Regina Shands Stoltfus
Monday, May 14, 2007

"Becoming a Multicultural Church," Laurene Beth Bowers (Pilgrim Press, 2006).

Laurene Beth Bowers is pastor of First Congregational Church of Randolph, Mass. In “Becoming a Multicultural Church,” Bowers reflects upon the experience of her congregation, once a historically “traditional,” one social grouping church that has become multicultural and is currently one of the largest churches numerically in Randolph.

Urban Connections – May 2007
1. On our street: The keys to team ministry – Team ministry can be practical. It can be luxurious. It also has its pitfalls, but the most important part may be remembering the keys.
2. One in Christ Jesus –  One urban congregation was determined that its paid leadership be as multicultural as its members. Pastors at Community Mennonite Church discuss the challenges and blessings involved.
3. Ministry teams: The inner workings –  Each ministry team functions according to its setting and congregation. Five pastors from across Mennonite Church USA share their experiences in working with others.
4. Families tie together teams – Is pastoring with a spouse or family member a blessing or a hardship? Urban leaders say it can be both.
5. The Sky is Falling: Teams must bridge eras, skills –  Missional leadership teams need a plurality of skills to fill different roles.
6. The Heart of the Artist: Aiding community through the senses –  Our faith is filled with artistic expression. A book helps ministry teams learn how to accept and utilize art.
7. Becoming a Multicultural Church: Helping the dominant culture share –  Author examines power, its meaning and the importance of redistribution when congregations emphasize diversity within church walls.
8. Urban briefs: News from across the street –  News about ministry teams from across the church.
9. Talk back: Letters of response

In the introduction, Bowers notes that she is the least likely to write a book on multiculturalism, yet she chose to write one because she writes as a member of the dominant culture to other members of the dominant culture. (She notes as well that she does not speak for all members of the dominant culture.) Aware of books for the church written by people of color, and many written by men, she said she could not find a book “by a woman of European American heritage writing to the European American community, and so was inspired to write one.”

Bowers offers her text, divided into seven chapters, as a biblical model, asserting that the Israelites’ experience of journeying from oppression to liberation and into the promised land serves as an analogous model for depicting the experience of journeying from segregation to multiculturalism. The book is helpful in that it does not merely focus on window dressing – that is, working at ways to become a more colorful congregation without addressing the underlying issues of why a church does not attract a diverse congregation.

For instance, Bowers sees power as the golden calf that the dominant group possesses, and notes that power needs to be given up and redistributed. She also gives examples of the different ways of viewing, claiming and sharing power within various cultural settings. Equally helpful are discussions of the pastor’s power, the power of the “inner circle” and the “power of the past” (former or deceased members who still hold sway over how the church operates).

The book concludes with several appendices. Appendix A outlines the seasons of the church year and notes corresponding traditions for the seasons from a variety of cultural contexts. Other appendices offer liturgies for Advent, resources for special days (Black History Month, Central America Sunday, etc.), and a listing of liturgical, cultural and historical dates spanning the church year.

A weakness of the book, from this reviewer’s point of view, is Bowers' reluctance or refusal to name racism in church structures. While the book makes many excellent points about the biblical vision of diversity (multiculturalism) and the existence of prejudice, Bowers does not dwell upon the reality of institutional racism and how it exists within church structures. However, the book can be helpful for churches beginning a journey.

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