Several years ago, my predominantly white congregation, if not dying, definitely was starting to lose consciousness. However, things began to turn around as church staff and leaders recognized the changing community — predominantly Hispanic and working poor — and decided to be intentional about embracing change. While we're not a standing-room-only congregation yet, we're thriving. Here are some ideas that might help your church as well.
1. Work with a congregation that is racially/ethnically different from yours on a common mission or community-based project.
2. Explore the possibility of having an exchange of clergy and/or choirs with a congregation that is racially/ethnically different from your own. Perhaps a portion of the congregation could exchange as well.
3. Attend meetings of local human rights or civil rights organizations and explore issues of common concern. Map out a strategy to work together.
4. Hold a study of your faith's commitment to equality and justice both Scripturally and historically.
5. Clip articles from local papers related to racism or diversity. Post these on a bulletin board in your congregation and encourage members to monitor ongoing issues. Discuss these issues. Organize support to affirm diversity and combat racism through letter-writing campaigns, attendance at hearings and other methods of social action.
6. Hold congregational discussions on racism and diversity using appropriate materials from your judicatory, study circle material or video resources. Sponsor such discussions for the community as a whole.
7. Sponsor a diversity or anti-racism workshop for members of the congregation or for the entire community.
8. Participate actively in the political process. Support legislation that assures that everyone is protected against discrimination and that works for the good of all people. Hold a candidates' night in your congregation where they are asked to address important issues, including issues of diversity and racism.
9. Get the congregation involved in issues of equality and diversity in the community. Investigate housing patterns; look at the school's curriculum; check into your town's hiring policy for municipal employees; investigate hiring practices of companies in the community.
10. Organize an ongoing congregational book discussion group that focuses on issues of racism and diversity in both the content and choice of author.
11. Plan congregational outings to visit museum exhibits and historical sites or attend cultural events from diverse cultural traditions.
12. Support local units of organizations that contribute to the empowerment of racial/ethnic organizations, such as the NAACP, Urban League and so forth.
13. Respond quickly and strongly to hate group activity, hate crimes or incidents of discrimination. Coordinate a community response.
14. Create a committee or ask an existing one to help the whole congregation understand and deal more effectively with issues of diversity and racism.
15. Bring in speakers who can educate and challenge the congregation in the areas of diversity and racism.
16. Include notes in your congregational newsletter and your Web page on issues of diversity and racism and on any possible congregational activity.
17. Develop a congregational vision that is inclusive, affirms diversity and challenges racism. Post it in the building and publish it regularly.
18. Create a congregational environment that embraces diversity through artwork, posters, educational materials, toys and music.
19. Volunteer with organizations who promote the value of diversity and combat injustice and racism in your community.
20. Hold joint youth or children's programs (such as a youth retreat or vacation Bible school) with a congregation that is racially/ethnically different from your own.
21. Observe and honor the holidays and celebrations of various ethnic groups.
22. Design programs and ministries that reach out to population groups traditionally excluded or under-served by your congregation.
23. Create opportunities to celebrate the vast diversity of creation.
24. Visit the General Commission on Religion and Race Web site at www.gcorr.org and become a fan on Facebook.
25. Pray for peace with justice and live courageously!
--Edited from a list originally developed by the Indiana Interreligious Commission on Human Equality, Indianapolis. Used with permission. General Commission on Religion and Race, The United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C. Darby Jones is a writer and email marketing specialist at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.