Priority: Multicultural and Ethnic Ministries

From the Spring 2014 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian: Staff Q&A with Bishop Goff

The Annual Council survey showed that most folks don’t rank Multicultural and Ethnic Ministry as the top excitement-generating priority – but the worship and ministry occurring in multicultural congregations seem to show a different picture. Why do you think this is?

I think that what’s really fascinating here is that the priority that was ranked as receiving the most energy and excitement was Mission Beyond Ourselves. And when you look at the mission that a lot of our congregations are doing, it’s directly related to Multicultural and Ethnic Ministries: People are going on mission trips to Haiti, or even to other parts of the very towns that they’re living in. It seems to me, it’s all about engaging with people of other races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds. Our mission work is, in reality, about multicultural and ethnic ministry.

In terms of the worship and ministry that occurs in our multicultural and ethnic congregations – there’s energy there. The worship is similar, even when it’s in different languages. To a great extent, the uniqueness of cultures comes through in the music. I hear from people who attend Spanish-speaking services, now second- and third- and even fourth-generation Latinos who don’t speak Spanish, they speak primarily English – but they still go to the Latino service because of the music. That’s their culture.

Why is it important for us to have Multicultural and Ethnic Ministry as a priority in this day and age?

In a lot of our public schools – in Northern Virginia, in Richmond, all around the Diocese – young people are in classes with people of all kinds of backgrounds. When I was in Springfield, the local elementary school had kids who spoke 27 different languages. Our youth are growing up with friends and classmates of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. And yet for most of us, when we go to church, the people in the pews look just like us. There’s a disconnect between the world that our young people are growing up in and the world that they see in church.

So what are we saying to them? Is the church the real world? Does the church lose credibility in the eyes of young people because it doesn’t look like the world as they know it?

A diverse world is not just the world that young people are growing up in now. It’s also the image of the Heavenly Kingdom that Jesus talks about in his parables. The image of God’s heavenly banquet at God’s heavenly table is of people of every race, color, language and socioeconomic background – the whole wide diversity welcomed into God’s realm and welcomed into that wide-reaching embrace of Christ.

So if that’s both the vision of heaven and the vision of the world that our young people are growing up in, but it’s not what we’re experiencing in church, then we’re not living fully into our call as a community of faith.

What are some of the biggest challenges that multicultural and ethnic congregations seem to face in Virginia – and how are they overcoming those challenges?

The majority of our ethnic congregations receive diocesan aid through the Committee on Congregational Missions. So one of the biggest challenges is the financial challenge. And that’s multi-faceted: In our congregations that worship in a language other than English, a great number of their parishioners are first-generation immigrants who don’t have significant financial resources to be able to share with the church, or who don’t come from cultures that have a custom of stewardship, so they’re having to learn what stewardship is and grow their base from that.

One of the biggest challenges in our Diocese is that our budget is not growing as quickly as these congregations are growing so we don’t have the resources to continue to fund their growth. We could plant a Latino congregation once a month every month for three years and still not have Latino congregations in all the places around this Diocese where there’s a population of people who long to worship in their own language and who I think would be very attracted to the Episcopal Church. But we don’t have the resources for that.

So we pour our resources into the already existing congregations to try to make them as strong as they can be so that maybe they can then be the missionaries who go out. And the same is definitely true with Korean populations in many parts of our dioceses, Vietnamese, Sudanese, Liberian – if we established new congregations, they would thrive, but we don’t have the financial resources to do it.

How do you see our approach to Multicultural and Ethnic Ministry growing and evolving in the years to come? What’s on the horizon?

We’re exploring new resources, looking at opportunities through grants and partnerships. Right now, in the Episcopal Church, there are two financially self-sustaining Latino congregations in the entire United States. We in Virginia can have the third one. Through good stewardship education, through continued support of our current Latino ministries, we can make that happen.