Diversifying the Pulpits and the Pews
Cameron-Kragt said that even though many of the church's members have moved away, his congregation didn't want to move away.
"We are trying to bring down the last barrier of segregation, and that is the church at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning," Cameron-Kragt said. "It wouldn't have been fair to close the doors of this church just because the neighborhood is African American. White churches face a dilemma: Either they will integrate or die. Integrating is the right thing to do."
Eric Redmond, the pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, said pulpits are integrating more frequently now.
"I am thankful that these congregations have been culturally sensitive to the changes in the community while choosing to remain in the community," Redmond said.
Redmond, who is black, presides over a church that is 90 percent African American. Not long ago, it was predominantly white, he said"[Some of] the non-African American members in the church have not left. They have chosen to be part of what God is doing."
The Rev. Kathy Hlatshwayo, the white pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Forestville, is also trying to diversify her congregation. At one time, more than 800 people were members of Bethany, but, Hlatshwayo said, church membership today has dwindled to about 160.
"In looking at the membership life of Bethany, the move has been away from the urban area to Calvert County, St. Mary's County and Charles County," Hlatshwayo said. "There are various reasons for this, but certainly, desegregation played a role."
About one-third of the people who are now part of Bethany are minorities. Moving out of the neighborhood is not an option.
"This is where God has planted us," said Hlatshwayo, who has brought in hip-hop-rapping preachers, hosted special programs and gone door to door to nearby apartment complexes to recruit young people for the church. Earlier this year, she brought in the Christian rapper Agape (David Scherer) to preach his musical message of racial diversity.
Hlatshwayo, 55, lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay area. She said moving to the East Coast after she was ordained in 1991 was a big racial culture shock.
"I didn't have to deal with the issue of segregation growing up in California," Hlatshwayo said.
Sandy Ferguson, coordinator of the United Methodist Church's local Commission on Religion and Race, said the church is committed to diversity.
"The denomination has committed millions of dollars to help the church be inclusive and what God has called us to be," Ferguson said. "We take this charge very seriously, and it is reflected in our memberships."
Smothers said: "If you look at my staff, it is very diverse. Our gospel choir is as diverse as you can get."
The next frontier, he said, is integrating neighborhoods and businesses: "Diversity is not only about being sensitive in culture, but about economics."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company