This ethnographic study examines the cultural and institutional life of an urban Lutheran congregation that stands in the intersection of its predominantly northern European membership and its majority African American neighborhood. As a mainline Protestant congregation, this particular church shares the larger mission direction of its denominational church body to be engaged in outreach to its neighborhood with a vision to become a multicultural church. The stated vision stands in tension with the lived reality of the complex intersections of race and class, of congregation and neighborhood.
The research study was conducted to add to the multiracial congregation literature by exploring factors that foster or inhibit growth toward becoming an authentically integrated multiracial congregation as those factors are exhibited by a congregation that is living in the midst of the process. Current studies of multiracial congregations focus on those congregations that have already achieved some degree of racial diversity in membership. As a scholar/practitioner, my purpose in this study was to examine the challenges that confront a congregation that is living in the midst of change and verbally expresses a desire to be inclusive across race, class, and sexual orientation. Findings support the importance of addressing characteristics of organizational culture, race of leadership, and degree of social interaction across races addressed by DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey, and Chai Kim (2003), but also the need to understand the structural model of the congregation that can result in particular tensions and challenges for a family model congregation, as defined by Becker (1999). A congregation that avoids conflict may face particular challenges for entering critical discussions that may lead to change.
The methodology was participant/observation with interviews used later in the study to confirm or disconfirm the data. Four hundred and eight pages of fieldnotes were gathered over a period of 91/2 months in the congregation. In keeping with the methodology of ethnography, congregational worship, meetings, events, and weekday interactions along with observations of the outreach ministries and several neighborhood events were described, analyzed, and interpreted throughout the process. Insights from observations helped to guide and direct further observations as analysis of data pointed to new interpretations along the way. In order to more fully understand the data, 15 interviews were conducted with representatives from key constituent groups in the congregation and the neighborhood outreach ministries.
Future studies could include participatory action studies that would actively engage a congregation in a transformative learning process that could lead toward the transformation that DeYoung et al. (2003) stated is necessary for a multiracial congregation to be authentically integrated.
Keywords. Multiracial congregation, Multicultural church, Diversity, Congregation, Urban congregation, Mainline Protestant congregation.