Leadership Challenges in Churches in Transition: A Study of Three Churches



              Eleven o’clock Sunday morning has been called the most segregated hour in America; it is church time in the United States, and the time set aside to go to the various religious institution, which represent our faith. We may work together in areas of employment; we may ride the same transportation services in order to get to that work, but when it comes to spending time with thee Almighty, Americans prefer to sit next to family and friends or at least someone who looks like them. 

America is a nation in constant transition, moving from one neighborhood to another, and often selecting houses of faith in these different neighborhoods. Traditionally American lived and died in the same community; they worked the same job from young adult to retirement, and those who attended church sat in the same rows in the church occupied by their grandparents and parents.

The three churches discussed in this paper are going through transitional challenges relating to issues of leadership and diversity. St. Marks United Methodist Church (New York City) is a Black Church. It is experiencing generational conflicts as it tries to deal with the postmodern challenges of ministry. The Good Shepherd United Methodist Church (Bergenfield N.J.)   a traditional main line White Church that is having difficulty integrating a new ethnic group into the congregation. The Riverside Church (New York City) is an Interracial, Interdenominational International Church. It is going through the pains of changing values, changing goals and at the same time dealing with a senior minister’s retirement and another’s resignation. Analysis of the diversity and multicultural needs of these three churches can provide insight on the leadership strategies required to work with multicultural congregations.


St. Mark’s United Methodist Church

St. Marks United Methodist Church[i] is located in the center of Harlem. It is over 100 years old and can boast of having a distinguished middle and upper middle class membership in its past. St. Mark’s was a place where it was necessary to have what was considered the “proper” attire. In the Black tradition, that would suggest that you would wear your “Sunday best” when going to church. The church provided after-school programs[ii] during and after the depression. The members of the congregation consisted of lawyers, doctors, bankers, congressmen and state senators. The choir was famous for the quality of its musicians. Some of the first Black Americans to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company attended St. Mark’s Church. The members were proud of their church, and were given opportunities of leadership that prepared them to accept responsible positions in the secular world. The church can hold between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Its Gothic structure is similar to City College of the City University of New York, which is located within walking distance.

The area in which the church is located was considered “Sugar Hill’ and was the home to upper middle class population. The church started to lose its population, as more and more members were able to purchase homes in the suburbs and hence moved their membership.[iii] Yet the church did not reach out to the new members coming into the community. [iv] Eventually many of the programs were discontinued, and today the membership consists of about one hundred people, mainly seniors. The average age of the congregation is seventy-five years old. Most of these members remember the church the way it used to be, and are reluctant to make any changes.

The Methodist conference, which owns all churches in the United Methodist denomination, has threatened to merge the church with another church, or close the church[v]. Although this would be a regrettable event to the St. Mark’s members, they are content to live in the past and celebrate the accomplishments of the church prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Concern about the needs of the post baby boomers were not considered in their best interest.

Thus, St. Mark’s Church is facing the issue of members reluctant to move into the postmodern world. The members live in the past and are unwilling to let the children of the 21st century step on the memories of the 20th century. An individual leading this congregation would need to have to have the skills necessary to help members respect the past while at the same time accepting the reality of the present. The leader should have strong plans for growing the Church and not permit the past to destroy the future. This position requires the strategy of courage. A church without youth and family services is a dying church. The pastor or leader must have the courage to prevent him or herself from participating in the death of a church.

Findings from Interviews

Several members were interviewed concerning this issue:

  • Mr. A is about 80 years old. He is a retired businessman, and contributes significantly to the financial obligations of the church. He considers himself ineffective in committees dominated by women.
  • Mrs. B. is a retired schoolteacher around 75 years of age. She considers herself an important leader in the church. She is reported as being the controlling voice in the church.
  • The Pastor[vi] is a relatively young man in his early 40’s. He is a divorced father of a teen-age son. He was reluctantly assigned to the Harlem congregation. He had been told that it was a difficult congregation with a reputation of being very difficult on pastors.


Mr. A, as I will call him, held a prominent position on the Church Council. He was the vice chairman of the Board of Directors.[vii] This was the group that held power second only to the pastor and even had the responsibility of supervising the pastor. All programs were subject to their approval. When questioned why there were no youth ministry programs in the church, his answer was, “There is no space for youth programs.” This was difficult to understand, since eighty percent of the church was unused. The church was equipped with full recreational facilities, including classrooms and a gym, but they were however, no longer in use.

Mrs. B, also a member of the Church Council and the individual responsible for the financial obligations of the church, indicated that she was not going to permit children running up and down ruining property. She was responsible for blocking a computer and an after-school program from coming into the church.

Several meetings  were held with the pastor concerning the issue of bring some youth centered programs into the church. He liked the idea, and indicated that he was interested in youth programs. He suggested that he was “fearful” about going up against some of the older members in the Church. He further suggested that he was having difficulty helping some members to understand that he was in charge of Church’s activities. He was reluctant to go against these individuals, and was looking forward to the time when he would be leaving the Church and a replacement pastor would be sent in. He lacked the skills and the will to handle issues relating to the inter-generational conflict that was slowly destroying the church.

St. Mark’s suffered from a crisis in leadership.[viii] The older members were not willing to share space with the young, and there was no one around at the time able to help the church move from the past into the future.

Fear of a congregation is not a good indication of leadership. The pastor must take the authoritative role as spiritual leader and demonstrate competence and courage as the shepherd of the flock. St. Marks needs to select a leader who is confident in vision, and understands the challenges of the past, but with the courage to demonstrate to stand firm in the present.

Suggestions on how the church can move forward in the 21st century include:


  • Select a minister with a southern African American heritage.[ix] Members tend to relate to individuals that have a history and understanding of the African American experience.[x] This is not the same for all peoples of color. The members do not respond well to pastors with a lack of appreciation for the American survival experience.
  • Select a minister with a leadership style capable of handling the complexities of this congregation.
  • Select a minister with strong family ties. Members are not ready to accept ministers with different sexual orientation, an issue that is currently roiling the United Methodist Church.[xi] The Black Church has still some strong reservations on the question of the sexual orientation of its pastors. The United Methodist Church is not a Black religious organization. St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, although a predominately African American congregation, is nevertheless in the organizational structure and guideline of a White organization.
  • Change the music in the Church to attract a younger audience
  • Rebuild the Sunday School and youth programs
  • Attract and encourage individuals with skills and talents in youth ministry to join the church. The church has an obligation to help the community, not a choice.




The Good Shepherd United Methodist Church


The second Church to be discussed is the Good Shepherd’s United Methodist Church in Bergenfield, NJ, a largely White church. Bergenfield is a small community in Bergen County, considered one of the best places to live in the country with its excellent schools, senior citizen services, low crime rate, and excellent health facilities. As of the 2000 census it had 26,247 residents, 16,509 of whom are whites, 1,811 African Americans, 63 Native Americans, 5,357 Asians and 1,696 others. The median income was $71,187. Each of the major denominations has at least one church in the community.  This case reports the events that occurred when a non-White pastor as assigned to the church. In the United Methodist traditions, pastors are assigned to churches by district superintendents and are expected to be accepted unless there are serious and legal reasons why the individual is not acceptable.

A few years ago, a young minister from the Caribbean was assigned to the church. He was very soft spoken and low keyed. He had no programs and no ideas for change. His services were not particularly interesting, but there were no apparent objections from within the church. The White congregation was content to follow his leadership, as long as he did not upset the status quo. The leadership style of the pastor was “go along to get along.” The pastor understood that the church was not a “program church,” and as such he did not make any changes. He was also very young. This was his second assignment in the New Jersey conference, and he was selected for this appointment because, as he said, “they thought I would fit in.” An African-American would not have been selected, but this pastor was from the Caribbean, therefore, he did not present any social threat to the established order.

There were about seventy-five to one hundred members in the church, which could seat about three hundred. The Church had a full choir, composed of members who, although they liked to sing, had little or no musical talents. There were frequent changes of choir director. The choir director matched the musical skills of the choir members. I remember some years ago hearing the pastor say that the church was full of “John Birch”[xii] members.  He apologized to the author at one time, because he said he knew that the sermons and the music did not have any feeling. Yet it was appropriate to the community in which it is situated.

Change began to take place in the community and the Church with the increase in the Asian population and the large and growing Filipino population.[xiii] The population was large enough to elect one of its groups as mayor of the small town. This political move attracted more members of the group to the town. Bergenfield today has the largest Filipino population in Bergen County, and this Filipino population, which has a large Methodist population in their home country, was naturally attracted to the Good Shepherd Church. This was the beginning of change and conflict.

Meanwhile, the members of the Good Shepherd Church were aging, as was the community. Many of the younger families have moved further north and purchased larger homes, leaving their parents and grandparents in the church. As a senior citizen population, they were not interested in programs or social action. Their mission activities included supporting some far away mission in countries they would never see, and they knew no member of the country would come over into their community.

Included in this group were the Methodist Women,[xiv] a group that met once a month in one of the member’s homes. Methodist Women groups are powerful arm of the Methodist Church, and according to the bylaws all female members are automatically invited to join the organization. The Good Shepherd women’s group was operated like a social exclusive social club and made it clear that it was not interested in extending an invitation to the new comers.   The group did not accept any new members, and since they controlled all activities of the women and programs in the church, there were no programs.

Then new families started to come to the church; the families were young and had school age children. The children attended the local schools and were doing well in the community. A Philippine Methodist minister brought over his congregation, and they became involved in the spiritual community of the church, and encouraging a new “Praise and Worship” Service.  At the same time this was happening, there was also an increase in the Caribbean population. A few Africans recently arrived from the continent of Africa also came to the church.  The minister, who had up until this time been low keyed, began to become excited about the possibility of having a program type ministry. There were children, there were young families, and there were immigrants who needed services. These were exciting times for this young minister. Yet, excitement about attending the new church appeared to bring murmurs of discontent among the old established German-based group.

Findings from Interviews

The old conservative members of the church found it difficult to accept the new spirituality of the younger members. The new members requested a “Praise and Worship,” section to be included in the church service and wanted their children to be able to play their musical instruments during the service. Some of the children had learned a spiritual dance, which they wanted to perform during the regular service.

In a conversation held with the president of the Methodist Women’s club, the question of some of the younger female members of the church joining the organization came up. The president stated, “It would be impossible because the club was inactive, and they would gather at friend’s houses every now and then to meet.” This information was given to the pastor, who suggested that the younger women start their own organization.

Another old time member of the church expressed displeasure with the way the church was being operated. It appeared that issues concerning some of the conflicts in the church had little to do with the racial tension, and more to do with the leadership style of the pastor.

In several other interviews, members expressed concern about the management and leadership style of the pastor. After the pastor left, other members of the church suggested that there were serious problems not discussed. This could suggest that where there are hidden unresolved issues, the introduction of a diverse congregation may be used as a mask to cover up real issues and concerns.

Suggestions: How the Good Shepherd could handle issues facing the Church

  • Have the New Jersey Northern Conference provide more assistance to a struggling Church
  • Discuss with lay leaders and members the reality of who is located in the small town, what is the denominations of the citizens of the town and what steps are needed to strengthen the survival of the church
  • Have the governing Board of the Methodist Women address the issue of exclusion, which is not permitted in the UMC
  • Request the Conference to appoint a pastor of the Church with experience in handling multicultural issues.


The Riverside Church

Riverside Church in New York City is sixty percent Black, yet it is not a Black Church; this is a source of confusion for many of the members who believed that the membership determines the category of a church. The theology and purpose of a Black Church, formed out of its unique history and heritage, is totally different from the theology of an interracial and culturally diverse church.  Riverside is a social justice church, interested in issues facing the world regardless of race or nationality.

Riverside is as it has always been, the flagship of American Protestantism, speaking truth to power. A few years ago a favorite senior minister retired after eighteen years of service, and the last few years in the Church have been difficult. There has been tension and conflict over issues relating to leadership style and the satisfaction of some the members of the congregation. This case study relates to some of the events and concerns, which developed as the results of clerical transitions in the church starting with the retirement of a senior minister.

The former senior minister had what could be referred to as a passive-aggressive authoritarian leadership style. He was soft spoken but maintained total control of the operation of the Church. The Church has ten paid clergy on staff. Each clergy is responsible for a specific area of the church and its programs. It is obvious that the senior minister was in charge, and the other members of the clergy staff played supportive roles, which do not challenge the leadership authority of the senior minister. The other clergy seldom had an opportunity to preach a sermon and were usually relegated to reading announcements or scripture.

There was also the question of the church’s financial support of programs supervised by the supporting clergy staff. Some of the clergy suggested that their assistants and clerical staff have been reduced significantly, and in recent years there has been considerable staff turnover. The Church hired its fourth youth minister in the recent years.

With the retirement of the senior minister, there has been a significant change in the leadership styles of the clergy staff. The interim senior minister shares responsibility with the other members of the clergy staff. Each Sunday the clergy alternate and preach at the Sunday morning service. During weekdays, active participation from the clergy can be seen. The Church is in the process of searching for a new senior minister, and during this interim period the Church is in the process of redefining itself. [xv]


Interviews with members

Interviews with members of the Church revealed that the members fell into three categories.

Category one

These were members who were in a state of deep depression. They had become members in the last five years, and all attended special services conducted by the senior pastor, especially services held during the midweek. They felt very close to the pastor, and considered him a personal friend and spiritual guide. They were usually African American or Caribbean, college graduates, and professionals. This group tended to be the more confused over the difference between a Black Church and a multicultural social justice institution.

Category Two

This group[xvi] expressed a sense of delight that the senior minister was leaving. They indicated that during the past five years the Church had changed and was no longer a social activist church, but was slowly becoming an African American church, preaching and teaching Black Theology. This group was not interested in Black Theology or Liberation Theology, but was more interested on issues relevant to the national, international,[xvii] and political climate of the day. This group believed that the DNA of the church was social justice issues, tended to be White[xviii] with long standing memberships of twenty years or more, professional and concerned about the direction of the church.

Category Three

This group was willing to accept the new leadership of the Church. They were dedicated to the Church its history and its mission and had been in the church long enough to see many changes take place. This group was involved in various ministries in the Church that were not affected by the senior minister. They viewed themselves as Christian, and their membership was their Christian witness. This group tended to be the backbone of what is called the “Inters”: Interracial, Interreligious, and Interdenominational. They are concerned with the Mission of the church rather than with political factors within the church.

Based on these interviews, it can be concluded that the greatest challenges to transformational leadership will be:

  • How to bring the three groups together under one senior minister?
  • Who will be the person selected to lead the diverse congregation?
  • How will the church decide the direction it is willing to take?
  • Will the Rockefeller family approve the selection?
  • What is Riverside looking for in a senior pastor?
  • What are the qualifications needed for ministry at this level?
  • Dealing with the “stolen cheese”[xix] mental attitudes of some of the members.


The Leadership Role of Riverside Church

Riverside Church is not a black church. It history and experiences are different from the Black Church in America. Riverside Church is more like America, the country. People come to America from all over the world looking for a second chance and a spiritual transformation in lives and future. America says welcome, drop your hatreds and feelings of superiority and inferiority at the water edge and the airports, and join us in this newest experiment of God’s kingdom on earth. Learn how to put differences aside and work for the common good of all. The Riverside Church as the church of America welcomes the gifts, talents and diversity of the country and the world and says, Drop your fears at the front steps, this is God’s house and we have prepared a feast for you, there is room at the table come and eat.

The Church, unfortunately, has divided itself into two institutions. The congregation with its cultural diversity and underlining social issues still struggles to be the nice church as America struggles to be the “nice” country. There is no reference in sermons or music of the differences within the congregation. In the second institution, the social and religious mission of the Church is carried out. The hungry are fed and the needy are cared for. The meaning and mission of the Church comes alive in the second institution. Thousands of people come to the church for social and educational services during the weekday. They are grateful for the Church and its mission. The leadership skills and strategies required to pastor a church of this size and complexity are demanding. A pastor who becomes sensitive to and involved in all of the emotional details of congregational leadership would burnout in a short period of time.

The church requires strong management skills and a plan vision for the organization and management of a multimillion-dollar institution. The individual should have the same skills required to manage a Fortune 500 corporation, with people, goods and services. The individual should have excellent academic and theological preparations. The institution seeks an individual with the background and training of a college professor.

In Riverside Church, the increase in the Black population in the Church brought the awareness that the perceptions of peoples of color may be wrong. The silent majority of the Black middle class had traditionally remained in the “ The Historical Black Church” calling little attention to themselves while quietly becoming wealthy and educated. Riverside could handle token “color” because of its social justice nature, but it was not ready for the natives to drive fancy cars and have advanced degrees and business operation experience. It is one thing to help the poor; it is another to have the poor transformed into  the middle class ,a class for which there are no sociological guidelines to validate expectations. Riverside was out of its depth, and it struggled to gain its footing and some form of emotional stability, and in the process, it made all the wrong moves, mistakes, and in general, behaved badly. It is here in the church where the image that all men are made in the image and likeness of God must become a spiritual thought pattern. Sitting in the seat next to you will be hundreds of black men and their families, and they are making a significant contribution to the church.  Riverside Church as the flagship of American Protestantism causes other churches to look at their multicultural populations.

The question is: Are the traditional Christian mainline churches really providing an open arm to a diverse population, or is the Christian Church a “white” Jesus church for people who look like a white God? The Black population thus causes the church to pay more attention to its true self. In the American experiment, the Black man forced the new country to redefine itself and to live up to the visions set down by the forefathers. The Black man  the lightning rod that constantly shakes up the society and turns it upside down when it is on the wrong path. The Black man came to the Riverside Church and ripped its seams wide open. The Riverside Church with its in-your-face approach to issues forces the congregation to look at the ugly hidden face of racism and it bring up front for discussion. The 400-year reign of European rule is over; the tide is coming in washing on the shores of America  is the the challenges of the Pacific Rim. Europe with its millions of populations will have to adjust to Asia with its billions, all wanting to come to God’s feast of inclusion. Riverside Church as the main representation of the American church really would like to hold on to the past and the glorious days of white rule and dominance. It longs for its Marx and Lenin roots and cherishes its DNA of social justices relating to unachievable goals rather than the success of the mission. It is uncomfortable with clergy who engage in too much Jesus talk, and the Holy Spirit has a tendency to get off script. It tries to calm thing down with its dull emotionless music, and esoteric sermons preached at such a high level that even God has to get out the Concordance to find out the exact meaning of the theology. Riverside hopes that the dull music and the strategically planned spiritually cold homilies will cause the Jesus starved members of color to seek nourishment in other ethnic traditional location. Perhaps Abyssinia could provide food for the soul of this unwanted population, this would enable the Riverside power seekers to get back to the intention and purpose of speaking truth to the powers in Washington, not in Heaven. God send James Forbes,  Hill, Mariah Britton, Brad Braxton and Arnold Thomas to Riverside. Each of these were outstanding men and women of God, highly qualified with above average spiritual and educational skills. These individuals played a significant role in dragging Riverside kicking and screaming into the reality of race relations in the postmodern church. Dr. Forbes, considered one of the best preachers, professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary, became the first African American to serve this great institution, holding the senior ministers position for eighteen years, filled the seats of this great cathederal with his intellectual passionate sermons. Dr. Britton opened the doors to the youth of the surrounding community, and developed a Rites of Passage program envied nationally and internationally. She also was directly responsible for the academic improvement of students attending public schools in the Washington Heights area, establishing relationships with teachers, parents and students, demonstrating the role of the church in improving academic achievement in the community. Dr. Arnold Thomas, brought compassionate ministry and ecumenical outreach to the Church. Dr. Thomas made it possible for church members to share their gifts and talents for the church and the community. He knew the names and the faces of the members of the church, and help them to see that the church was for and about them. Dr. Thomas visited hospitals to support members going through crisis, visited homes and schools to be with members when and where needed. Programs and outreach expanded under his direction as head of  Education and Ecumental programs. Many others came and gave the best they had, and eventually silently left. Riverside, at times, appear to be very hard on its ministers, we attract the very best, then something happens, sometime that something maybe getting too close to the hem of the garment of the Savior. Each of these ministers asked of the congregation to be true in their walk with God and sincere to the people they were called to serve. Riverside is richer for each of their leadership gifts, and each is an example of the major challenges facing the church.

Suggestion: How The Riverside Church Can Address the Issue of Transition

  • Encourage younger members to come into the Church
  • Return to the original format of the Space for Grace Church within a Church. Space for Grace was originally intended to follow a Pentecostal format.
  • Appoint a new senior pastor as soon as possible
  • Select a Social Justice- Spiritual mission, which all members of the Church can buy into, and provide an opportunity for all of the church to participate in the mission.
  • Focus on what is good about the Church rather than its problems.




This report discussed three different churches serving three different communities. A careful analysis reveals that they are different congregations with the same problems. The problem relates to the role of the pastor as transformational leader in the lives of people who come to the church searching for answers and directions. These congregations are a representation of who and what America is, and the challenges she is and must face. Those of us who work with congregations in outreach programs must understand the people and the diversity of their cultures and expectations.

The congregations are American, and at the heart of America is change. We cannot use the sociological systems traditionally coming out of Europe to understand the American situation. In Europe, class is a constant. Socio-economic status is usually a constant. In America, by the time one uses any sort of class-based social analysis, the players will have changed, and Americans have short memory spans, and what was once a problem or an enemy may tomorrow be a challenge and growth.

In America the country is better[xx] than the people.[xxi] The views and values of the people do not always reflect the positions or visions of the country. It is the same in many churches. The church is better than the congregation. The country holds high standards that each citizen must reach for. The mission of the church exceeds the wishes and desires of the congregation. America works because she operates on this principle. Churches that are effective also work for the same reason. We must all seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and let our better angels guide and direct our feet.

There is no other nation in the world where descendants of white slaves, black slaves, white indentured servants, black indentured servants, white slave owners, black slave owners, convicts, settlers and the rejects of the world can transform themselves to professionals and outstanding citizens. In America, the past does not predict the future, and this is true in the field of religion and ministry. Americans by nature adjust to change and adversity, and she grows, kicking and screaming, into a better world.

In one of the churches[xxii] discussed in this report, the white German community was hostile to the diverse population moving into the community and into the church. Yet careful observation will reveal that senior German women were going by the homes of the children and bringing them to Sunday school and Church. You would see a small brown hand resting carefully in the safety and security of the adopted mother for the day. The American system is at work. Sometimes the congregation is ahead of the pastor. Sometimes the Holy Spirit moves in its own good time to do the work of the Father. The future of the church lies in the theology of the Holy Spirit and the sociology of the family of God, as we are all one—made in His image.



[i] St. Mark’s Church provides an excellent example of the role played by the Black Church in leadership training, managing large organizations, and understanding the complexities of group dynamics.

[ii] These after school programs were responsible for the high academic achievements of students in the African American communities. The church was the academic support service for the schools.

[iii] Some members tried to stay in the community, but there was a significant decline of the academic progress in the public schools, and many parents moved to where their children would have a better chance for an educational opportunity.

[iv] The new members moving into the community represented the large influx from the Caribbean and Africa. The Caribbean and African population did not receive a welcome response from the members of the Central Harlem community, and as such found it difficult adjusting to the cultural differences between the African American, Caribbean and the African. The church did make an attempt to bring in Caribbean ministers as assistant pastors, the language and dialect concerns made it difficult for some members to accept.

[v] American Methodist churches are generally organized on a connectional model, related but not identical to that used in Britain. Pastors are assigned to congregations by bishops, distinguishing it from presbyterian government. Methodist denominations typically give lay members representation at regional and national meetings (conferences) at which the business of the church is conducted, making it different from episcopal government. This connectional organizational model differs further from the congregational model, for example of Baptist, and Congregationalist Churches, among others” Methodism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodism.


[vi] This pastor has requested a different assignment, and left the church. The church has a new pastor with a different leadership style and different visions for the church.

[vii] One of the major changes in the church is the representation of women in major seats of power. Women served on committees and in supportive positions of worship, they did not however, have controlling power in the operation and management of the church and its programs. Today, most of the individuals in decision-making power in the church are women, and most of the people who block programs and activities are women. The biggest problem newly assigned pastors to the church have, has been, how to solve the women control issue. Men sit quietly in committees and on boards, and let the women make the major decisions.

[viii] The previous pastor wanted to bring in a computer program into the church, and was told by one of the board members that computers were not necessary. This member stated that she used pen and pencils to do all of her work, and did not see the need for computers. Having been a witness to the remark, I was reluctant to press for out reach programs.

[ix] African Americans have a heritage that is different from other groups of color. The survival of the institution of slavery, and the greater oppression of the violence and hatred after slavery forms a common history. African American congregations draw strength from that common history. It is the history of their travels and survival after leaving the Egypt of their bondage. When the pastor touches that thread of connection, the people respond. They are not interested in the stories of other survivals; they want to know if the pastor knows their story.

12 The struggles at Riverside Church mirror the challenges facing Protestantism in New York City and, increasingly, across the country. Slavery is always on the mind of African American Christians. Many hang on to their religious beliefs, but there is always the question, how did their religious forefathers respond to the issues of slavery. African Americans want their ministers aware of these concerns, and to also appreciate the long trial and struggle they had getting to this point.


[xi] In a statement written some years ago when the previous pastor was in office for a short period of time, it is possible to see some of the problems facing the church before the arrival of this pastor. The previous pastor was an African American, and was not well received. In an article written in 1997 in the Record Spring, the author writes,“ United Methodist Church pastors have launched a gay rights campaign by the distribution of a statement arguing for the ordination of gay men and lesbians and same-gender union rites. One of the signers, Gilbert Caldwell, is pastor of Harlem’s St. Mark’s UMC: “I am an African-American, and … we, too, know what marginalization means.” www.ecinc.org/Records/rec_sprng97.htm Rev. Caldwell is the new pastor of St. Mark’s, and this may be his first major mistake. It perhaps would have been a better move for him to focus on improving outreach to the community.

[xii] o the John Birch Society as stereotypically understood.


[xiv] Methodist Women are an official arm of the United Methodist Church. It is a powerful organization. It holds monthly meetings, and attends conferences to discuss church activities. Each UMC has a Methodist Women’s unit. They are funded by the denomination, and they have a major say in the operations of the church. The Methodist Women at The Good Shepherd Church considered the organization their private club, and they went out of their way to exclude members.

[xv]“ In an article written in the New York Times the issue of some of the concerns at Riverside were addressed. “Riverside’s Pastor at Center of Turmoil” (May 18, 1992), on the controversy at Riverside Church, where the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. is pastor Emeritus, reveals the special conflicts of congregations in racial transition. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/18/nyregion/riverside-s-pastor-at-center-of-turmoil.html Retrieved April 24, 2012.

[xvi]With race and class differences in a congregation come differences in what “church” means to its worshipers. In the African-American context, for example, worship that deeply edifies head and heart, not just “thoughtful” sermons, is important. Older members have a difficult choice: to embrace changes such as including emotions in worship or to rally against changes that will make the church more meaningful to those who are becoming the congregational majority. These changes can be an excellent though not pain-free way to enhance their own spirituality… The struggles at Riverside Church mirror the challenges facing Protestantism in New York City and, increasingly, across the country.”  “Riverside Controversy Reveals Conflicts of Racial Transition,” The New York Times (May 24, 1992) http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/24/opinion/l-riverside-controversy-reveals-conflicts-of-racial-transition-088192.html. Retrieved April 24, 2012

[xvii] This group preferred the senior minister to actively engage the government in discussions. They tend to be a left of center. They are the individuals who fight for social justice. They are anti-war, and very upset about issues in Iraq. This group persuaded the senior minister to speak out the pulpit on the National and International policies of the government. One Sunday. Dr. Forbes had to inform the congregation that the legal representatives of the church corporation had informed him that he had to be careful what he said. The issue of the separation of church and state was being observed. The church, as a tax-exempt organization, is not permitted to engage in political activities.

[xviii] “As congregations like Riverside change, some older members will be angry with changes in the church. Whites have little experience being a minority, being multicultural or sharing control. This anger is almost never expressed directly” ibid.

[xix] Johnson Spenser, M.D.  Who Stole My Cheese? 1998, G.P. Putnam

[xx] The country contains the vision for America as set down by the Founding Fathers. The country is driven by its vision and not by its people. The people are often dragged kicking and screaming in to the future of a better hope for the country.

[xxi] The people come from all over the world. They bring with them their frustrations and prejudices. It is the Holy Spirit wrestling the devils of their human nature, which makes this miracle called America work.

[xxii] The Good Shepherd Church demonstrated the ability and the willingness to work as a Christian family with the children of the church. A considerable amount of time was spent in intergenerational activities.

Leave a Reply