By Papa Maury Clark
September 10, 2014 (SSNA) —Rarely has the obvious been as unrecognizable to me as it was until called to my attention in the article Safety Inside Church Doors by pastor Tom Ehrich in the digital edition of The Lutheran. And I should have known better. He made me realize that “Safety” is not just a matter of an individuals subjective feelings, but that safety, or the lack of it, is often institutionally embedded in congregational governance and membership. Sure, there may be a greeter at the door, and someone may see you for the first time, and ask you to sign the guest book. But it mostly ends there.
You see, my current family is all Black, all African, and mostly Dinka, except for our new guy, Ayalew, who is Amhar from Ethiopia. I am often referred to as the “Old, bald, white Dinka” by all nations of the South Sudanese. Our home rings with the rhythms and the spices of Sub-Saharan Africa. My boys many friends of all races are welcome and comfortable at our home. We often have a crowd at dinner and overnight on weekends. I have to take inventory.
Whenever I attend a Christian service of their native denomination here in the Seattle area I am always comfortable. Yet my boys, with only one exception, will not attend my home ELCA congregation. So Pastor Ehrich has caused me to ask myself “WHY”.
I think that the answer is in one word- “OUTREACH”.
When I celebrate with a black congregation, whether with my boys or by myself, something happens that is vastly different than my experiences in many visits to so-labeled “White” congregations. I am welcomed. Not just greeted, they reach out and I am really WELCOMED!
I am met at the door. Hands extend themselves. I am hauled from person to place, to ever joyful introductions. I am often introduced from the pulpit, and stuffed with food after the service, even if they have never before seen me. The only time a question ever arises is when a child (normally around three years old) who has never seen a white guy at the services will shyly ask “Why are you here, mister?”. I love it.
They reach out to me. And they see my presence as outreach to them.
Institutionalized comfort. Institutionalized safety.
Food for thought?
Maury Clark is a retired investment banker/broker, as well as a Called and Commissioned Deacon in the ELCA, Northwest Washington Synod. He served under Bishops appointment as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley, Washington in 1990 and 1991, and also served six years on the Synod Council. He has been deeply involved with the people of South Sudan since 1996, and was an advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is also the adoptive father of seven Dinka, the youngest of whom is fourteen years old. He is currently involved with the Lutheran Disaster Response team and Global Health Ministries on the EBOLA crisis in Liberia. Maury and his family reside in Hobart, Washington, United States.