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UM churches break stereotypes about racial-ethnic leaders

UM churches break stereotypes about racial-ethnic leaders

Racial-ethnic pastors who lead large, predominantly Caucasian United Methodist churches in the United States are open-minded and spiritual, with adaptive leadership styles that break stereotypes about racial-ethnic leaders, according to a new survey by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).

“They are vulnerable trailblazers,” Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, director of Clergy Lifelong Learning at GBHEM, said of the handful of racial-ethnic lead pastors because they practice their faith of bringing together the majority and minority perspectives of society in their ministry.

Rev. Dr. HiRho Park headshot
Rev. Dr. HiRho Park

“Their presence there — many times among very few other racial-ethnic persons in majority (white) congregations of hundreds and thousands of people — is very vulnerable,” Park said. “And they are trailblazers because not many pastors have gone down this road yet.”

The UMC’s inclusiveness is unique among other Christian churches in the United States, said Park, who completed studies on the subject for both her doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy degrees.

“I didn't see that any denomination in the Christian Protestant churches or Catholic Church have this kind of intentional policy to try to be an inclusive church. So I really celebrate that,” she said.

Park, who conducted the study with Mark McCormack, GBHEM’s director of research, said of the 1,070 large churches with 1,000 or more members in the United States in 2011, only 20 had lead racial-ethnic, or non-white, pastors serving majority Caucasian congregations, and most of them were African American males.

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* Tom Gillem is a freelance writer in Brentwood, Tenn., who writes for GBHEM.