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William Hamilton (right), a pastor of St. John in Jack- sonville, talks with member Jim Dennis before the start of Sunday morning worship.


Some 16 years later, St. John has


grown to 113 members who represent diversity of ethnicity, age and income. As a result, Breitmoser encoun-


tered a lively multicultural congrega- tion. African-Americans comprise nearly half the membership, Euro- pean Americans a third, and others who identify themselves as African, African Caribbean, Asian, multiracial, Latino and American Indian. “T ere was a lot of diversity; that


people outside her congregation who have questioned her right to call her- self “Lutheran.” She’s received the same reaction


about her congregation, All Peoples Gathering Lutheran, Milwaukee, where African-Americans comprise the largest population. People have asked her: “How can All Peoples be Lutheran if only 35 percent of mem- bers are white?” Wright understands a broader


defi nition of Lutheran: “[All Peoples] is the only church home I know. It’s not diffi cult for me belonging to a multicultural congregation, but for others, it might be. I don’t like that people categorize me as not being a ‘true Lutheran’ because I’m not ‘the right skin [color].’ ” Dianne Breitmoser of Jacksonville,


Fla., didn’t necessarily believe Luther- ans were supposed to be white like her. But she did fi nd a sort of comfort in sharing a cultural background with fellow parishioners. For 40 years she belonged to a large, affl uent Lutheran congregation with a predominantly white membership. But at some point, Breitmoser


began to feel something wasn’t right. “I was needing to be fed, and I wasn’t getting it at my former church,” she said. “I had to get out of that comfort spot—step out of the box and see if I was really going to the church that


18 www.thelutheran.org


fulfi lled all my needs.” She became intrigued by St. John


Lutheran, a small congregation in Jacksonville’s historic Springfi eld neighborhood. T e congregation was involved in community revitaliza- tion and boasted a garden labyrinth. St. John also had become known for its fundraising eff orts and outreach programs. T e multicultural membership was


somewhat new to Breitmoser. So, too, were the pastors, who are of African- American descent. Victoria L. and Wil- liam C. Hamilton Jr., then lay mission developers, were charged in January 2000 with renewing the congregation. At the time, St. John’s member-


ship was European American and the average age was 74. “T e surrounding area is 86 percent African-American,” William Hamilton said. “[St. John] was like a white island in the midst of a black community.” In their fi rst year of ministry, wor-


ship services averaged 12 attendees. Another 17 were on the sick/home- bound list. Seven attended Easter worship.


( ‘I leave saying to my


husband, “I know I’ve been to church.” I feel it. I didn’t have that before.’


)


just goes with the neighborhood,” she said. “My husband and I went there a few times, and we just loved it.” Although Breitmoser lives nearby,


she said many white members drive in from the suburbs out of love for the congregation. “I leave saying to my husband, ‘I


know I’ve been to church.’ I feel it. I didn’t have that before; I wasn’t feeling it,” she said. People fi nd a home at the revital-


ized St. John because the congregation is realizing its potential, Hamilton said. Despite its small size and smaller bank account, the congregation off ers comfort to those who frequently encounter hardships. “T e median income in this neigh-


borhood is $15,000 to $20,000,” he said. “It’s Jacksonville’s highest at-risk community in every way imaginable. … St. John is a safe, healing place for life transitions.”


Welcoming the stranger Providing such pastoral care requires patience and the willingness to learn from failure. King reminds himself of this when his eff orts at Hope don’t yield the results he hopes. He believes more emphasis on innovation related to growing multicultural congrega- tions would be helpful. “It seems the ELCA knows more


about what to do with monochro- matic congregations than it does with multicultural ones,” he said. T e problem may lie in confl ict-


ROBERT SELF


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