From Pastor Theresa: Closing the Cultural Divide in our Churches

From Pastor Theresa: Closing the Cultural Divide in our Churches

On Sept. 5-6, clergy and laity from the Great Plains United Methodist Conference met for the Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Workshop at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Grand Island, Nebraska. The Rev. Sun Hee Kim and the Rev. Dr. Dale Weatherspoon led an intercultural competency workshop that helped more than 60 participants to develop skills to relate across racial, ethnic and cultural differences. Erin Hawkins, general secretary of The United Methodist Church General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) sent staff member, the Rev. Giovanni Arroya, to represent GCORR.

The workshop included an engaging mix of thoughtful presentations, activities, videos, case studies plus small and large group activities that gave the participants insights into their own cultural/racial backgrounds. Skill building tools and activities were offered for interacting with people from different backgrounds.

Workshop leader Kim used the analogy that we wear different “glasses” to see the world. These differences are not right or wrong, good or bad, but they affect how we see the world and encounter different situations. She gave an example of when she first went into a huge Chinese restaurant she thought everyone was eating rice the wrong way. Diners lifted the bowl and put the chopsticks close to their mouth. Kim, who is from Korea, had been taught that it was proper to eat rice with a spoon keeping the bowl on the table. When she asked her friend who was Chinese about the way people were eating rice, the friend said, “That’s the proper way to eat rice.”

We develop a more intercultural mindset when we can begin to understand how our own ways of seeing the world are shaped by our cultural backgrounds. Some of the skill building addressed the confusion and conflict that can erupt in intercultural interaction through what Weatherspoon and Kim described as “culture as an iceberg.”

Only about one-tenth of an iceberg can be seen—such as cultural dress, arts and food. The other nine-tenths of the iceberg includes beliefs and values about social relations, worship, leadership, responsibility and other values that come from our cultural context. Misunderstandings are often a clash of different perceptions of the world that we may not recognize about ourselves or our neighbor. We can begin to build bridges and connections with one another through “bridge people” who help interpret differences and by getting to know more about another culture. The more we share stories and listen to multiple stories, the more we can build bridges.

Both workshop leaders gave examples of different expectations for a pastor that may exist in different cultural traditions. For example, in one cross-cultural appointment, Weatherspoon was expected to be present throughout a wake, even though he wasn’t expected to speak until after he had been there for at least five hours. Workshop participants considered case studies of conflicts between pastors and congregations that developed because of different cultural expectations and beliefs. Participants began to prepare “next steps” for building and strengthening hospitality and inclusion within the church in their own contexts.

On Saturday, Bishop Scott Jones spoke to the group stressing the importance of this workshop given the realities of numerous cross-racial appointments in this conference and our goals of becoming a more diverse and inclusive people. He said, “Together we have the common mission of sharing Jesus Christ for the world.”

The Rev. Sun Hee Kim is a United Methodist clergy woman who is currently serving as the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Freemont, California. As an Asian-American immigrant from Korea, she has served mostly Anglo churches and has worked in various cross-cultural/cross-racial settings both within the United Methodist denomination as well as in broader ecumenical settings. She has organized and facilitated cross-cultural/cross-racial workshops for congregations and for clergy over the past five years. She is passionate about helping people to connect and to build relationship beyond cultural and racial differences.

The Rev. Dale M. Weatherspoon has served four churches in the California-Nevada Annual conference: Almaden Hills in south San Jose, First UMC of Redwood City, Alum Rock in east San Jose, and currently Good Samaritan UMC in Cupertino. All of these appointments have been cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments. He has a passion for justice ministry and teaching. He sees himself as a cultural bridge person who works to help people see not only their commonalities but to appreciate and value their differences. He believes that “only in community and in service together can we grow in love for one another and deepen our trust in God through the teachings of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.”







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