Dear Nameoki friends.
I grew up in a church in a small Australian outback town that largely reflected the makeup of the surrounding community.
It was almost all white, made up mostly of farmers and farming families. Along with a few teachers, the town lawyer, and Mr. Shepherdson - one of the lay preachers in the church who was at least a million years old and had a grey beard that rivaled any member of ZZ Top.
Pete the piano player was gay.
Bev was part Aboriginal.
Margaret was Filipino.
And Graham - the minister - spoke with a crisp British accent.
Many years later I found myself in a church even more multi-cultural than the one I grew up in.
At Quakers Hill UCA in Sydney, half of the congregation members were Filipino. Yung, one of the leaders of the church council, was Chinese. We had several indigenous Australians (Aboriginal), and a pastor who was - in a previous life - one of the leading Motocross Riders in Australia.
In 1963 - 55 years ago - The Rev'd Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said to students at Western Michigan University...
We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.
I'm struck by 6 words in this statement of King's. And it's not "most segregated major institution in America". I think those of us who are brave enough to admit it already know this to be true. We may not know how to change it, but we know it needs changing.
The 6 words in this statement that quicken my heart and cause me to stop and ponder are these. "Nobody of honesty can overlook this".
Every year as a church we submit our congregational statistics to the wider United Methodist Church. And our membership roll does not represent the community in which we live and serve. It resembles Dr King's assertion that every Sunday morning, "we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation". Would it shock you to learn that almost 99% of our membership role is... white?
"Nobody of honesty can overlook this". Some of our neighbors are white, but not 99% of them. Statistics show that our neighborhood is around 84% white, 6% African American, 6% Latino, and 4% of other ethnic minorities - like the folks that cook the Chinese food you enjoy!!
I want to believe that we at Nameoki United Methodist Church are in the most part people of honesty. That's why I'm excited about what's coming next. On July 8th, Spirit of Christ Fellowship Church - a church that is largely African American in its ethnic makeup - will be "moving in" to Nameoki United Methodist Church, and together as the body of Christ, we are going to be reaching out into our community. This was not a decision taken lightly by our Trustee's, who spent almost 3 months considering and praying about this. In the end, it was a unanimous decision to move the church forward by entering into a partnership with our Christian brothers and sisters from Spirit of Christ Fellowship, led by Pastor's Bill and Kisha Spencer. I did not cast a vote in this decision.
Scripture reminds us, as Paul writes to the church in Galatia, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, and if Paul was writing to a church in America, I think he would have added that in Christ, there is neither white, brown or black either. Is it possible that we could embody these ancient words at 1900 Pontoon Road? Is it possible that we too could be a church that reflects not only our local community but be a leader and a light to the world in our worship of and witness to a God who is not some old white guy and was once (and still is) embodied in a brown skinned middle eastern Jew?!
Dr King finished his address to the students and faculty of Western Michigan University with this...
Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.
Welcoming Spirit of Christ Fellowship Church is only the beginning! More of this, Holy Spirit, more of this in Granite City, Illinois and all the world.
Grace and peace to you all. Pastor Mike