While pastors often see the efforts to integrate their sanctuaries as intentional, congregants often say it "just happens." But Georgina Sherman, a Liberian native at Epworth United Methodist Church, describes her membership--and leadership in the church-as personally purposeful. "The first time I visited here I barely saw a black person in the congregation and my first thought was, well, I'm not going to come back," she recalled. "But then I said, well, maybe that's why there are no blacks in the church, because when they come they say, `I'm not coming back.'"

A member since 1992, she's the first black president of the congregation's United Methodist Women's unit and marvels at the change from the time when you could easily see how many blacks were in worship. "You've got to really do a head count," said Sherman. "There's a big difference. ... It makes me feel good."

Broader intentional efforts are reflected by denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), which made a goal of increasing its non-white membership to 20 percent by 2010. As of 2000, it stood at 7 percent. However, only 8 percent of the entire church membership was aware of that goal about a year ago. "Because we're still such a very small number of membership in the Presbyterian Church as a whole, we get easily lost in the mix of things," said the Rev. Helen Locklear, a Native American woman who serves as the associate director for the denomination's racial-ethnic ministries.

With the exception of Roman Catholics, most Christian congregations that are particularly successful at interracial worship are nondenominational, said Scott Thumma, a faculty associate in religion and society at Hartford Seminary.

Their success is aided by their "experimental and expressive kinds of worship styles," and the lack of a label that may link them to a particular race, such as white with Southern Baptist or black with Church of God in Christ. "What comes along with a denominational identity ... is a whole set of baggage, including racial baggage," Thumma said.

Among the 699 United Methodist churches in the Baltimore-Washington area, Epworth United Methodist is one of about a dozen that church officials consider to have made significant progress in becoming multicultural.

Blacks, whites and parents of children and teens say Epworth's diversity is important, giving their kids an education that is simultaneously religious and cultural. "I think the church should reflect the world and the world is very diverse and I want my child to grow up in a diverse environment," said Ida Martin-Payne, an African-American woman whose infant son Michael Payne was one of the five children baptized on a recent Sunday.

But members acknowledge there is more work ahead to have a diverse group of lay members aid in leadership. Ron Clark, an 18-year, white member of the church's administrative council, said he was "uncomfortable" with the other predominantly white Methodist churches he attended and embraces Epworth's diversity. "I'm on a bit of a faith journey myself and I'm saying, Ron, you need to be more comfortable working with the various ethnic groups within your congregation," he said.

For Green, the diversity in his church is "kind of like coming home," because as a teen-ager he attended a church in the same city that was the product of a 1968 merger of three congregations -- two white and one black. Having accomplished his goal of a diverse congregation, the pastor now hopes that someday people will be "living the diversity" outside the Sunday church hour. "For so long, the broader society has kind of been dictating to the church," he said. "It's time the church needs to start influencing and transforming the world."

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