'Change is coming'
11th Multicultural Church Conference focuses on deepening faith, widening culture
June 3, 2010
The National Multicultural Church Conference has met 11 times, but the opening speaker of this year’s gathering looks forward to the day when such conferences will be unnecessary.
“The day shall come when we put ourselves out of business,” said the Rev. Renita J. Weems, a Bible scholar and former professor. Someday, the children and grandchildren of the conference’s participants will laugh about the need for the Presbyterian Multicultural Network — they’ll just take a multicultural church for granted.
The conference’s theme was “H2O: Deepening Our Faith, Widening Our Culture,” and Weems reflected on the idea of water in her speech. Like water, the world has changed and will continue to change.
“We are not all looking for change,” she said. “We prefer equilibrium, stability, homeostasis.”
What does it mean to be the church amid this change? Who thinks the church has anything to do with change? she asked. The church has long been a guardian of the status quo and a “stakeholder in conformity.” The church worships a God who is touted to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and it loves traditional language and imagery.
“Whether we want to or not, change is coming,” she said. “Whether we want to or not, the world has changed since we last blinked.”
Many adults born in the United States were born into a white, Western, Christian culture. But they’ve seen it become brown, Asiatic and Mediterranean. Christianity can no longer be assumed to be the dominant religion. Or if people say they’re Christians, it might not be a Christianity that we recognize.
“There is the Jesus of the liberal and then there is the Jesus of the conservative, who may not be the Jesus of the fundamentalist,” Weems said.
What does it mean to be a multicultural church when the church has so often quashed inconformity? And what does it mean to sit at a table together when our eating habits are so varied? Some use chopsticks, some eat different foods, some gather around pots on a fire and some sit on the floor.
“Even a multicultural church is a little bit intimidating,” Weems said.
Weems preached on the book of Ezekiel, calling him a strange prophet and weird voice.
“But a great prophet is always an octave too high,” she said.
Ezekiel imagined a new temple and worship space. He went where others wouldn’t go. He sat among the people and became one with them.
“We could be the church that ushers ... if we sat among the people and not through bureaucracy and memos and administrative convoluted power,” Weems said.
God puts us in situations that force us to change even when we don’t want to. And change begins with shock.
“After devastation comes renewal. After loss comes transformation,” Weems said. “After disruption comes blessing.”
The old places are gone, but God has another temple. We shouldn’t consider the old things — we should be excited about the new things, she said.
The day will come when multicultural gatherings put themselves out of business. The church will be deep and wide. But that won’t happen without pain, without struggle, without budget cuts. The vision for change can’t stay a stream — it must become mighty gushing water, Weems said.
“When I struggle against change, I struggle against growth,” she said. “When we struggle against change, we struggle against growing up.”