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Becoming the Beloved Community of Christ

December 13, 2008

Louisville

Presbyterians have a renewed commitment to "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide." The 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved this initiative to grow the church in evangelism, discipleship, servanthood, and diversity.

In the Racial Ethnic and Women's Ministries/Presbyterian Women ministry area of the General Assembly Council, we are focusing on growing the church in diversity by welcoming others, learning from different races and cultures, and reflecting the cultural and ethnic diversity of God’s peoples in the world.

Ten years ago, the racial ethnic membership of the PC(USA) was 4.7 percent. The 2008 statistics show the racial ethnic membership at 7.51 percent. This percentage is not the 20-percent goal that the General Assembly set to be reached by 2010.

It is clear that we aren't where we want to be, but we aren't where we used to be, either.

The 7.51 percent cited above includes racial ethnic membership in congregations. However, this statistic does not reflect the racial ethnic membership in new church developments and in Bible study groups and fellowships. But, even if we only look at racial ethnic congregations, excluding new church developments and Bible study groups and fellowships, we will see that there were 972 racial ethnic congregations 10 years ago. Today there are 1,358.

Of the 10,751 PC(USA) congregations, more than 10 percent are racial ethnic congregations. So, we are growing Christ's church deep and wide in diversity. Again, we are not where we want to be. It is incumbent upon us to lift up the values of diversity and inclusivity and to welcome the stranger, invite diverse peoples to church, and share the good news, that we might become the beloved community of Christ.

We have seen growth in new immigrant ministries. Eight years ago, there were nine new immigrant ministries in the PC(USA). Today, there are approximately 80 new immigrant ministries, including new church developments and Bible study groups and fellowships. There is also a significant increase in the number of Korean-American Presbyterian ministries. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 200 Korean-American ministries in the PC(USA). Today, there are 403 Korean-American ministries, including new church developments and Bible study groups and fellowships, and there are also four nongeographic Korean language presbyteries.

Spread across our nation are Presbyterian Latino/a, Middle Eastern, African-American, Korean, Asian, Native American, new immigrant, and multicultural congregations, all faithfully embodying what it means to be "Reformed and always reforming" (Book of Order, G-2.0200).

One such congregation is The Korean-American Presbyterian Church in Sumter, S.C., where the Reverend Tae Su Cheong is pastor. I visited the church in early 2008, on the occasion of their 24th anniversary. This congregation is one that I will never forget, as it is a multicultural Korean congregation — a congregation made up of different races and cultures that is primarily centered in the Korean tradition. The church is near Shaw Air Force Base. Many of the members were stationed in Korea following the Korean War and met their spouses there. These families are now stationed in Sumter. This congregation has members who are Korean, African-American, and European-American. One of their newest ministries is an English-language, men’s Bible study for many of the European-American and African-American husbands of Korean spouses who do not speak Korean. It is a fascinating, faith-filled congregation.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a better place because of the racial ethnic and new immigrant members in our midst. We are challenged to learn how to share the gospel in an increasingly diverse culture. This may be just the reason that we need to work toward multicultural congregations, so that we can get to know other Presbyterians from different races and ethnicities and discover our commonalities and our differences. In doing so, we have a greater chance of living out the biblical vision of a world where the humanity of everyone is valued and where God’s love is spread to every race and class, culture and people.

The Reverend Rhashell D. Hunter is director of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women for the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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