Religion and Race helps churches embrace cross-cultural ministry

How do we engage and build bridges in our local community? How can the church be relevant in today's culture? How can we equip leaders with the skills and awareness to build relationships across cultures and develop authentic relationships that transform lives, churches and communities? How do we embrace diversity as a way of being?

The General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), along with local United Methodist churches, districts and annual conferences, is exploring these questions.

GCORR is more than the monitoring agency it was first set out to be. Created by The United Methodist Church in 1968 to hold the church accountable in matters of racial equity and justice, the commission continues to evolve. Today, it invites and leads the church into new conversations about relevance and God's call to serve a world that is far different from when it began its work.

The CORR Action Fund is one way Religion and Race leads the church into new conversations. In 2014, the commission awarded more than $1.2 million in grants to fund bold, innovative initiatives across congregations, annual conferences, jurisdictions and central conferences and seminaries. These efforts also increase intercultural competency and conversations about race, cultural diversity and systemic equity leading to action.

Epworth United Methodist Church, located just outside the District of Columbia in Gaithersburg, Maryland, received a grant. Historically a predominantly white church, the congregation has grown and is now a thriving interethnic congregation with cross-cultural leadership.

"We are an intentionally multicultural, multilingual community, with our largest populations being white, African American, new African immigrants and new Latin immigrants," says the Rev. Jennifer Fenner, Epworth pastor.

Religion and Race, Fenner says, "has been instrumental in allowing us to be creative in how we reach youth and the communities surrounding the church, and has always been at the forefront of intentionality in multicultural and intercultural ministry and understanding its challenges.

"GCORR gets all of that. They have caught a vision for reaching younger folks and engaging with the community, and have been at the forefront of supporting that," Fenner remarks. "It has been very helpful to have an agency of the church that not only provides funding, but also provides leadership around the very issues that are affecting [our] community."

The Rev. Amy Stapleton, the agency's team leader for organizational accountability, agrees. "There is a gap between the church and changing demographics of our communities, and we are in such a unique time in the history of the world, to be able to equip and resource the church in areas of intercultural competency, and stand in that gap."

Erin Hawkins, GCORR general secretary, sees her agency as a resource provider for those who want to be in relationship with their community. She is excited about the commission's work in the central conferences. "It's not just because we're a global church," Hawkins says, "but because much of what's happening outside the United States is impacting us here in the U.S. That work feels more holistic, more complete, more of what the church is supposed to be."

"The General Commission on Religion and Race," Hawkins says, "is here to help those who recognize the shifting demographics in our churches, and is ready to assist those congregations without the same capacity to reach non-dominant, non-upper- or middle-class communities."

Sophia Agtarap, freelance writer, communications consultant and trainer, Nashville, Tennessee.

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

This article was first published in the January/February issue of the Interpreter Magazine. Reprint with permission.