Multi-cultural or Multi-racial?

by | May 24, 2018

Multi-cultural, multi-racial, interracial, culturally diverse? These and other terms have been used in the attempt to describe congregations that have more than one race. However, a congregation can be multi-racial and not multi-cultural. As we strive to evangelize, to bring others to Christ, and in truth, into our congregations, it is crucial that our liturgies actually reflect “the work of the people.”  What follows are two examples of how to take our familiar liturgy and make it welcoming to those who might not be Episcopalian.

A classic pipe organ or a Hammond B-3? The decision between the two is usually not difficult in the traditional black church. Hands down, you will find a Hammond B-3 because it plays well the contemporary gospel music of today. So, it came as a surprise when Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, told EDOW lay and clergy at a “learning day” in April that he advised his congregation a pipe organ would join the church’s Hammond organ. “Anthems,” he said, “sound better on a pipe organ.” His lesson? Music speaks to the soul and if a visitor to the church can find something familiar in the service, in the liturgy, it just might bring them back the next Sunday.

An inclusive liturgy could also be found at St. Stephen and the Incarnation on Good Friday. The sweet aroma of Copal incense from Ethiopia and sounds of soft cello music greeted me as I entered the church for the “Liturgy of the Burial of the Icon.” Throughout the service, the readings, the music, the lighting, all engaged the entire body of the worshiper; engaging all of the senses. he music spanned Latino hymns, European anthems, and black spirituals. The readings and prayers were spoken in English and Spanish. A Tibetan singing bowl announced and ended the periods of meditation. The congregational procession to the place of repose evoked visions of a New Orleans funeral procession. The service was Episcopal; the framework of the Eucharist was there; however, onto that frame, liturgy – the work of the people – was enfleshed.  

What a radical welcome for a first-time visitor to experience worship that lifts up the familiar – a smell, a song, a prayer, a custom. Visitors should not have to assimilate to worship. The preface to the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, reads, “It is a most invaluable part of that blessed ‘liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,’ that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire. . . ”

The Book of Common Prayer permits flexibility in worship and that flexibility will permit us to be both multi-racial and multi-cultural, and above all else, welcoming.

The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart serves as the assistant rector at Calvary, D.C.