb the rain. She went on to say church leaders need to break up the hardened soil of the American church in order to allow it to soak in the life-giving “water” of their neighbors who are different from them.
We were also joined by Caroline Leach who is a current member of the Task Force for the Intercultural Decade of Transformation commissioned by the General Assembly in 2018. Their task is focused on raising awareness and “curating” resources.
Next, we heard from Colombian-born Seattle Presbytery co-executive, Eliana Maxim. She brought up some excellent cautions. Like many of us, she acknowledged a real desire on the part of the church to invite & embrace a multi-cultural experience without a desire or willingness to make any changes. She also warned that a congregation or governing body must do its own work before it can build a truly diverse kingdom; in other words, until a congregation has worked through some of its latent racism and implicit biases, it will not be ready to welcome those who are different.
Seattle Presbytery has a special Race & Equity Task Force that attends various meetings. The task force’s prime purpose is to “interrogate ourselves” before we make any decisions: Who will benefit from this decision? Who have we not heard from? Who will be impacted by this decision?
Finally, we met with Wendy Tajima, the executive presbyter of San Gabriel Presbytery. She spoke of the idea that racism is based on fear, what she called a “paralyzing fear of not being right.” She encouraged us to recognize that immigrant congregations have gifts and talents to offer the global church; immigrant congregations also provide safe refuges for the immigrant base they serve.
One interesting point Tajima raised was that most immigrants come to the USA with an acknowledged need to adapt to the Anglo population, but they are wholly unprepared to adapt to the other immigrant populations surrounding them (even in a Presbytery meeting). A Presbytery or congregation can help these immigrant churches in this matter.
After hearing about the PMN/PIN history and hearing the hearts of denominational leaders, the board moved to the task of clarifying our goals and strategies. We believe there is a need for tools and resources to help congregations, presbyteries and the denomination as a whole to become more intercultural. We recognize that we, as Presbyterians, are good at raising awareness, but we have a harder time moving to action.
We also recognize that Presbyterians are good at adopting resolutions, but not great at following up on what we have voted to do. We believe PIN can be an advocate for non-white groups who are often lost in the bureaucratic milieu. We hope to serve as advocates and allies for these silenced voices.
Our time together was not limited to business meetings. We ate together. We ate a lot!!! There’s something about sitting at table with others to break down walls and build bridges of trust. We even played some ice breaker games; I felt like I was at a youth retreat! This was a little out of my comfort zone, but it was good to laugh and be silly together.
In the next few months, PIN will focus on updating their website, organizing their finances, and making resources and consultants available to our denomination (from local to national levels). We hope you will join us in celebrating the beautiful spectrum of the image of God endowed on all people. And we encourage congregations to join the Network. Go to the website: www.pin-pcusa.com
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Lance Allen