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Growing a church that looks like the world

Plans set for 15th annual National Multicultural Church Conference at end of July

June 9, 2014

Raafat Girgis

Raafat Girgis —Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE

Raafat Girgis wants the Presbyterian world to know that the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), starting this week in Detroit, is not the church’s only show this summer.

While seemingly the entire PC(USA) world is gearing up for the biennial Assembly, Girgis is just as busy preparing for the National Multicultural Church Conference, July 30-Aug. 3 in Ft. Worth, Texas. The 15th annual conference is expected to attract some 500 Presbyterians.

“The main purposes of the conference are to provide cutting edge resources, leadership training, models for multi-cultural ministry with emphases on growing new multicultural worshiping communities and congregational transformation,” Girgis said.

Multicultural church ministry is at the intersection of a number of PC(USA) initiatives, several of which will be discussed at GA:

  • the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement ― more than a quarter of the 230+ new communities identified thus far are racial ethnic or multicultural;
  • racial ethnic church growth ― a number of strategies are being pursued to reach the goal of 20 percent racial ethnic membership in the PC(USA) by 2020;
  • young adults ― the Presbyterian Mission Agency has set young adults as one of its priority ministry areas and multicultural congregations tend to be younger than the average PC(USA) congregation, Girgis said.

The theme of the National Multicultural Church Conference is “Journeying and Awakening into God’s Diverse World” and reflects Girgis’ frequent citing of the story of Jesus’ encounter with believers on the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24. “These frightened, somewhat lost believers awakened to his presence,” Girgis said. “Like them, we’re on a journey ― we don’t know exactly where we’re going but we’re awakening to Christ through the presence of all these diverse folk in our midst.”

The PC(USA) is not engaged in multicultural ministry “because of demographic changes, which are OK ― they are opportunities,” Girgis said. “We do this because it’s God’s intentionality and so part of our absolute obedience to Christ and to Scripture. All the prophets from Genesis through to Acts ― a multi-national, multicultural church.”

Girgis, whose official title is associate for multicultural congregational support, says his office works with congregations to focus on five major tasks:

  • “Wholistic evangelism,’ by which he means spiritual transformation plus social justice
  • Church development, which includes building new multicultural faith communities and strengthening the existing 1,500+ multicultural congregations (defined as having a 20 percent or more racial/ethnic/cultural minority within their membership);
  • Leadership training, conducted through regional conferences and institutes as well as in partnership with a number of PC(USA) theological seminaries;
  • The annual National Multicultural Church Conference; and
  • Networking through the National Multicultural Network of the PC(USA).

“The network is completely grass-roots driven,” Girgis said. “We have about a dozen regional networks, which are all presbytery-based except in the Synod of the Sun, which has a strong synod-wide network.”

The network even has a global reach. Girgis is co-moderator with an Australian of an Ecumenical Network for Multicultural Ministry, which promotes multicultural ministry around the world, where many countries are becoming increasingly multicultural. The group most recently sponsored a pre-conference prior to the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea, last fall.

The global phenomenon of growing cultural diversity has led to the coining of a new term: “intercultural ministry,” Girgis said.

“The term first came from Canadian Christians and reflects ongoing collaboration and journeying together,” he explained. “It is a much deeper term than ‘multicultural’ or ‘cross-cultural’ because it embraces the power-sharing and break from all the ‘isms’ that prevent people from creating genuine community.”

The National Multicultural Church Conference will feature a line-up of keynote speakers that reflects, Girgis said, “the global nature of multicultural ministry and the Great Commission.” Speakers include:

  • Jooseop Keum, secretary for the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.
  • Luis Rivera-Pagán,longtime professor of humanities at the University of Puerto Rico and professor of theology at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, who is currently teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Rep. Stacey Y. Abrams,House minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly and state representative for the 89th House District. She is the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and is the first African-American to lead in the House of Representatives.
  • The Rev. Joseph J. Clifford,pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, a vibrant congregation located in the heart of downtown Dallas. The church is best known for its community ministry with the homeless of and with children and youth living in poverty.  

More than 35 leaders from throughout the PC(USA) have also been lined up to lead workshops at the conference.

“This is not an ‘event’ or an ‘activity,’” Girgis said. “This is absolutely living the vision cast by God in Scripture. My wish is that someday there will voluntarily not be an office of multicultural congregational enhancement anymore. It means we will have done it!”

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