Date of Award
University or Center
Interdenominational Theology Center (ITC)
Riverdale First United Methodist Church, a multicultural congregation in the southern crescent of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, is a congregation composed of twenty-three ethnic groups that has limited fellowship between those same groups. On a recent home visit, one long-standing African American member complained to the researcher "we have twenty-three different ethnic groups at church, and yet I do not know these people!" This calls for advancing an ethic of recognition. The first step toward creating an environment for recognition will be accomplished by critically analyzing the spiritual formation practices of the various ethnic groups of Riverdale First United Methodist Church (RFUMC). Listening is a key ingredient, at every stage, this being a narrative process. The intention is to discern who are the stakeholders of this community; why they choose RFUMC; what is holding them to the church; and where spiritual formation occurs in each of the ethnic groups. The project provides an ethnographic critique of this United Methodist congregation in order then to design a "Narrative Model of Spiritual Formation for Riverdale First United Methodist Church, A Multicultural Congregation". This will be a new model of spiritual formation for this church, one that fosters multiculturalism. The goal of this new model is for the church to take ownership of this ever-increasing multiculturalism; and to identify its strengths and weaknesses in order to enhance relations. A mixed method research approach ending with action research was utilized in the research methodology. Using a framework of critical ethnography, 1 this researcher completed the following: compiled the primary record through the collection of monological data; did preliminary reconstructive analysis; undertook dialogical data collection; and explored the congregation's system relations. Thus a narrative model of spiritual formation for a multicultural congregation was developed using a critical analysis of the ethnographic findings. The project consists of at least two months of field notes from participant observations, focus group discussions, demographic data from the city and surrounding communities, informal individual ethnographic interviews, and finally the formation of a workshop that taught the congregation a narrative model of spiritual formation in a multicultural congregation. The data was collected at various locales: the church, homes, and restaurants. At the heart of bettering relations lies the creation of an atmosphere of recognition. Listening to the narratives of different ethnic groups and utilizing them within the worship service accomplished recognition. This project drew upon the scholarship of Charles Taylor, Robert Kegan, and Ann Wimberly, which not only recognizes the politics of recognition but also describes the evolving ego or self in society, and thus the church. The enhancement of an atmosphere of recognition, involves being authentic and respecting the other while not assimilating into the other's culture. Demographic and census data indicate that Riverdale, Clayton County, Georgia and the nation is becoming more diverse. As we become more diverse, nurture and education are vital components in maintaining vitality with such a diversity of cultures and ethnic groups. This has implications beyond the local church to community and
governmental organizations, as well as for how we relate to those who are culturally and ethnically different. The model that came out of this study-- "A Narrative of Spiritual Formation in a Multicultural Congregation"-- attends to identity in a multicultural setting. This attention to identity fosters better relations among diverse groups. Besides helping this particular church, this model of spiritual formation can also assist other congregations to worship together and do ministry together, as opposed to having different ethnic groups worship and do ministry in separate settings on one and the same church campus. This model and research process is about nurturing equal recognition and authenticity for all.
Woodruff, Moses Jr., "Engaging multiculturalism: an ethnographic critique of the Riverdale First United Methodist Church" (2016). ETD Collection for AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library. 3274.