The following post is from Julie Ball, freelance writer and Dawnings participant at Second Baptist, Memphis, TN.
At the most recent gathering of my church’s Dawnings leadership team, the issue of diversity came up. Some folks lamented the fact that our congregation is not very racially diverse. Others pointed out that diversity is not limited to race, and that we are diverse in some other ways. Someone pointed out that it’s much easier to achieve diversity in the workplace, where you can “hire into it,” than in the church, where you cannot force anyone to come and stay.
As I continued to think about this conversation in the days that followed, I remembered another conversation that our group had during our Dawnings retreat. The question we were pondering was whether doing or being comes first. Several of us likened this question to the one about the chicken and the egg. When each begets the other, how can one come first? Likewise, how can one be more important than the other? Applying these thoughts to the life of the church, we generally agreed that whether we begin with doing or being depends on the situation. Either way, we hope and expect one will give rise to the other.
Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that diversity is a case in which we naturally start with doing. We cannot make our congregation be diverse, but we can “do diversity” by engaging with many different people. The more we do diversity, the more we will be hospitable, empathetic, and loving towards all kinds of people. Is that the same as being diverse? Maybe not. Hospitality, empathy, and love may not make a diverse crowd come in our doors.
But then again… At my particular church, far more people come through our doors for something other than Sunday morning worship than those who do – and they represent many types of people groups. While not all of their names are in our membership database, some consider this to be their church home. While many of these folks attend other churches on Sundays, they financially support the work of our church by paying to use our gym or buying pumpkins from our youth in October. While many of them don’t hear the love of Christ preached from our pulpit, they encounter the love of Christ in our preschool program, our Boy Scout troop, our music school, and our community events. Whether we count them as members or not, all these diverse people are a part of the life of our church.
As our nation reflects on the March on Washington which happened 50 years ago, many people have said that we still have a long way to go. The same can be said of my church, and I daresay most churches, when it comes to diversity. But when I look back over the last 50 years of my church’s history, I can see that every time we have “done diversity,” we have become a little more diverse – sometimes on Sunday mornings, sometimes not. Sometimes in expected ways, sometimes in surprising ways. After all, diversity is not about how many kinds of people we can identify in our congregation. Diversity is really about relationships, and relationships don’t just happen. Relationships begin with the choice to engage in love.