catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 11 :: 2003.05.23 — 2003.06.05


At the Lord's table

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:14-17)

When describing the Christian Reformed Church to those who are unfamiliar with the denomination, it is common to start with its ethnic roots. One might point to the many Dutch communities scattered throughout the U.S. and Canada as examples of the denomination's influence or explain its theological underpinnings in terms of Holland's flower of choice, the tulip.

When this produces blank stares, however, one might go into the history of the Reformation in the Netherlands and its movement to North America. A brave soul might even drop a few Dutch names, citing the key players, the founding fathers, the radical—though largely unknown—thinkers responsible for the worldview of the Christian Reformed Church. After such a barrage of information, the listener will most likely have gotten the picture, or at least a picture of what is known as the Christian Reformed denomination, or CRC.

Such a picture focusing on the ethnic make-up of the CRC must include, however, the various members who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The CRC also consists of African- and Native-Americans, Hispanics, Koreans and many other groups of people. Including such groups as equal partners is a constant challenge for a denomination whose identity is defined so narrowly in terms of its Dutch ancestry.

In the recent past, Dutch communities followed the "white flight" trend in Chicago, moving away from their South and West Side neighborhoods as blacks moved in. Relocating to the suburbs allowed the reformed churches to maintain a strong Dutch identity, but marked a further detachment from the African-American community. Some CRC churches remained, however, and they are now places of intersection between people of different cultural circumstances and ethnicities. These churches provide the denomination with an opportunity to make and maintain relationships with those whose culture and ethnicity differ from that of most of the CRC.

One of the churches in the Christian Reformed denomination that integrates whites and blacks in the Chicago area is Pullman CRC. The Pullman church was formed at a time when many whites were moving out of the far South Side of Chicago. Four CRC churches in the area moved out, but a few members decided to stay to minister to the community. As the small gathering grew, they settled into a former funeral home on 103rd Street and have maintained an interracial worship environment there for over two decades. The pastor now leading the congregation at Pullman CRC is Richard Williams. For 22 years, Reverend Rick has used his gifts as mediator and preacher to balance the differences within the church.

In this interview for *cino, Reverend Rick recounts his experience as a person of color within the CRC and shares his insights along with Yvonne Rayburn-Beckley, a member of Pullman CRC and the current Regional Director for Race Relations of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. Yvonne was recently notified that her position would be terminated and the Chicagoland Race Relations office would be closed as of July 1 because of a denominational budget crisis. Yvonne explains how such a decision by the CRC reflects the denomination's ministry priorities concerning race relations, and she offers her own perspective on racism in the church.

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