One thing that I dream of is being part of a diverse “congregation.” I’m using that term loosely. I’m told by many people that it’s just not realistic in South Central PA to have a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual “congregation” in a mainline denomination such as the ELCA, which is what I’m a part of.
I think that’s sad.
And I take that as a bit of a challenge too.
See, I don’t desire diversity for its own sake. Or for some kind of political agenda (I’m not sure what agenda that would be actually). Or because such a congregation would somehow be without problems (it would be made up of people and anywhere there are people, there are problems – the problems might look different, but there would certainly be problems).
None of that or a whole host of reasons. Nope. The main reason I yearn for such diversity in a religious setting is simple. When I’m in a setting that is all one race, one culture, one language, I only get to experience one small sliver of the image of God. And I miss experiencing the wider spectrum of who God is. Why wouldn’t I want to encounter and experience more of who God is?
If humans are made in the image and likeness of God, then when I encounter more diversity in humanity, I am encountering more diversity in the image and likeness of God. That brings me great joy. It challenges me. It causes me to learn and grow. It makes me think. I have to stop and unlearn some things. I have to look at what I’m assuming and expecting and see how reality is different. I get to see how I am not at the center of it all. I don’t know it all. I receive grace and mercy. I have to be open to receive. I have to be open to the unexpected. I am not in control. My ways are not the assumed ways or should not be considered the automatic ways of things. I get to be on the margins and the margins are centered.
Diversity has a way of stirring things up, unsettling the status quo, causing us to learn and unlearn. Diversity humbles us, which is very much a part of discipleship and stewardship. Diversity isn’t it’s own end. It’s a means and a way to something much better and bigger. It has great value for us in our faith journey. It opens up our faith in incredible ways.
In seminary, our family had the opportunity to do an exchange year of study in Finland and we took it. During that year, we were part of two churches that were international in focus. And we loved them. They were not perfect – far from it. But the diversity in them is what made them so rich and meaningful for me. The multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-racial aspect of them opened the door to a rich community of faith and especially worship. It allowed me to see a wider image of God.
And so I ask, why not here? Why couldn’t there be a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual intentional worshipping community in South Central PA in the Lutheran tradition?
Here’s what I know. Carlisle is a bastion of diversity – there is the Army War College, where people come from literally all over the world, with their languages, traditions, cultures, and more. Dickinson College is here too. Along with a Law School. And there is a large immigrant and refugee population settled in the area. That’s just Carlisle.
Cumberland County is the fastest growing county in PA. People are moving here from all over the place and there are populations of ethnic communities growing in various townships in the eastern portion of the county – Indian and Pakistani populations around Wegmans for example.
Adams County is rich with migrant worker populations. The city of Harrisburg is diverse with an assortment of various populations, ethnicities, and more. Lancaster is a growing city and County. York is also a growing county. Chambersburg and the surrounding around is quickly growing, much like Cumberland county.
That’s a quick overview. This region has diversity. It is growing. We can choose to ignore these realities, or we can embrace them. I suspect much of our hesitation has to do with the fact that we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know how to start. We may not have people in our lives who are a part of our circle of influence or points of contact. And that makes it really hard. Because all these people aren’t marketing targets. We shouldn’t want to reach out to them just to try to make them a part of something, like our church or a group. That’s missing something really important about each person – that’s missing seeing the image of God in each person.
It all comes back to that for me. I want to see more of the image of God. And for me that happens through a rich array of diverse human beings of all sorts – A rainbow of sexualities and skin tones. Cultures from across the planet. An orchestra of sound made up of instruments that represent languages from all over the place. And so much more.
I don’t know what such a worshipping community looks like. I just know that it looks and sounds diverse. I do know that it’s more than just a white guy (me) dictating what it should look like. I just have this desire, this yearning, for more of the image of God. And I’m wondering if there are others who do to. Others who have been told that the dream of a diverse worshipping community is crazy. I’d love to talk with you, and dream with you, and be crazy with you.