HOUSTON � If Hollywood ever makes a movie about Wilcrest Baptist Church, the three-hanky scene will be the party for Rodney Woo’s 10th anniversary as pastor.
Before that 2002 event, he’d been exhausted by his long effort to turn a declining, nearly all-white congregation into a stable, thoroughly multiracial one.
“I only quit about once a week,” he recalled with a laugh.
But at the party, Wilcrest’s rainbow membership turned out in force. They brought Dr. Woo to tears as they read the list of 25 nations of birth in the transformed congregation, with representatives standing one by one.
It was a little like Jimmy Stewart coming to realize at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life that things would have been worse for Bedford Falls if he hadn’t stuck it out.
So far, Hollywood hasn’t called on Dr. Woo and Wilcrest. But their story is featured in the new book People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States by Michael Emerson.
The book’s bottom line: Multiracial churches are rare, hard to sustain � and worth the trouble.
“We live in what we call ‘a tension,’ and that tension is good for us,” Dr. Woo said in an interview.
Dr. Emerson, a Rice University sociologist, added during the same discussion: “When these congregations are successful, there’s a dramatic effect on the people involved, in terms of who they know and their understanding of faith. People get a much bigger view of God.”
Hard to argue. One of the impressive things about Lakewood has been the fact that it’s congregation was, quite literally, a rather accurate slice of Houston. And during worship, it’s hard to not be amazed at the diversity brought together by faith in Christ. Dr. Emerson’s conclusion is refreshing to read. Getting a sense of how Wilcrest Baptist set about with the intent to create a church that represented it’s community reaffirms quite a few realities.
Lakewood more or less happened as it had due to geographic convenience and theological similarities (though I won’t pretend to be the historian for this matter). But there are churches all over that remain in transitional communities. I live in a neighborhood with two Muslim mosques, a Methodist Church, and a Baptist Church. I remember talking with one of the leaders at the Baptist Church about the makeup of the congregation. Though there’s a lot of transition in the area, it’s history has been such that there’s still a great deal of older Anglos who remain from the days when this used to be the suburbs of the 60s and 70s. It didn’t strike me that the membership of that Baptist church was evolving to reflect the neighborhood it resided in anymore, but instead just saw a dwindling of membership among the now elderly membership, with some younger families who attend because this was where they grew up in church. While I can understand the tendency to remain tight-knit, I think it ultimately says something unfortunate that churches with an evanglical outlook don’t seem to take that mission to heart.