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.”