Cultural Shift in Congregation Brings Rich Rewards

Post a Comment » Written on January 18th, 2006     
Filed under: News
by Beth Fredrickson

CHICAGO, IL (January 18, 2006) – When pastor Linnea Carnes arrived at Immanuel Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago six years ago, 80 percent of the congregation was Anglo. Most of the 20 percent non-Anglo members and friends were from countries other than the United States. Today those numbers are largely reversed as the church is experiencing an ethnic and cultural shift that is both challenging and blessing its ministries.

“God is doing something among us,” Carnes says. “We are learning so many lessons about cultural differences and expectations.”

Cross-cultural cross Currently 14 nationalities and people groups are represented in the church. In addition to African Americans, the congregations includes people from Chile, China, Cuba, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Like many long-time Covenant congregations, Immanuel was founded by Swedish immigrants. Since its inception in 1923, when it counted 154 worshipers, the church has known a rich tradition of faithful service, worship and fellowship. When the congregation moved in 1949 to its present location across from Swedish Covenant Hospital, next door to Covenant Home of Chicago and a few blocks east of North Park University, it enjoyed a thriving life in a mostly residential neighborhood.

Today as people have moved away and others have moved in – bringing with them new businesses and new cultures – Immanuel is undergoing a transformation.

“We have had to learn to let go of people as they need to move on, and to embrace people as they walk in,” explains Carnes. “The shift was gradual as people moved away, and as older members died or moved to retirement communities.”

The neighborhood around the church has grown much more diverse than it used to be. In fact the area’s zip code, 60625, contains one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the city. Many of the new faces in the congregation are first-generation immigrants, most of whom are not yet U.S. citizens.

“They are just walking in,” says Carnes. “Most of our new attenders are not white, and they are living in this neighborhood. Many of them have young children. We have simply tried to make sure that everyone who walks in the door feels welcome. Our people are gracious and welcoming – there is openness to anyone. For example, we try to greet people in their native language. That really makes a difference.”

Worship leadership also is diverse, as those with gifts and interests are incorporated into the services.

The congregation’s diversity also is extending beyond Sunday morning worship. “These people are becoming part of the fabric of the life of the church,” says Carnes. “I am training up new leaders and tying to bridge cultural situations. The perceptions of leadership and power are different for other cultures. That makes raising up leaders a slow process.”

The congregation calls itself a “unique international community for worship and learning.” It is a community of God’s making.

(Editor’s note: this article is used with permission of the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church and first appeared in the conference newsletter.)

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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