God must have a good sense of humor. Otherwise what would make God assign a die-hard multi-culturalist and integrationist to an ethnic and particularistic ministry? My conviction that God’s ideal church is united, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national, informed my decision to investigate factors affecting the integration of English speaking African immigrants into English speaking, Caucasian North American congregations in my dissertation. Therefore, it was a bit of a challenge in 2006 when I was called to be the founding pastor of First African Presbyterian Church Houston, Texas, an ethnic church whose founding vision is to reach Africans in Houston area and provide an avenue where they will worship God in African way.
One of the core values of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, is its egalitarian ministry. Dictionary.com defines egalitarian as "of, relating to, or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities". ECO as a denomination, “believes in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group”. So, when the Presbyterian Church, Chapel of Grace, applied for membership to ECO, the leadership of ECO immediately supported and encouraged us and helped facilitate the inauguration of the parish as well as the ordination and installation of the minister in charge following its established guidelines. That this event was attended by the Texas and Louisiana Presbytery officers and the Rev. Dr. Dana Allin, the Synod Executive for ECO himself, was a testimonial to members of the congregation of the love and support for ethnic ministries by our new denomination.
As earlier stated, the Presbyterian Church, Chapel of Grace, Houston, Texas is a congregation made up of people of African origin. Our purpose statement indicates that it was started to be a Presbyterian congregation that shares the message of the Gospel with people of African heritage so that they know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The vision was to create a new community that serves the African population in the greater Houston area. This vision was executed through an order and style of worship typical to what occurs in Presbyterian churches in Africa (which is more of a blended worship). In addition to singing hymns, we sing, we clap, we play African and modern musical instruments, and we dance during worship. We have also organized language and culture classes where we teach some African languages and culture to our children, most of whom are born here in the United States. We also, as much as possible, try to identify with our ethnic communities and participate in some of their cultural events to enable and strengthen their links with our church. In every sense, ours is a church with ethnic identity targeting Africans here in Houston.
However, this church in particular understands that our mission should be universal. According to Matthew, the Great Commission given by Jesus himself to the church was to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (ethnic groups). (Mt 28: 18-20). Also, before his ascension, he also informed his disciples that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1: 8. Therefore, it behooves churches that begin with ethnic identities (Jerusalem and Judea) to go catholic, meaning universal (Samaria and to the ends of the earth). Thus, it is pertinent that such churches work towards removing possible obstacles that make integration of people outside their ethnicities and nationalities impossible. This is what our church has tried to do. You cannot claim to be inclusive when your label remains exclusive.
Therefore, our church has taken some steps towards becoming a more inclusive and catholic church. The most significant action taken in that direction is the changing of the name of the church. From “Nigerian Presbyterian Church” to “First African Presbyterian Church” and now, “The Presbyterian Church, Chapel of Grace”. As Nigerian Presbyterian church, all of the members were Nigerians. As First African Presbyterian Church, we attracted members from Cameroun, Sierra Leone and Uganda. So today, we have about 4 countries represented in our church. Hopefully, sooner or later we will be having people from other continents, since Grace is a universal theme and identity. That’s our goal. It is our conviction that we are stronger together. Multiculturalism is not easy. Obviously, it has its own challenges indeed but still remains the best reflection of the gospel of peace. It is my persuasion that with love, cultural education, tolerance, faith, and a Christ centered approach to life and worship, multiculturalism will be possible. Our joining ECO 2 years after separating from the PC (USA), instead of remaining independent (as most African churches here do) is also an expression of our desire to become part of something bigger and more diverse in its composition, a picture of what we look forward to in heaven.