On Interracial Churches and Rev. Rodney Woo

Rev. Rodney Woo

Rev. Rodney Woo

Interesting CNN cover story yesterday on interracial churches and “Why Many Americans Prefer Their Sundays Segregated.” Good read.

Some great highlights:
What was he was going to do if more of “them” tried to join their church?
The article cites Rev. Rodney Woo, who is partly Chinese, showing a very Third Culture approach on his part. There was fear that more Asians would flood the church because of his last name but according to the article it seems like that’s far from reality. I wonder if there are Asians in his church? My guess is that if they go or don’t go it probably has nothing to do with Woo’s last name. The reverend doesn’t look very Chinese to me. Not a knock on him but just a statement that perhaps the reason why people (Asians) go or don’t go has little to do with his last name but it may be an issue for non-Asians.

The Rev. Rodney Woo, senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, may be such a person. He leads a congregation of blacks, whites and Latinos. Like many leaders of interracial churches, he is driven in part by a personal awakening.

Woo’s mother is white, and his father is part Chinese. He attended an all-black high school growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, where he still remembers what it was like to be a minority.
“Everyone understands the rules, the lingo, the mind-set — except you,” he says. “It was invaluable, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

When he became pastor of Wilcrest in 1992, he was determined to shield his church members from such an experience. But an exodus of whites, commonly referred to as “white flight” was already taking place in the neighborhood and the church.

Membership fell to about 200 people. At least one church member suggested that Woo could change the church’s fortunes by adding a “d” to his last name.

“The fear there was people would think I was Chinese,” he says. “There would be a flood of all these Asians coming in, and what would we do then?”

Woo kept his last name and his vision. He made racial diversity part of the church’s mission statement. He preached it from the pulpit and lived it in his life. He says Wilcrest now has about 500 members, and is evenly divided among white, Latino and black members.

Woo doesn’t say his church has resolved all of its racial tensions. There are spats over music, length of service, even how to address Woo. Blacks prefer to address him more formally, while whites prefer to call him by his first name, (a sign of disrespect in black church culture), Woo says.
Woo tries to defuse the tension by offering something for everyone: gospel and traditional music, an integrated pastoral staff, “down-home” preaching and a more refined sermon at times.

But he knows it’s not enough. And he’s all right with that.

“If there’s not any tension, we probably haven’t done too well,” he says. “If one group feels too comfortable, we’ve probably neglected another group.”


7 Responses to “On Interracial Churches and Rev. Rodney Woo”

  1. August 5, 2008 at 9:01 am

    so where are the asian people in his church? It isn’t that unusual to have a white man leading a multi-ethnic congregation

  2. 2 L T
    August 5, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    thanks elderj, it isn’t unusual at all to have a white man leading a multi-ethnic congregation or an all asian congregation for that matter 🙂 i really do wonder if there are any asians in that church. i guess i’ll have to write him. houston does have a fairly significant chinese population.

    i suspect that as church growth experts have studied, if someone enters your doors and does not see someone like them (be it ethnic or some other sense of commonality other than christ) within however much time they are there the chances are they would not return. i think many chinese still feel uncomfortable in non-chinese environments especially when there are options around for them to be part of a community where there are others like them.

    for many of us, it’s a long road to move from thinking “they” to “we”.

  3. August 9, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Do you think its bad for Asians to follow Asian pastors? Maybe Pastors of other ethnicities do not understand Asians as well? Maybe Asians are racist?

  4. 4 L T
    August 12, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Randplaty, I think there’s a place for the immigrant church, second generation churches and multi-ethnic churches. We need them all of them. One church cannot possibly reach everyone. We need different churches to reach different people.

    In my experience there are Chinese churches that have hired a Caucasian pastors to lead their second gen before the turn of the century, because there wasn’t really a pool of ABCs or OBCs. I’ve seen OBCs lead second gen ministries. Some churches feel like their Caucasian pastors do not understand the culture but it’s not so much the culture of the English congregation but in dealing with the decision making leadership which is still predominantly OBC. In many Chinese churches particularly in the NE the pastor does have have much authority so it can be very frustrating for American (Non-Asian/Asian) pastors especially when seeking to reach “out” as Chinese churches tend to reach in.

    And c’mon Asians racist? They definitely can be and Chinese can be the most racist sometimes. Just look at some of the terms we use especially in Cantonese – bac guay – white ghost?

    Overall, there’s so many other complexities but people are looking to find community and connection with people like them, in face as well as in culture. So we do need different churches.

  5. August 18, 2008 at 8:09 am

    …really interesting post, if a litle hard to relate to, coming as I do from the multicultural melting pot that is London.


  6. 6 L T
    August 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    johnny – great to hear from you. thanks for leaving a comment. you’re right that was a tough post to understand. i don’t think i communicated very well but it has brought up a lot of issues. the immigrant church is a very strange and complex creature but then again how often in a multicultural church do you find new immigrants attending and staying, particularly asian immigrants? does a multicultural church appeal or attract new asian immigrants or other immigrants? i’m not seeing that happen.

  7. 7 abeautifulsunrise
    October 24, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    A book about this is called “People of the Dream.” It chronicles the Wilcrest story and racism in the church (church as a whole).

    Wilcrest is not claiming to be the “perfect” church, but reading the book and/or listening to some of the stories of people who have lived through what God did there, you will see the grace of God.

    From what I have read and heard, non-white races were told to go to another church that was for “black people” (or the particular race) if they came in. Pastor Rodney came with a vision from God to knock down those racial walls and the congregation is completely different. Here’s a video if you’d like to know more. http://n.b5z.net/i/u/6146502/m/WhoWeAre.wmv

    Blessings to all people,


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[american born chinese pastor]
seeks to be that third place for those who are american born chinese [abc] in ministry.
here we may explore issues unique to the chinese church and doing ministry in that context
expand the intersection of asian american culture and christian faith
or simply expose what goes on in the mind of this abcpastor

this may be a bit ambitious or even naiive but i do hope that through the posts we can bring together different faith communities, passions for the advancement of the Gospel and the equipping of the body of Christ.

if you are an abc pastor or have any suggestions or would like to contribute to make this space evolve, just comment.


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