In talking with a group of pastors about the history of Worcester, one recounted an excerpt from an article he read describing the role of racism in Worcester. During a time of black migration to northern cities the major unions (and along with them ethnic communities and their churches) united to tell African Americans that there were no jobs here, only floors and toilets. To this day Worcester has a relatively low percentage of African-Americans when compared with Boston or Springfield.
In contrast I think of a recent conversation with a pastor of an intentionally multi-ethnic church. The most significant point of our conversation came when he spoke of Revelation 5 where people from every tongue, tribe, and nation gather together in worship around God’s throne. He then asked the question of whether it was sufficient for all the different people of our communities to gather separately in their own churches for worship or if this passage, and others, should push us towards something more. Is a multi-ethnic church that in someway reflects the community a good idea or a biblical mandate? As I was thinking through this conversation I came across this passage in the book of Isaiah:
In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” Isaiah 19:19-25
Here the historic enemies of God’s people (Egypt and Assyria) are not simply defeated or subjugated but drawn to the living God. These enemies become one with God’s people and are drawn together by God’s mercy into worship. If someone were looking at this from the outside the only conclusion would be that that God of Israel is alive and real. Our hope for Worcester is that our church will in some way reflect the city’s diversity and demonstrate that God is real. There is a common savior who unites people from all types of backgrounds in worship around his throne.
I was recently speaking with a pastor who is about a year ahead of us in establishing a church in Worcester. One of the wonderful aspects of the work has been the diverse group of people God has brought together. When I asked him how this happened, he simply replied that they prayed. They wanted their church to reach different people, asked God to lead them in this effort, and he has.
I hope that in his Church God is writing a different, and better story of hospitality and welcome in this city that transcends race and background.