Members of the First Samoan Congregational Christian Church in Tacoma celebrated with song and dance their reception into the Pacific Northwest Conference. Mary Stamp photo.
Becoming a "rainbow church" is just one of many ways to unlock differences, build understanding and make a commitment to embody the 1993 General Synod pronouncement, "Becoming a Multiracial and Multicultural Church."
Bernice Powell Jackson, Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, offered this reflection at the first UCC Tri-Conference Annual Meeting. More than 600 members of UCC churches in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming gathered in June at Whitworth College in Spokane to learn and to share about being a diverse church.
Speaking of Jesus breaking the dividing walls of hostility, the Rev. Félix Carrion, interim pastor of Faith UCC in Richmond Heights, Ohio, called for churches to abolish exclusivity and open their access for relationships and membership, as a basis for "a new assembly of all God's people."
"We are to be reconciled, loving beyond our capacity because of God's enormous love," said the Rev. Teruo Kawata, former Conference Minister in the Central Pacific and Hawaii Conferences. "Hawaiian aloha love is a profound theology of being vulnerable and humble."
Throughout the meeting, participants gave examples of how their churches already express inclusion.
Membership and worship
A few churches have diverse membership and worship. Ainsworth UCC in Portland, Ore., opens each service with "Good morning" expressed in up to a dozen languages, depending on that Sunday's attendance.
Bethany UCC, a new church start in Seattle, Wash., encourages members to share how their Danish, Swedish, Hispanic, Asian, African or other heritages enrich their own lives.
The new church start, Midnight Sun UCC in Fairbanks, Alaska, is intentionally multiracial and multicultural, seeking to attract people who share that vision.
Worship at First Congregational UCC in a diverse downtown Portland neighborhood reflects the cultures of its Samoan, African, Asian and European members. Services at several Puget Sound-area UCC churches are conducted in Chinese, German and Samoan.
Japanese Congregational UCC in Seattle has bilingual worship to include English-speaking worshipers.
With 20 percent of Montanans being Native American, the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference Minister, the Rev. John Schaeffer, invites Indians to lead workshops to expand awareness about issues they face.
In the former Washington North Idaho Conference—which welcomed Alaska and renamed itself the Pacific Northwest Conference during the meeting—the 1999 merger of a Disciples and a UCC church as the United Christian Church of Yakima involves the UCC more actively in the Yakama Indian Christian Mission and the La Casa Ogar outreach to Hispanic women.
Migration of Pacific Islanders with missionary ties is adding congregations to two conferences. The two newest churches in the Central Pacific Conference are a Samoan church in Portland and a Marshallese church in Salem.
In 2002, the Pacific Northwest Conference welcomed its sixth Samoan church, First Samoan Congregational Christian in Tacoma, Wash. Conference Minister the Rev. Randy Hyvonen, who is in conversation with another in Seattle and two in Anchorage, said that when new churches bring the Conference total to 90 congregations, one-tenth will be Samoan.
Exchanges connect people
Several churches and members fill their desire for intercultural relationships by hosting international students or resettling refugees.
Others join in conference global partnerships. Pacific Northwest Conference links with German and Korean partner churches, as does Montana-Northern Wyoming with Costa Rican partners, through visits, workshops, e-mails, speakers and volunteers.
"Global partnerships broaden horizons of understanding," said Pat Rumer of Ainsworth UCC in Portland. Central Pacific Conference young adults have visited Ecuador, Honduras, Transylvania and Cuba in recent years. "Exchanges provide transformational experiences that can help us connect on local issues and concerns about globalization."
Plymouth Congregational UCC in Seattle has both a sister church in Managua, Nicaragua, and a local African-American sister church, Mount Zion Baptist. This summer, it is sending youth on a Heifer Project exchange to Mexico.
Discernment groups also called for sensitivity related to differences in rural-urban lifestyles, generations, gender, sexual orientation, class and abilities.
At First Congregational UCC in Eugene, Ore., the pastor, the Rev. Greg Flint, noted that churches with limited racial or ethnic diversity can "work on socio-economic diversity, because the greatest divide in our country and the world today is class."
Personal commitment is key for Ray Young of First Congregational UCC in Great Falls, Mont. While his community lacks diversity, he embraces it as the grandfather of biracial children or as when he swapped life stories with a black man he met at a conference. "We can be hit hard by the impact of racism on the lives of those we love and befriend," he said.
Experiences shared at the Tri-Conference meeting are a small sampling of the many ways UCC churches break down prejudice through their renewed and ongoing commitment to interracial, intercultural and interfaith unity.
Mary Stamp edits the Pacific Northwest Conference and the Central Pacific Conference editions of United Church News.