LA Times Article rgarding Multi-Cultural Ministry of Johnson Chapel AMEC and Others : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

Church's Colors Change With Times; In Santa Ana and elsewhere, the AME Church adapts to reflect neighborhoods as ethnicity shifts.;
Regine Labossiere. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Jul 26, 2004. pg. B.1
Full Text (1176 words)
(Copyright (c) 2004 Los Angeles Times)
The worshipers were on their feet, hands clapping to the rock 'n' roll-style gospel music. They raised their arms skyward as the choir cried "Hallelujah!" It was another Sunday service at Santa Ana's Johnson Chapel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Orange County.

But when Pastor Javier Suarez rose to start the service, the words "Bless those who are here" tumbled out in Spanish: "Bendiga a todo lo que estan aqui."

Johnson Chapel is an experiment in colors. Adopting the motto "Two cultures, two congregations, one church," it has added a service in Spanish for about 100 Latino parishioners. The head pastor overseeing the church, including its core congregation of about 315 blacks, is white.

Founded to serve a black membership, Johnson Chapel is changing along with the neighborhood around it. Santa Ana's African American population has dropped 36% -- to about 5,000 -- in three decades while the city's Latino population has exploded.

The changes at Johnson Chapel reflect a trend seen throughout the AME Church nationally. Many African American residents have scattered to the suburbs, to be replaced in many older urban neighborhoods by other rapidly growing minority groups -- prompting some AME churches to look for ways to broaden their appeal.

The need to attract other cultures isn't unique to AME, but most denominations have had difficulty diversifying their congregations. AME officials are determined to succeed.

"The church is always supposed to relate to its community," said Bishop John Bryant, who heads the Fifth Episcopal District of 14 states west of the Mississippi River, plus Alaska. "In the past, you'd find that what churches tended to do, when the community changed, the church moved. That was unwise. That's fostering our prejudices."

Other AME churches have made significant progress in diversifying their congregations. The Bethel AME in Sparks, Nev., for example, successfully recruited Latinos to join the main congregation rather than establish a Spanish-language service.

In some cases the AME Church has recruited entire churches that were historically white. Immanuel Community Church of Long Beach, formerly a Baptist church, joined the denomination in October. Led by white pastor Jane Stormont Galloway, the congregation is two- thirds white. 'Transcultural Ministry'

Galloway said the challenge of integrating a formerly white Baptist congregation into the AME style of worship -- lively music and liturgy sprinkled with 'Amens' from the congregation -- lay in "creating a transcultural ministry."

Another predominantly white church, St. Paul Community AME in Bozeman, Mont., previously was a nondenominational church with a black pastor, the Rev. Denise Rogers.

With two major Native American reservations nearby, Rogers also hopes to attract tribe members to her church, and she plans to start an AME church in Missoula, Mont., to accommodate the nearby Blackfeet tribe. Members of the tribe and of other community groups have suggested that they want an AME church, Rogers said.

Johnson Chapel in Santa Ana launched a Spanish-language service eight years ago after Suarez approached the pastor at the time, the Rev. Timothy Tyler, about renting space for his Bible study group. Tyler saw the need for a Spanish-language ministry and asked Suarez to join the church. Suarez, a native of Santa Ana, became ordained in the AME Church and is now the Latino congregation's pastor.

Johnson Chapel's current pastor, Michael Barta, said adding the Latino congregation was necessary for the chapel to remain a viable institution. The area around Bristol and 2nd streets, where the 71- year-old church sits, no longer has the predominantly black population it once had.

"We're happy to reach out to the African American people, but at the same time we have to be relevant to the immediate community," Barta said. "The immediate community has changed. We have to change." "It was our call," said Tyler, who now ministers to a St. Louis church. "We had to be as relevant to the people next door as to the people who were driving to church."

Johnson Chapel, which owns two buildings on opposite corners of 2nd and Bristol, has its two services simultaneously on Sundays. The predominantly black group meets in the newer of the two buildings, the one with a steeple, and the Latino group meets in the other one for its Spanish service.

'Like a Family'

Suarez, the church's Latino pastor, said the new congregation has integrated well into Johnson Chapel. "We're like a family, just different colors," he said. "We consider ourselves one church but do things separately because of different cultures.... They don't ask us to stop being Hispanics because we belong to a black church." Nationally, the AME, founded by black Methodists in the late 18th century to escape the racism they encountered in white churches, has long seen itself as open to all.

But in Santa Ana, some congregants who were accustomed to worshiping alongside their own kind initially weren't as welcoming, Tyler acknowledged.

"The only friction was that we had to deal with territorial things," Tyler said. "We had to get used to being together, but the congregation was able to overcome that."

Said African American church member Jacqueline Brown, 41: "It's added a special flavor to our church, having the Hispanic congregation, having the predominantly black congregation, and [a pastor who is] Caucasian. That's pretty unusual."

Church officials say it takes certain kinds of people and congregations to be models for progress, and Barta at Johnson Chapel is a good example, church officials believe. He is one of only two active white pastors in AME's western district.

"Rev. Barta ... loves people and is what we would hope the Christian church would be: colorblind," said Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, former presiding elder of the AME's Los Angeles-Pasadena region. Barta, 50, is a looming figure with white hair and glasses. He grew up in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, graduated from Dorsey High School and was ordained in the Baptist church. He was associate pastor at a Los Angeles County Baptist church for three years before becoming disenchanted with the church after a racial dispute, he said. He was ordained into the AME in 1988 and spent eight years at First AME in Indio before becoming pastor of Quinn AME Church in Moreno Valley. In 2001, he was assigned to Johnson Chapel.

Guidry said church leaders believed that Johnson Chapel was ready for a non-black pastor. "They're open, loving people," she said of the congregation. "They received him; they have worked with him wonderfully well."

Nelson Fowlkes, 69, a lay member of the congregation, said that at first some parishioners had concerns. Some wondered: " 'How can he be an AME? He doesn't know what we've gone through as a people, our history,' " Fowlkes said. "Since he's of a different ethnic group, our whole denomination thought this was going to be a challenge, but everyone's come around to accept him as our pastor."


Caption: GRAPHIC: MAP: African Methodist Episcopal Church; CREDIT: Los Angeles Times; PHOTO: UNITY: Johnson Chapel Pastor Michael Barta, right, is joined at a service by congregant Ellis Williams.; PHOTOGRAPHER: Karen Tapia-Andersen Los Angeles Times

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004


Hey I know several of the folks- Barta, Tyler, Guidry, Rogers, Bryant- mentioned in this article :-) Parson Barta and I have more in common than I previously presumed. We are both Baptist refugees. Oh well, job well done in demonstrating the strategy of inclusiveness by the AMEC in SoCal. Since I maintain an LATimes online registration account I'll go online and read the article with look at all of the grey hair (LOL). QED

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004


Better watch out, now; you may be heading up a new ministry! :)

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004

Praise God! Praise God! Let the church be the Church...and roll on!

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004

Bill, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mike last October and his beautiful wife Linda. First of all let me say, he is so loved and admired in the southern california conference and everyone wants to talk to him, He is a very important leader in the fifth district. Though he is much to humble to say so. And funny!! If you hang out with Mike and Linda bring a handkerchief for you will be laughing and having fun.

Bishop Bryant is doing a new thing in the fifth and in my district the Pacific Northwest Conference we are bringing a church in from british columbia, white and asian congregation with a pastor from south africa. I am so proud of Pastor Mike, because he has opened the doors so that we can have cross cultural ministries in the fifth district. Thank you Pastor Mike for being a pioneer. We need more like you.

And Bishop Bryant has a vision for the fifth district that is holy spirit inspired.

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004

Thank you Pastor Denise, Professor Dickens, Moderator Harper and all who have shared such kind words of encouragement. I am truly grateful to the Lord and to Bishop Bryant for the opportunity to build on a foundation already laid by others. As the article indicates, the Hispanic Ministry here at Johnson Chapel was initiated under the leadership of Rev. Dr. (oops, here I go violating proper usage again) Timothy Tyler eight years ago. He and Rev. Suarez along with the lay leadership of the Church spent the first five years of that period of time establishing the practical and well as the philosophical framework and foundation of the ministry. I have spent the past three years, since my assignment here, building upon that...primarily in the area of working diligently to build lasting, meaningful bridges between the two congregations so that we truly are the living embodiment of our moto: Two Cultures, Two Congregations, ONE Church. While I am proud of the progress we have been able to make, none of it would have been possible without those who labored before me. That is not an effort at false modesty, it is just giving credit where credit is due.

If I am at all disappointed in what was printed, it was that the article failed to make clear(despite our long hours of conversation on the subject with the very talented reporter who, herself, was a young Black Woman) our strong, unequivocal commitment to what we call our 'core' ministry...that is the Church's ministry and outreach to the 47,000 African Americans residing within Orange County. We are, after all, an AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL Church. The color/heritage of the current pastor not withstanding, we are extremely proud of that fact and have no plans, now or in the future, to abandon our commitment to the historical, theological, cultural and/or practical responsibilities that come as a part of that affiliation. As important as our Hispanic Ministry is to us (and I believe it to be very important) it is a ministry of ADDITION rather than SUBTRACTION or SUBSTITUTION. While I recognize that the ministry model that we utilize here is not the only way to accomplish multi-cultural ministry, I believe that the beauty of the model is that it allows outreach and ministry to both groups to grow and prosper in a cultural context that makes since to both, while at the same time allowing us to share in a common purpose and vision for fulfilling the Great Commission as ONE Church here in our corner of the vineyard.

No one asked for all that of course, but thanks for letting me share anyway.

Your in the Joy of Jesus, Mike Barta

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004

Pastor Mike, it just proves you are a great man! I have pastored both in an urban and rural setting. I enjoy both but really feel called to a rural setting. One of the things I have said while doing ministry for 20 years. Is that the greatest tool the children of darkness has used to divide the church of God is racism.

When we come together to worship God and only God, great ministry happens. The ame church has always been a welcoming church to all people. The great commission is not color based. We are called to give the gospel message to all.

Living in a state that is 99 percent white has taught me a lot. When groups are isolated from one another, the truth is based upon what has erroneously been passed down one generation to another. One of the greatest transformations I have seen in my state, is the state coming together and saying no to the KKK. I hope part of that effort is because of the work that I and my daughter have done across the state.

The ame church is doing a new thing. Our new director of church growth and development has been talking about cross cultural ministry for years.

Last week my church got a call from the crow indians, they have 3 homeless shelters and they need clothes. They are part of our out reach ministry. Indians are treated worse than african-americans. Treaties have been broken, 80 percent unemployment, etc. We as african americans know better than anyone else what it is like to be killed, jailed and abused because of the color of our skins. What better denomination to help.

I ask God who he wants us to minister to and then follow his instructions. The ame church is breaking down the walls that seperate. We always have, whether remaining Methodist or ministering to white people during the yellow fever epedemic in Philadelphia and saving that great city. We have minister to everyone. I pray we continue showing the love of God to all.

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2004

To the pastors of the AME Curch on this board:

The AME Motto is "God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother!" By the grace of God you have found a way to be true to God and the AME mission. I read somewhere recently that when the ministry of any branch of the church loses its Christian spirit "it has a name to live, but is dead." Praise God we are much alive. God's continued blessings on you and your labors in His vineyard. You will never know how your positive words and actions strengthen others.

-- Anonymous, July 29, 2004

Mary thank you for your encourageing words. I always learn so much from you. The ame church is indeed alive! And yes we have our problems but God can and will take care of all of our problems if we are obedient and faithful to him.

I cannot begin to tell you how many tears I have shed and how many prayers I have uttered, asking God to send help in the form of pastors, evangelist, sunday school teachers to Montana and other places in the fifth district to build churches and minister to those who do not yet know Christ. We have a town of 100,000 in Missoula, Montana that is waiting for an ame church. They have a large african and viet nameese population. I think of my sister in utah who is the only black ame clergywoman in that state.

I think of our ame church in fairbanks alaska, with a airforce base waiting for an ame pastor, I ask God that hearts will be convicted and that people will go. I trust God and I know it will happen. But I do ask that we pray.

I think of black men in prison who will not hear the gospel message but will only hear the message of Islam because clerics go to the prisons and I pray.

What would happen if pastors and licentiates who do not have a church would visit prisons at least once a month? The L.A. article shows what God can and will do if we open our hearts.

Is it hard work? YES!!!! Is it low pay or no pay YES!! Is it worth it YES!!! God said he will pour out his abundance if we ask. Richard Allen believed scripture.

If you have thought about starting a church or taking on a small church and would like some advice or mentoring, please contact me, I would love to help.

-- Anonymous, July 29, 2004

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