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Multiple paths to multiculturalism

Big Tent events highlight growing diversity in PC(USA,) need for more

August 8, 2013

youth at Big Tent 2013

Big Tent offered many opportunities to discuss multiculturalism. —Danny Bolin

LOUISVILLE

Whether the Presbyterians attending the 2013 Big Tent event realized whether their home congregation is multicultural or not, they are now irrefutably part of a multicultural congregation.

For those among the more than 1,700 registered attendees whose congregations are more homogenous, the experience has been both thrilling and confusing.

Which is why two-and-a-half days of workshops and prayers set out to help create a comfort zone for the uncomfortable.

And why, in some respects, Big Tent also created an uncomfortable zone for the comfortable.

Beginning with opening worship during the evening of Aug. 1, the Rev. Ron Peters, an American Presbyterian with African roots, charted the rainbow of cultures that is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Asian, European, African, American, Native American, Latin American, straight, LGBTQ, young adult, senior, child.

“You will not be able to leave this place the same as when you came," predicted Peters.

Big Tent, which concluded Aug. 3, a celebration of the PC(USA) mission and ministry, was composed of 10 national conferences with more than 160 workshops, and special events marking the 30th anniversary of the formation of the denomination and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

The Presbyterians picked a good week to invite everyone to its hometown and explore itself as a multicultural church. On the streets outside the Kentucky International Convention Center, a gathering of automobiles provides a visual example.

Some are modern, some are clunkers. Added to the mix ― thanks to the simultaneous presence in Louisville of the annual National Street Rod Convention ― are a bevy of vintage automobiles, restored to their original beauty. Others are reproductions, their fiberglass bodies reminiscent of 1940’s-era Fords, Plymouths and other long-gone classics. Still others are unique and undefinable.

Yet, look under their hoods, strip away their bodies and you’ll find each car has an engine, drinking gasoline to fuel its 4-, 6- or 8-cylinders. Each car rides along on four tires, each filled from our common supply of air. Each car has a steering wheel to guide the wheels in the correct direction.

This week’s multicultural discussions were serious ― racism was on the menu several times ― sometimes discussed in level-headed terms, sometimes not.

But there was also music, there was art, there was dancing and there was levity. The Arab contingent jokingly posed the following question, “What language do they speak in heaven? Arabic, because it takes eternity to learn it!”

What growth pattern will multiculturalism exhibit in the coming year? 

Some tantalizing signs can be seen in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, a number of which are multicultural communities. And no doubt, more will be revealed in mid-June 2014 at the 221st General Assembly 221 in Detroit, if not before.

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