The Rev. Grace Pak, of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), leads an Eastern PA Conference Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Ministry workshop. Now trained conference CORR members lead the training,

Conference tries to grow Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural ministry

‘This is not a project but a journey’

By John W. Coleman

The Eastern PA Conference Commission on Religion and Race (CORR) holds its annual Ministry in a Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Context (CR/CC) Workshop Saturday morning, June 6, for pastors and church leaders beginning or ending their first year of a cross-racial or cross-cultural pastoral appointment. 

For the second year, trained CORR members will conduct the workshop, teaching and stimulating dialogue about the joys and challenges of CR/CC ministry. Until 2019 General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) staff led the annual training. And for the first time, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop will transpire online via the increasingly popular Zoom videoconferencing venue.

The training helps clergy and congregations serving in this special form of ministry to increase their intercultural competency and deepen their understanding of inclusiveness and cross-cultural relationship dynamics. Participants—including pastors and members of church Staff-Parish Relations Committees and Administrative Councils—are equipped with practical communication tools and resources so they can become more intentional and effective in their ministries together.

The Rev. Anita Powell, Director of Connectional Ministries, and other CORR leaders reported to the Cabinet in May on the progress and challenges of this still-developing initiative. The Revs. Susan Worrell and Alicia Julia-Stanley co-chair the commission.

Growing CR/CC ministries may be one of the conference’s most visionary and challenging undertakings in years. Currently, there are about 50 CR/CC ministry appointments in the conference, including associate pastors and deacons. Ministry in such cultural bridge-building settings can be both risky and rewarding, with a lot at stake.

Two top GCORR executives—the Revs. Grace Pak and Giovanni Arroyo—have provided years of orientation, training and assistance. Both have commended Eastern PA as the leading conference in strategically advancing CR/CC ministry.

The role of district superintendents is crucial for carefully making promising CR/CC appointments and extending help and guidance where needed. But also crucial are the Resourcing Team and Mentoring Team, both trained and deployed by CORR to help congregations involved in, or interested in, CR/CC ministry.

The Resourcing Team has trained more than 150 persons in the past year, basically offering resources and an orientation to CR/CC ministry.

“We want CR/CC ministry to someday become a norm in the Eastern PA Conference,” Powell likes to say, voicing a vision that is ambitious but perhaps doable in such a racially and culturally diverse conference as this one. First, however, the conference needs to be “strategic and intentional” about building awareness and interest in CR/CC ministry among more pastors and churches, CORR leaders told the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the Mentoring Team has connected with 25 CR/CC pastors and congregations.

They are assigned in pairs by district superintendents to guide and support CR/CC clergy and congregations, not to evaluate them or resolve conflicts.

A key need and challenge is to identify and enlist “gifted laity” to be a part of this ministry, organizers say. That includes those who have attended the conference’s Dismantling Racism I and II and Emotional Intelligence and Diversity trainings offered several times a year.

“Our goal for this initiative is to help fulfill the conference’s vision statement: United in Christ, Committed to Transformation,” said Powell. She published in November 2019 a first-time, detailed manual to guide this work, titled Crossings: Ministry in a Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Context.

Powell once served in a CR/CC appointment at West Chester UMC and then planted Church of the Open Door, an intentionally multicultural congregation. She retires in June, after laboring for years to bear fruit in the CR/CC vineyard.

“This is not a project but a journey,” she said, “an effort to shift our conference’s culture toward greater cultural competency and inclusiveness. This important work needs to be continued and advanced.”