Written in 2006 by retired pastor Glenn Hatfield, at the request of and in consultation with Rev. Felix Tingson.
Some churches call it “multicultural” to rent space to a church of another culture, or to have more than one cultural or language group as part of one church, but with separate meeting times or rooms. Under some circumstances, these can be valid approaches. However, Peddie’s approach to multiculturalism is to have all groups involved in one church, interacting with each other as Christian brothers and sisters in most activities. Although Peddie still uses the terminology “multicultural,” this form of being “multicultural” is now increasingly called being “intercultural.”
Initially, Peddie’s members were all white and mostly Scottish. Now it’s an international, multi-cultural church with more than 200 members from 23 nations, speaking more than 30 languages. For more than a quarter century, an annual event at which its multiculturalism is most obvious is its annual International Sunday, now celebrated on Pentecost Sunday. The first Pentecost two millennia ago WAS a multicultural, international gathering. Acts 2:9 lists 15 nations or ethnic groups present; they spoke many “tongues.”
On Peddie’s Pentecost or International Sunday, large flags of the nations represented in the membership are displayed. People wear the clothing usually worn in their country of origin. Bible readings are in many languages. There is ethnic music. The Lord’s Prayer is prayed in many tongues simultaneously – quietly, as people listen to all the languages rising to God along with their own. After worship, there is an international food festival where people learn to enjoy the dishes of other ethnicities. This unity in diversity is joyfully felt to be a Holy Spirit blessing. Visitors often say, “This is the way a church should be.”
It took a long time to develop a multicultural church. The path began in 1801 when 12 members started the church and soon built a small frame church house. As the congregation grew, they built a mid-sized brick building. One wealthy member, Thomas Baldwin Peddie, who joined the church in 1852 when it was half a century old, gave the present building to the church. The building, completed in 1890, is of outstanding beauty, and will seat more than 1,000 worshippers. Just before it was completed, Mr. Peddie died, and the grateful congregation changed the church’s name from “First Baptist Church” to “First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church.” For brevity and simplicity, here it will be called simply “Peddie Church” or “Peddie,” whether referring to the time before or after the name change.
THEOLOGICAL UNDERGIRDING specifically FOR multiculturalism has been the main factor in Peddie’s becoming multicultural. The Biblical emphasis upon multiculturalism at Peddie probably was sharpened mostly by its five most recent pastors, beginning in 1953 – Pastors Drummond, Hunt, King, Hatfield, and (currently) Tingson.
Comment: Dr. Martin Luther King observed that the most segregated gatherings in America are at our Sunday worship services. This is still true. While many mono-cultural churches are necessary, valuable, and pleasing to God, King’s comment is, nevertheless, to some extent a general indictment against the Christian community as a whole – since Christ, the Bible, and good theology, if properly heeded, would move many churches toward becoming more multicultural.
Attached to this document is a brief paper, titled “Theological Undergirding,” citing a few of the many Biblical passages and books that address the theme of churches being more inclusive and multicultural, as a matter of theological conviction and spiritual integrity.
One early step toward multiculturalism probably was the one Peddie took in 1811 – a decision to have a pastor who was not only sincerely spiritual, but also WELL EDUCATED. Some members sharply differed, holding that only “spirituality” mattered and that education was not important – the church’s first serious controversy that resulted in some members leaving. The pastor at the time, whose views prevailed, said that should the church choose to not have an educated pastor “folly and imprudence (would) become (their) teacher.” Since then, Peddie has tried to prayerfully select pastors who were both spiritually dedicated and well educated.
Comment: Good education opens hearts and minds in many ways – including toward Christian multiculturalism – which therefore can be furthered by seminaries having multicultural faculties and providing good multicultural training, by denominations maintaining high God-honoring educational standards for clergy, and by churches being careful to call ministers whose hearts and minds are open to the movement of God’s Spirit.
Peddie’s long held attitudes of COMPASSIONATE OPENESS paved the way for its multiculturalism. Although it has had some controversies such as the one in 1811, it has a long history of compassion, friendliness, openness, and Christian dedication, and little dogmatism, closed-mindedness, moralistic self-righteousness, etc. It really believes in loving ALL of the people God created. There has been evidence that such an attitude has been nourished from the pulpit and practiced in the congregation for many many years.
Comment: Christian harmony can lead to multicultural relationships, and once a church is on the path toward multiculturalism, is even more necessary. That’s because people of different languages and nationalities have different perceptions about being a church. It is necessary to honor cultures and viewpoints other than ones own, and stress Christian harmony and love that transcends some very real differences.
Being a MISSIONAL CHURCH over the years is another factor that paved the way for Peddie to become multicultural. Peddie gave birth to several Baptist Churches in Newark, and helped start one in India. From early times, Peddie people have loved the people of other nations enough to have a desire for their general welfare and Christian conversion, and therefore to pray sincerely and give substantially to support American Baptist’s international ministries. More recently, when so many immigrants have been coming to the USA, it was natural to continue outreach to them here, just as had been done by outreach to them when they lived in other nations.
Comment: Although it’s not always the case, an emphasis on international ministry can feed a sense of multiculturalism, and vice versa.
Long having had an INTERRACIAL MEMBERSHIP has been a factor. An early group of Peddie’s non-Scottish members were black Americans (then called “colored”). The church had black members so far back that nobody seems to know when or how this step was achieved. It is known only that there were so many black members that they decided they wanted their own separate church. So in 1871, in good will, Peddie became the mother church of Bethany Baptist Church, Newark’s first “colored” church. The friendship with Bethany continues. Some black members must have stayed on at Peddie, for there were still black members at Peddie after 1871. As far back as anybody knows about, there has been a considerable spirit of openness at Peddie. Even when Mr. Peddie gave the church its present building, he was vigorous in stating his intent and hope for building to be used not only for church functions, but also for good community gatherings, and that it should remain a house of prayer for ALL people.
Comment: “Multicultural” and “interracial,” though not synonyms, are kindred terms. For a church to achieve either can help to achieve the other.
A PRINCIPLED STAND ON RACIAL JUSTICE undergirded Peddie’s move toward greater multiculturism. In 1963, Horace Hunt became Peddie’s pastor. In 1967 Newark had a racial riot, which was a rebellion against racial injustice in the city. That same year, American Baptists’ Board of National Ministries sent Glenn Hatfield (later to become Peddie’s pastor) to Newark as Director of the (former) Newark Christian Center and to work on an ecumenical team to help the city address racial injustice and restore peace. Hunt was instrumental in creating this team (Metropolitan Ecumenical Ministries) and later was called to be its Executive Director. Peddie housed this ecumenical movement in its early stages.
Because of Newark’s racial troubles, property values declined, some white churches and many white families fled to the suburbs, and Newark’s white churches either closed or shrank. Despite some discomfort, Peddie held firm, stayed, and continued to minister. Since it also lost some of its white members, by simple arithmetic it was left as a more multicultural church. And since the non-Caucasian people began to see that Peddie really cared, a few more of them joined.
Comment: Becoming multicultural can help save the life of a dying inner city church, but also involves the necessity to understand the frustration and problems of groups other than one’s own and some willingness to “go to bat” for them and their concerns
Having a MULTI-CULTURAL CHURCH STAFF was important in becoming multicultural. Since quite a few Chinese lived in Peddie’s neighborhood, the church called a part time Chinese “local missionary” in 1960, and launched some effort to reach out to Chinese, with some limited success. The title of this part time position has since been changed to “assistant to the pastor,” and the position has been filled by one other Chinese minister, a Filipino minister, and (now) a Korean minister. In 2001, the Filipino minister, Felix Tingson, was called to be Peddie’s first non-Caucasian pastor, and in this role is currently serving capably. Peddie also has filled non clergy positions (secretary, choir director, sexton, etc.) with people of various ethnicities.
Comment: Few people who are not part of a church’s dominant culture will become members of a church that is not sensitive enough to be multicultural in its “employment” practices.
BEING INTENTIONAL ABOUT OUTREACH to other ethnic groups was part of Peddie’s process. For instance, Pastor King (1970 & following) led the church to focus strategically on Chinese outreach. Accordingly, the church began holding events that were attractive to Chinese (such as celebrating the Chinese new year) -also on translating, printing, and handing out tracts and other outreach materials to Chinese; and having telephone campaigns to Chinese people whose names can sometimes be picked from the phone books – Chin, Chang, Wang, Wong, etc.).
Comment: The idea is wrong that merely being open toward other groups might be all that is needed to advance toward multiculturalism. Even if a church has a good attitude toward people of other cultures, those people probably will never know this is true, unless there is some intentional, strategic effort to reach out to them.
REALIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGE was important. In church bulletins and newsletters, Pastor King began referring to Peddie AS “an “international church.” Pastor Hatfield (1974 & following) continued and expanded this practice. For example, he arranged to get the flags of all nations that are in place for International Sunday at Pentecost. He also took care to always have people of different colors and ethnic groups in the pulpit, receiving the offering, serving at communion, being ushers, etc. Pastor Tingson (2001 to the present) is continuing to work on this. For him, however the problem is no longer having an almost all white group front, but is having an almost all-black group. Although the blacks themselves are an international group (from Nigeria, Haiti, Ghana, Cameroon, the USA, etc.) Pastor Tingson is trying to have more Asians and whites upfront, to keep the image balanced.
Comment: Just as image important, so is having a multi-ethnic “appearance” in worship leadership. On the one hand, being “color-blind” is a wonderful ideal. Presumably we will all be color-blind in Heaven. On the other hand, being “color blind” in a society or a church that still discriminates based on color is a refusal or failure to address the situation. As Christians seeking to reach out to all people, we need to be color conscious (not color blind) and balance participation in worship conduct among various races and ethnic groups.
ADDRESSNG ISSUES OF POWER was important. Mostly it was Pastor Hatfield who began to do this. When he came as pastor, the congregation had begun to look somewhat “international,” but the various boards and committees were still mostly all white. He began slowly and gradually to introduce capable leaders from various national and racial backgrounds into the various boards and committees. He also personally recruited and trained several dedicated lay-ministers from varied ethnic backgrounds to undertake various ministries and take turns in pulpit ministry. This continued to further the image (as above) of being a multicultural church, and to further its actuality by having the people of other ethnicities move from merely attending church to become integral members of the church family. Pastor Tingson is finding it necessary to work even more on this aspect of power. As the church’s first non-Caucasian pastor, he is finding that a few members who seldom if ever challenged a white pastor are beginning to challenge him on some issues. He finds it necessary to work hard, as many pastors do, to maintain balance between the opinions of some individuals and the democratically established church practices.
Comment: Although the power issue is one of the most important of all, it may be the one least addressed. Many times, the majority group, even though well-meaning, is unaware of this issue.
FINDING UNITY IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST has been and is central to Peddie’s multicultural family. Many people have worked on that, including Pastor Hatfield. Peddie member Myrna Karasig wrote a brief history for the church’s 200th anniversary, in which she said that although other downtown churches are declining in membership, Peddie has sustained steady membership growth by increasing its international base. In part she credits Pastor Hatfield for this by :continuing (Peddie’s ) tradition of fine preaching” and for sustaining “the otherwise fragile relationships between twenty or so nationalities and ethnicities by allowing diverse cultural expressions yet forging unity of our Christian spirit.”
Comment: The key is love. See I John.
PRAYER was a key to the process. Many people, including many pastors have earnestly prayed that Peddie keep on loving and serving people across racial and national boundaries – and have prayed that the congregation will continue to be drawn together in harmony and in ministry. Soon after Pastor Tingson first came to be Peddie’s local missionary, he led the church in a significant movement of prayer renewal. As members came together for prayer, boundaries faded, commonalities emerged, and Christian caring increased. As a result, some of the processes and hopes stated above that had been flagging were renewed, and as the general spiritual and organizational health of the church improved, so did the multicultural communion.
Comment: Thanks be to God!
A declining church may choose to become multicultural to survive. Or, a church may choose to become multicultural because it is life enriching to be in a multicultural fellowship and have friends from other backgrounds. But the main reason to become multicultural is theological.
Here are a few of many Biblical texts that favor multiculturism.
- Psalm 133:1. The good of dwelling together in unity.
- John 17: especially 11 & 23. Jesus prays that his church may be one, that the world might believe in him.
- Matthew 28:19-20 The great commission – go to all “nations” (Greek, ethnai / ethnic groups)
- Acts 2:5-11 lists fifteen ethnic groups present at the Pentecost event. The very first church gathering was multicultural
- Acts 10:34 After God sends a powerful vision to Peter to correct his racism and encourage outreach to the Gentiles, Peter proclaims that he now sees that God is no respecter of persons, or shows no favoritism.
- Galatians 3:28. “Your are all one in Christ Jesus.”
- Ephesians. The entire book, the main theme of which is God’s purpose to unite all things in heaven and earth together, the role of the church in this overarching purpose, and the need for all Christians to claim their unity in Christ and dwell together in mutual love.
- Ephesians 4:3-5: Love each other; keep the unity of the Spirit. One body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.
- Revelation 7:9 describes the multinational church at the end of time gathered before
- God’s throne. This shows God’s desire for how the church should be; and since it will ultimately be this way, it’s good for us to work toward that ideal.
Resources for Further Study
Here are a few of many books that challenge churches toward multicultural sensitivity or toward or becoming multicultural.
- Intentional Diversity. Jim Lo
- Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World. Stephen A. Rhodes,
- What Color Is Your God? David Ireland.
- Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology. Jung Young Lee.
- The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community. Eric Law
- One New People: Models for Developing a Multiethnic Church. Manuel Ortiz.
- Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity. Curtiss Paul DeYoung
- United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race. Curtiss Paul Deyoung, Michael Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim.