Wednesday, November 02, 2011

quakers in the US & latino/as

You all know that I love my Quaker denomination...but one of my main criticisms of our denomination in the United States is how white we are. Now, my meeting has a fair deal of racial "diversity," but this mainly comes from people adopting kids of various races. We have pretty much no ethnic diversity. You've probably heard the statement that "Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America," and there are both positives and negatives to this: we worship with a community of people among whom we feel welcome and with whom we can get along well enough to have a chance at being a functioning church. But there are also negatives: we may get so enmeshed in our little community that we don't know what other populations experience. People may feel out of place and unwelcome in a congregation with a majority of people of a race or ethnicity other than their own. We don't really have to work on loving people when we'll only worship with people who are like "us," and we split our denominations if there are eventually enough "not us" so that we don't feel comfortable.

Many churches in the United States are dying, and I wonder if this has something to do with it. I'm not the first to note that churches often seem like just another social club--a place you go be with people with a shared interest, like a soccer team or a country club. There is a wide variety of other places to go to fill the "club" need in one's life, so church becomes less and less important. People believe in God, and many people in the United States even say the like Jesus, they just don't see a reason to go to church. I wonder if it's because we don't display the kind of love that breaks down the barriers erected by our society, such as race, ethnicity and social class.

This story on NPR a couple weeks ago caught my interest. It's about Hispanics in the United States, and how they often do not remain Catholic as second generation immigrants and beyond. They are choosing evangelical denominations that are more "boisterous," as the story put it.

In my own Yearly Meeting (NWYM), much of our "growth," or perhaps our lack of decline (in terms of numbers), comes from the addition of Latino/a meetings. In some cases these are Latinos who learn about Friends and want to partner with us in creating meetings with Spanish as the main language. In other cases, it's a group of Latinos who get together and form a church and need a place to meet and somehow stumble on a Friends meetinghouse. Now we have a Latino Ministry Coordinator and a committee that focuses on Latino Ministries. This is great in some ways, but still fairly segregated. Some of this is because of language, some is because of ethnicity, and some, I think, is due to differences in how we interpret the Bible and what is important about being "Friends."

I've noticed that over the years, Friends have had a hard time in the US and Europe attracting people of other races. Is this because of our manner of worshiping, which is a far cry from "boisterous"? Is this because we're racist no matter how hard we try? Are we just another social club with a shared interest and our own "language" (just like fans of a certain team or sport)? Even when Friends were some of the main voices for anti-slavery we didn't manage to attract many African Americans to our meetings. Now, although we have many Latino Friends meetings, they aren't often very connected to what's going on with the rest of their Yearly Meeting or with Friends on a larger scale.

So, what do you think we should do about this? There are several options, as I see it:

1. Don't worry about it. Let Latino/a Americans choose the denomination that best fits them. This also includes not worrying about our own declining numbers or our latent racism/ethnocentrism.

2. Change our styles of worship so that we're more appealing to Latino/as and other "minorities."

3. Everyone learn Spanish! Combine worship services with those that are already going and encourage other meetings to incorporate Spanish- and English-speakers into our services. Creatively work with leaders from both communities to make the worship time welcoming to everyone.

4. Continue to actively solicit Latino Friends meetings that run parallel to English-speaking meetings and just try harder to bridge the communication and cultural gaps.

5. Pay more attention to immigration issues and build relationships with Latino/as in a more natural way, a way that supports a major struggle of their community, and in so doing, encourage more Latino/as to become Friends because of our emphasis on social justice.

Other ideas? Thoughts?

1 comment:

Tricia Gates Brown said...

The Spanish-language Episcopal mass Gil and I attend got started a few years ago when the vicar decided to have a Dia de los Muertos mass and meal (which is happening again tonight, incidentally). Then they incorporated into community life traditions like Posadas (at Christmas time), Quinceneras, etc. I think these traditions are an important part of church life for Latino/as and it is important for churches who begin Spanish-language services to continue these traditions if they want people to come. It is also important for the organization around these events to be done by the broader community, not the designated leader/s. Sometimes numbers dwindle on typical mass days at Santa Catalina, but there is always a great turnout for the traditional events that Latino/as associate with their faith. ...As for "boisterousness", there is a different noise level in our mass than in any Quaker service I have attended, and children roam pretty freely in the mass, participating in the music with loud percussion instruments. This raises the question of expectations for worship, and whether the two worship styles could mix in the same service. I think it is best for people to express worship in whatever way is most natural and fitting for them. If this means two separate services for two separate cultural groups, then so be it--not to mention the two languages.