Longtime Charlotte colleagues help kick off 2020 Intercultural Transformation Workshops
April 18, 2021
The Revs. Kate Murphy and Eulando Henton have been friends and colleagues in ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina, for more than a decade. They speak to one another each week about the joys and challenges of leading intercultural congregations — Murphy has for almost 12 years been pastor of The Grove Presbyterian Church and Henton was called three years ago to be the first African American pastor at a historically white congregation, Derita Church.
Their experiences and the easy way they bounced ideas off one another were on display during their workshop “Five things we’ve learned about intercultural ministry and church transformation,” part of the Intercultural Transformation Workshops offered by the Presbyterian Intercultural Network, the presbyteries of Sacramento and Stockton and Charlotte, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
“These are uncomfortable truths,” Murphy said at the outset of the 45-minute workshop, “but they have been life-giving.”
The way we talk about the church forms the church, the two pastors said. Is it “my” church, “our” church, or “God’s” church? Henton said congregants at Derita Church work at calling their neighbors just that — neighbors, rather than “they” or “them.” “We don’t own the church,” he said. “It belongs to Jesus, and we are stewards.”
The questions that sessions, committees and other bodies ask shape the decisions they make, and a new church requires new questions, Murphy and Henton said.
Murphy said church members used to ask traditional questions when considering a new program or another significant change: What is the big steeple church down the street doing? What will it cost? Is it going to work? What will our biggest donors think? The Grove, Derita and other churches have replaced those questions with a single consideration: What does faithfulness to Jesus Christ look like in this situation?
“We believe conflict is one tool the Holy Spirit uses to grow and transform God’s people,” the two said.
“My leadership was stifled by avoiding conflict,” Henton said. “I felt like I needed to have all the answers.” During the first Advent of his ministry at Derita Church, he noticed that all the angels decorating the sanctuary were white. It bothered him and some other people of color who were Derita Church members, “but I knew they were cherished decorations, and I didn’t want to cause conflict,” Henton said.
The next year, “those same angels went up again, and I decided to lean into the issue.” To Henton’s surprise, “folks were willing to talk about it. They didn’t see the issue. In their world, all angels are white. The Holy Spirit opened the door to a larger conversation about how we welcome our neighbors.”
“All people are called to the love and salvation of Jesus Christ,” Murphy said. “Not all people are called and equipped for life in a healthy and holy intercultural ministry. If you don’t feel called to do it, it’s not going to happen.”
A spiritual mentor once had to remind Murphy that not everyone in the congregation would get on board with developing an intercultural ministry.
“God is going to lead some people into new congregations,” the mentor told her. “Individuals need space to determine if they are called to be part of this mission.”
The church of Jesus Christ “is a healthy and holy intercultural community where all cultures are valued and welcomed and no culture is supreme,” the two said.
Murphy and Henton wrapped up their workshop with what they called a “bonus truth”: “If you’re called to this work of church transformation, you are going to be radically reliant on the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit,” as Murphy put it. At The Grove Presbyterian Church, “it was life-giving to realize if the Holy Spirit didn’t come into the room, the church was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it. … There is a strange kind of freedom and peace knowing and accepting that.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, April 18, 2021, the Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Intercultural Transformation Workshops
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Dear God, thank you for loving the world and sending your church to grow in service, discipleship and effectiveness. We are grateful for examples of those who are listening to your Spirit’s voice. Guide all those involved in innovative ministry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.