Although the worldwide Anglican church is predominantly composed of people of color, that certainly isn’t the picture most of us see in our youth groups. But it is clear from Scripture that the Kingdom is multicultural, (cf.Rev. 7.9), so reaching out across ethnic boundaries is an important part of being the Church. I spoke recently with Jaharia Filmore, the Assistant Director of Earthen Vessels Outreach. EVO is the mission and outreach arm of Seeds of Hope Anglican Church in Pittsburgh, which was planted by the Rev. Dr. John Paul Chaney and his wife Marilyn. The parish is a small multicultural, multigenerational congregation, but has accomplished big things through their nonprofit arm. EVO provides essential services, such as after school programming and a summer day camp, to about 150 youth each year. I asked Jaharia, who is African American, to talk with me briefly about how we can make our youth groups friendly to people of color.
T: What are some practical steps we can take to make sure our youth group is welcoming to all people?
J: Generally, you need to listen to the kids when they come in the door. Don’t make assumptions, ask them what they want and need, they will tell you! More specifically to make it welcoming for people of color, bring a person of color onto your leadership team.
T: But since most of the leadership in Anglican churches is white, how do we do that?
J: You can find great volunteers from all over the world through ChristianVolunteering.org, but also, reach out to local colleges and ask them if students could volunteer at your church. You can also contact a predominantly black church in your area and see if you could volunteer for them, and start building relationships with people of color that way. EVO has done that, we help provide meals for kids in partnership with Mt. Ararat, a large church in our area.
T: What are some cultural blind spots you have seen working in a predominantly white church?
J: Throw out your assumptions about people that are based on their skin color or economic status. There seems to be this unconscious belief that people of color are “broken” and need to be fixed…more broken than just being sinners in need of grace, more broken than Caucasians. If we can get past this misconception, and know that we are all human beings who need the same things, it will help people of color feel more comfortable, and keep them coming back.
T: What are some absolute No-no’s when trying to welcome people of color?
J: Don’t try and appropriate the culture-like using urban slang…don’t…just don’t do that...Just be yourself!
For more information about Seeds of Hope or EVO, visit: www.evo-pgh.org
By The Rev. Canon Tracey Russell, Pittsburgh