Multicultural Congregations: A Celebration of Diversity
by Rita Boyer
I grew up in a small town anchored by churches, each of which had its own outdoor nativity display at Christmastime. Standing in one spot, you could easily count four well-lit versions of Mary and Joseph. Mary wore powder blue, Joseph leaned on his shepherd’s staff and straw blanketed the ground. Though they stood in front of different churches, the parents of the infant Messiah often looked much the same.
Whether Mary was Baptist, Presbyterian or Eastern Orthodox seemed not to matter. She always wore powder blue, and she was always fair-skinned with western European features. As a child, I wondered how the members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church felt as they walked past this white holy family, to sit in a sanctuary filled with people of color.
One Christmas week, I moved and made my home in a suburb with fewer churches and even fewer nativity displays. It was a diverse community comprised of people of many different faiths, races and cultures. Unlike past Christmases, there was no nativity display in front of my new church. Inside the sanctuary, however, was a handmade depiction of Jesus’ birth. But wait! Mary was not wearing powder blue! She was not fair-skinned or western European. Like all of the figures, she was a bit rustic, made from unpainted wood and dressed in burlap. It was clear that the members of this multicultural congregation had created a crèche into which everyone was invited to enter.
From figures in the nativity scene to worship practices, there are a multitude of ways congregations can be welcoming to all — find out what else your church can do.
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Rita Boyer is a certified Christian educator at Prospect Presbyterian Church in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Illustration of Epiphany by Janet McKenzie, United States.
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