Monday, February 26, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 8a)

Okay, let’s try to wrap this up.

The situation in the Church across America today is pretty much just like it was almost 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. reportedly called Sunday morning at 11 o’clock the most segregated hour of the week. Yet my family and I have found fellowship in Christ Church, a predominantly White, evangelical church located in Lake Forest, a wealthy suburb on Chicago’s North Shore. What are some things about Christ Church that helped this Black family feel welcomed?

First of all, the people of Christ Church treated us as if they were truly happy we chose to worship with them. In other word, they made us feel welcome. Now, I must admit, it did help that I knew a few young people there who were or had been in one of the choirs at the local high school and that their parents recognized me from the high school choral concerts. But, I did not know and was not recognized by the majority of people; they simply communicated genuine interest in my family. At some other evangelical churches we visited, it was possible to enter the building, stay for worship and leave without having to talk to anyone, other than a simple, “Hello” or “Good morning.” Even though I really didn’t want to be known or recognized, in the long run, I think it still mattered to me that people at Christ Church took notice of us.

Secondly, we were accepted as full participants in the life of the church. For instance, my wife is frequently up-front as a part of the worship team or as part of the choir. I’ve also stood up-front reading Scripture, leading in prayer and assisting with the Lord’s Supper. Many times, I’ve sat at the piano or organ providing music for worship, or singing a solo, or leading the congregation in song. Even my oldest son has been up-front, playing the piano for offertory or filling in for the bass guitarist in the worship band. My point is, we were asked to participate in these ways. We were approached first. The church has demonstrated a willingness to have people of different races and ethnicities and cultures involved in visible ways in the life of the church. A significant development, which I believe illustrates this openness in attitude, is the recent inclusion of a Black brother in Christ to serve on the elder board.

Another example comes to mind. The church used to ask a gospel choir from a nearby Christian college, composed of mostly Black students, to come sing during our worship services perhaps once per year. A few years ago, someone in the leadership got the idea that, instead of bringing in an outside group, perhaps we could assemble a choir from within the congregation. I was asked if I would be willing to lead this group. I consented. So, two or three time a year, I direct an ensemble of volunteers from within Christ Church, that sings Black gospel music…in this predominantly White evangelical church in Lake Forest! You know, coming from North Chicago (which happens to be just two towns north of Lake Forest), this still blows my mind. You have to realize that Lake Forest is at the very top of the economic ladder in our county; North Chicago is at the bottom. I think to myself, “If people who knew me 20 years ago could only see me now! I never imagined such a thing!” But, you know what? It has worked. And, I believe God has blessed this gospel choir as a ministry within Christ Church.

Performing Black music in a White context has been educational experience for all involved. As a choral musician, I’ve had to think harder about gospel music and how it’s sung than I ever had to. What came naturally, without explanation, in a Black church environment (for instance, clapping on beats 2 and 4, or swaying in time to the music), I’ve had to explain and teach. Therefore, I’ve had to think in detail about how these things are done so that I can teach others how to do them (I’ve never thought so hard about how to clap one’s hands or sway to the beat in all my life!). I also try to make Black gospel music a vehicle for worship for those who didn’t grow up with it. This means thinking deeply and biblically about lyrics and trying to explain how worship is expressed in a Black cultural context. The last thing I want is for gospel music to become some novelty to be gawked at and exploited, but not taken seriously (Ooo, Black music is so much fun!). I want to help White people genuinely worship with the music of another racial culture. I think we’ve been successful at that. On occasion, I’ve brought in some Black friends from outside Christ Church to sing in the gospel choir. I see this as one small way I can help introduce Christians from both sides of the Church’s racial divide to each other. It’s a very small gesture, but I hope it helps to get believers to look beyond our familiar church surroundings and realize that, in Christ, believers of differing races share in common the most important thing: a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s stop right here for a reading break. After you give your eyes a rest, you can continue reading here.

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