Towards a Multi-Cultural Church by Rodvegas Ingram

 My journey in becoming a pastor in a cross-racial or multicultural setting has been driven by God.  As He did with Moses, David, and the Prophets, God was moving in mysterious ways even before I realized it.  My DS, Dr. Nancy Rankin, came to visit the churches in our district in the summer of 2013.  I met her at one of my churches in Reidsville, and then I drove her to my church in Eden.  The drive between the two churches was approximately 20 miles one way.  That day, Dr. Rankin asked me why I was driving that far, and I responded, “These two African-American congregations are where I was assigned.”  Her response to me was, “It doesn’t make sense for you to drive this distance when you pass by several other United Methodist Churches along the way.”  She asked me, “Do you have to serve in African-American churches only?” and I told her, “No, I promised to go where I am sent.”  Then she followed up with this question, “Would you consider serving in a setting that is not African-American?”  I told her, “Yes.”  And, from there she went to work.

As I stated earlier, God was working and I did not realize it.  There were several churches that the DS considered assigning me to that made sense geographically.  However, these locations did not work out.  In one case, it was for financial reasons, and in the other case, it was totally based on race.  At this point, I became angry, and I assumed that all of the considerations would result in rejection.  So I decided that I would not follow through on my commitment.  But, God was still at work.   He prodded the DS to place me at a church that made sense spiritually.   The third and final consideration in my journey was Salem United Methodist Church.  After what I had experienced in this journey, prior to this, I prepared myself for the worst case scenario.  However, God knew what I needed, and what Salem needed.  When we met for the first time, it was as if we were made for each other.  The love and genuine care that my new congregation showed me and continues to show me is real.  I love my new alignment.

Even though it has been almost a year in this cross-racial or multicultural setting, I believe God is still working.  I serve one predominantly Anglo-American congregation, and one predominantly African-American congregation, and they are carbon copies of each other.   Both settings have people of other races attending, but now we are beginning to look like a representation of heaven.  We come together and have a joint worship service each 5th Sunday.  I truly see that people are people no matter the color of their skin.  I believe God wants me and my congregations to invite others in to see what coming together as one in His Kingdom truly looks like.  Heaven will not be separated by race or culture, so we might as well get started breaking down the walls of separation here.

I try to do that with serving both my congregations with care and dignity.  I visit my members who are sick and homebound.  I take them communion.  I listen to them.  I pray for them.  When it comes to serving the community, I don’t ask my members to do things that I won’t do.  I join in with them in the Hot Dog Ministry; the backpack program; summer feeding program; worship services at the nursing home; and in missional network events.  As a result, people are coming.  People are joining.  People are growing spiritually.  I thank God for this opportunity to serve Salem and St. John United Methodist Churches.  As both my congregations would say, “We hope it is for a very long time.”

Submitted by the Rev. Rodvegas M. Ingram, Sr.

For further reading, please check out this companion article by Pat Merricks, Lay Leader of Salem UMC, about how Rodvegas Ingram’s appointment to Salem UMC has helped them grow.

The Rev. Nancy Rankin has also written an instructive piece called “8 Questions to Answer before Starting a Cross-Cultural Appointment.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Proclaim!
(The WNCC Justice and Reconciliation Team newsletter).