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Welcome to this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Dave Swaim, pastor at Highrock Covenant Church and president of the Highrock Network in the Boston area. The Highrock Network is a family of churches with a shared vision for locally focused congregations.
Highrock Covenant Church began when a group of “spiritually homeless” individuals started to meet for dinner and a bible study at someone’s house. Over time this diverse group of people began to wonder if God was calling them to plant a church together and Highrock was eventually born. Many of the people in this initial group were from mono-ethnic churches and they saw the barriers that one culture might present to reaching more people, so being a multicultural church was something they were passionate about.
Although being a multicultural church has been a part of Highrock’s story from the beginning, it took a sharp turn after the murder of George Floyd. Highrock is 40% White, 40% Pan-Asian with the other 20% being a mix of other cultures such as Indian or African. But they realized there was a big gap when it came to the African American population at their church. They always sought to be really welcoming, but realized there were some issues they needed to be more intentional about addressing. Listen in as Dave shares about the purposeful steps Highrock is taking to becoming increasingly multicultural so they can reach more people in their city.
- Identify your culture. // In reading The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches by Korie L. Edwards, Dave learned that if you close your eyes to hue, multiethnic churches in America are actually White in culture. Even if the leaders at these churches are predominantly people of color, this still holds true. In fact if a multiethnic church has 20% White people, culturally it is going to be a White church because people of color in our country have had to learn how to acclimate and thrive in White culture. White people haven’t had to do that. Without realizing it, we expect everything to be our way. At Highrock they saw themselves as being very welcoming to other ethnicities. But what they were really doing was pretending not to see a person’s skin color. That type of “welcoming” is more ignoring that people aren’t White than actually celebrating their culture and who they are.
- Ask questions about your own culture. // To begin to make an intentional shift to be more multicultural, ask where are you unintentionally White? Analyze your services, your preaching, and the topics you preach about to become more mindful of how they differ from other cultures. For example, White church culture tends to focus on individual issues whereas Black church culture tends to focus on systemic issues. Examine your worship and how you can invite more interaction. Most importantly, don’t just give people of color a place at the table, but also power at the table.
- Staff for influence. // Additionally, examine your leadership. Don’t just go out and look to hire a Black pastor. Recognize the sacrifice it would be for a Black pastor to come work for a church with a White culture. Do look for people of color outside of your usual networks to expose yourself to other cultures. Give people of color power and a voice by staffing them in positions such as tech roles and communications where they can influence the way a service comes together, or the type of social media your church creates, and start shifting culture in these areas. Be deliberate about how you invite different cultures into leadership, whether it’s on an elder board or something else.
- Invite different voices. // Highrock also has created a “Revelation 7” faculty by inviting six outside preachers of color to preach in their service rotation every couple of weeks. They bring different experiences to the table and ask different questions. Their preaching helps shift the focus from centering on White experience and normalizes other perspectives which people in the congregation can identify with. Creating space for other voices helps the church to engage with a wider swath of people.
- Share the writing of sermons. // Dave writes his Sunday sermons several days out and then shares it with certain staff members for review. They tear it up, make suggestions, and examine the message from different perspectives. When the final sermon comes together, it is a much more well-rounded message that isn’t just centered on the White experience. This process has been especially beneficial for young preachers at the church as they refine their craft and are supported by the more senior staff.
You can learn more about Highrock Covenant Church at www.highrockonline.org.
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Thank you Dave Swaim and Rich for sharing and highlighting Highrock’s journey. This is so very helpful because it’s honest, strategic and purposeful. May the Lord continue to bless the Revelation 7 community that God is building at Highrock!
Thank you for this podcast! Dave’s sense of how churches can be “unintentionally white” is an important factor for all churches desiring to best reflect the diversity of their congregations and/or communities.