Decades ago, nudged by subterranean wishes and memories, I hesitantly stepped into the nave of a Protestant church in my neighborhood. Like many of its kind, this congregation was small, old, and white. The only diversity it expressed, pretty much, was diversity of sexual orientation – and some diversity of opinion about diversity of sexual orientation. It was in many ways, an activist church, and for a time, gradually gathered to itself more young folk like me, gay and straight, and overwhelmingly white, who raised funds for AIDS programs, protested nuclear weapons, and pressed for inclusion of gays in the ministry.
For financial reasons, the church shared space with renters, a robust Asian congregation, far more conservative in theology, overflowing with young families who sat through a loud, hour-and-a-half sermon without blinking an eye. Despite our proclamations of diversity and multiculturalism, I’m sorry to report the two congregations remained quite separate, and some in our social justice-oriented church commented quite vehemently on diapers left in the nursery, heating bills, and I don’t remember what. We lived in two different worlds without a lot of warmth and welcome on our side. Eventually, divisions yawned even within our group, and I stopped attending.
I moved to another city. Decades passed. A friend began attending that church again. Reluctant and ambivalent, but curious, I agreed to visit one Sunday. The physical side of the church was little changed, same clay roof, dark pews, stained glass. But, mercy, how the constituency had changed! Now, the minister of the “white” church was a Korean-American immigrant. A South Asian guy led music, and the choir featured Koreans, Chinese, Latinos, and just a sprinkling of old white women and men. The children’s minister was African-American, and a family of African immigrants took up an entire pew. Suddenly, the congregation was as multicultural as a community college.