The Change Needed
To insure representative leadership and promote diversity in all areas of the life of the church, the leadership of Hunting Ridge must become intentional in dealing with differences and inviting others to serve. We need to identify people’s gifts and equip them with leadership skills that will assist them in thinking creatively, developing resources and telling the stories of unity emerging in diversity. Our members must be empowered to act courageously to tell the Good News of God’s love in our place and time, and call others into ministries of reconciliation and mission top promote peace and justice.
The congregation has embraced change after several years of struggle. Hunting Ridge has made what Heifetz calls “an adaptive change” to its current environment, reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood (Heifetz, 126). Change has been painful.
Contrary to changes in other congregational contexts, we cannot rely upon successful models that have worked in other places. Proven formulae for success in multicultural ministry are in genesis, because despite efforts during the past forty years to desegregate our society, the churches by and large remain homogeneous.
We cannot ignore the fact that in the United States a “new human reality” (Cenkner, 31) is emerging. The “greatest racial mixing the world has ever known” and the development of “cultural hybrids” makes our country an interesting social experiment (Cenkner, 31). In many ways, the Hunting Ridge congregation reflects this social experiment.
Cenkner raises particularly relevant questions for the Hunting Ridge congregation. In accepting and affirming people of different cultures in our congregation “what issues and questions do we suppress? Do we avoid discussions of race altogether? Do we pretend to be color blind?” (Cenkner, 15-16). Further questions include: are we at Hunting Ridge attempting to develop a shared culture among people of different backgrounds? How do we blend cultures while still respecting diversity?
Indeed, what kinds of people are drawn to a congregation characterized by such diversity? Since the affirmation of diversity and the development of the mission statement, our congregation is attracting people who have a strong desire for racial reconciliation. People with biracial marriages are finding Hunting Ridge a community of support and a context in which their biracial children are accepted and cherished.
In contrast, some African Americans who have visited our congregation have not joined because of a strong sense of responsibility to the historic African American church. Their priority is contributing to self-improvement efforts in the black church.
Writers on leadership development agree that good leadership begins with a vision. The Session is successfully holding the vision of a diverse membership united in a common purpose before the congregation.
Leadership teams learn together, but there is often resistance to thinking systematically about issues. For example, most of the European Americans on our Session believed we were not biased about sharing leadership. When I pointed out that all of the Administration Committee, which deals with the finances of the church, was composed of people of European descent, members of that committee were surprised. They resisted examining the power dynamics that keep people of color out of certain arenas of ministry within the church. On the other hand, the people of color were reluctant to address this issue because of their fear of conflict.
The leaders of European descent needed to be more intentional about inviting people of color within the congregation into partnership. A great challenge in leadership development was raising consciousness among people of European descent so that the motivation for partnership was not paternalistic or patronizing.
However, encouraging members of cultural and racial groups other than European does not necessarily promote harmony. Trust building, individualized skill building and relearning is essential for our successful ministry.