Feature

Now Is the Time

Three keys to real diversity

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“Over the past year plus, it’s been hard to be black.”

Those words, spoken by poet Micah Bournes, opened up the door to one of the most prophetic “God moments” at Alliance Council 2015 in Long Beach, California. I knew firsthand what he was talking about—and I also knew that the difficulties were not just over the past year plus.

In December 2014, I wrote a letter to our Board of Directors expressing my disappointment and sadness that other evangelical denominations were speaking about systemic racism and social injustice that was (and still is) happening in our nation. Yet, our denominational voice was not heard. Alliance brothers and sisters were on the front lines in many of these places—Ferguson, New York, Cleveland—trying to be light in the midst of darkness. And they needed to know that we stood with them. Little did I know that our U.S. Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, was preparing his January video blog on this very subject at the same time that my letter to the board arrived.

In addition to our voice being heard nationally regarding systemic racism and social injustice, I presented the challenge that we, as a denomination, take a look at our own systems and traditions. How might we need to change our own ways of doing things in order to be not only a voice that speaks against such systems but also a model of how injustice can actually be corrected?

Let me share a bit of my journey so you understand that it has not only been hard to be black in America the past few years; it has been hard to be black in The Alliance for decades.

What Is ‘Black Work’?

During my senior year at Nyack College, I sent my résumé to numerous C&MA districts looking for a place of ministry after graduation. I sought to fulfill God’s call on my life to help champion Kingdom diversity in the C&MA, a then very Anglo denomination.

Naively, I assumed placement would be easy. However, almost every response I received was accompanied by these words: “We’d love to have you in our district. But we don’t have any significant black work for you right now.”

Black work? I was looking for work. Further, my résumé never indicated that I was black. That alone speaks to how small the minority population was in The Alliance at the time.

It was hard enough for this “Bapticostal” to leave what I knew and loved to become part of The Alliance. But never did I expect to encounter the kind of racial rejection I experienced, especially in a denomination whose founder, Dr. A. B. Simpson, left his prestigious position with the Presbyterian Church because of racial and cultural prejudices.

As I shared my frustration with trusted friends and leaders, their responses were, sadly, consistent. My chances of ministry in the C&MA would be limited because I was African-American, they said. Calling from God notwithstanding, it was just that way and I needed to accept it.

That all changed with a phone call I received from the Western Pennsylvania District. Girard Alliance Church agreed to partner with the district to plant a church in downtown Erie. The church would bring me on staff with the goal of releasing me to pastor this church plant once it was viable. The church plant never developed, but Girard kept me onboard for six wonderful years. Did I mention that the congregation and staff were all Anglo?

Next, I went to Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh for 12 fantastic years. After that, I served for 6 great years as the campus pastor at Nyack College. In both of these places, I gained incredible experience, insight, and training for multiethnic ministry, which has helped me in fulfilling God’s initial call on my life in The Alliance.

Though mostly Anglo when Pastor Walker came to Bedford Community Church, the congregation is now 28 percent multiethnic. (Photo by Glen Shellrude)

This year, I celebrate my third anniversary as lead pastor of Bedford Community Church in Bedford Hills, New York. Our mission is to be “a multiethnic, multigenerational body of worshipers where beginnings, celebrations, and community intersect.” That mission is coming to life. The congregation is around 28 percent multiethnic on any given Sunday morning.

In addition, our leadership is beginning to reflect our mission. Did I mention that Bedford was more than 95 percent Anglo when I arrived?

Three Essentials

As you can see, God has a sense of humor. When man says, “No way,” God says, “I am the One that opens and shuts doors!” I am where I am today because of God’s calling. But I also realize that, in our denomination, I am where I am today because of people in the early days who stepped up to make room for me. They spoke up for me. When it was necessary, they addressed the issues that initially kept me from being seen as an equal at the table—even when some of those things were racially motivated. And they stood by me until things changed. I am eternally grateful to them for seeing me for me!

Since then, there have been others who, at different times and seasons, have given me access to places and platforms that some said I would never have because of my race. They saw what God was doing and called His best out in me. In their minds, there was no limit to what I could do and where I could serve in The Alliance. And because of that, new doors—new access points—continually open up.

They did all this with intentionality. They made the choices that “promoted” me when they could have easily promoted themselves. They intentionally developed me. And poured into me. And challenged me. And encouraged me. And placed me on the kinds of platforms that allowed me to live out the call of God for my life. At times, they even held positions until they found me and/or the position was ready to be received by me.

Further, they released me to walk with them as equals—equal voice, equal input, and equal place at the table. This is the essence of shared authority. My presence was not simply for visual diversity. I was given full authority and freedom to participate in and carry out decisions without anyone looking over my shoulder.

What I brought to the table was just as important as what they brought to the table. But here is the great thing: They never asked me to assimilate. They always wanted me for me and insisted that I be me. The uniqueness of who I am is always celebrated and welcomed. Celebration, not assimilation, is vital to multiethnic ministries.

I realize that, despite the discouraging words I received in college, I am able to fulfill God’s call for me in The Alliance because of the men and women who spoke out against racism and systems that could have held me back. And because of that, the trajectory of my life in our denomination changed.

A Great Day Coming

Alliance Council 2015 was my first as a member of our Board of Directors. With my history in mind, I watched, celebrated, and shed a few tears. I saw this threefold concept modeled in wonderful ways from the platform. I am grateful to our president and the team that planned this Holy Spirit–filled gathering. We have made some great strides. Now, I ask us to take up the challenge that was modeled at Council and move to the next level.

Today, there are others in The Alliance whose stories are like mine. Now is the time for us to make sure that those who are yet to come experience a different narrative. Let us make the next step from visual and statistical diversity to intentional multiethnicity in our district and national leadership. But let us not do it from a mindset of assimilation. Let us do it by embracing the Kingdom mindset of celebration.

“many distinctions, but no division” —Micah Bournes

Imagine the day when we celebrate that our leadership reflects the fact that The Alliance is 40 percent multiethnic. By then, that percentage will be larger. Are we willing to take seriously those three concepts to make that happen? We often reflect on the heart that A. B. Simpson had for the nations and for the deeper life. We talk about his intentionality in those areas. I am convinced that he was equally passionate about creating access for leaders of all backgrounds to lead on all levels so the Kingdom would be celebrated in all areas of our movement.

Let the leadership of our movement reflect the image that Micah Bournes reminded us of as he spoke poetically and prophetically at Council 2015: people from every tongue, tribe, and nation around the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). In Micah’s words, it was the picture of “many distinctions, but no division.”

While this may not happen overnight, it can happen in our lifetime. It takes access, intentionality, and shared authority on all levels. Then, we will be able to, with integrity and one voice that models what we mean, speak out against the racial and social injustices we see in our country. Then, we will be able to show that, in the Kingdom, it is different.

I will never forget the life-changing phone call I received on Wednesday afternoon, July 4, 2012. “Kelvin, the elders talked after our interview with you last night. I am pleased to tell you that we voted unanimously to present your name as our choice for the next lead pastor of Bedford Community Church.” The next minute seemed like an eternity. All I could do was apologize as I held the phone and cried like a baby.

I kept thinking, They chose me. They wanted me for me. Truly, it was a “wow” moment. My mind went back to my senior year at Nyack College as I heard the voice of the naysayers. Then I remembered the faces of those who embraced the threefold concept of access, intentionality, and shared authority—and I praised God for what He had done.

23 responses to Now Is the Time

  1. Kelvin, I’m so amazed by your story. Your testimony is indeed one that displays the power and hope of our God when all we do is say, ‘Yes”. Keep up the great ministry brother!

  2. The Holy Spirit has always had courageous trailblazers who have led his people forward. Lonely and discouraging at times, but one day people look back with profound gratitude. Thanks for being one of those courageous leaders, Kelvin. Love and appreciate you!

  3. Good morning pastor Kevin. I want to thank you for this article you wrote. I have been a pastor with the alliance for twenty five years . I understand and know what you are talking about. It is even more difficult a Black Haitian American like myself. I thank God for leader like you. I thank God for your boldness. I will keeyou in my prayers. I can identify with you in this issue.

    Pastor Emmanuel J Seide

  4. Kelvin I sincerely appreciate your heart, your patience, your selflessness, and your godliness. I feel humbled by your pilgrimage.

    I appreciated Dr. Stumbo speaking to the issue of systematic racism. However as I listened I could not help but wonder two things:
    a) Besides yourself are there any pastors of color who pastor predominantly white churches??
    And along this line, I wonder how many resumes of persons of color are even considered by white churches??

    b) And second, how many people of color work in executive or official positions at headquarters??

    I long for the day your experience will never have to be repeated nor the questions above will have to be asked. Thank you again for your care…

  5. Thank you, Pastor Kelvin for this very inspirational article which resonates with my own experiences. The Lord has provided you with a platform to speak prophetically and to bring light to the dark and often unacknowledged places of our hearts. May God bless your ministry of healing and reconciliation. You have truly been called for such a time as this.

  6. Well said, Kelvin! Thank you so much for sharing your heart and keeping moving forward in God’s clear call on your life. I personally really appreciate your ministry and your voice within the Alliance–all the way back to my days at Simpson when you lead worship during our missions weeks–through to this moment, serving on the board and through this insightful, challenging and Kingdom-perspective-inspiring post. Thank you for your service and continued service to our King!

  7. Thank you for writing so eloquently and passionately about your ministry journey, Kelvin. You were a beloved pastor on the GAC staff and sorely missed when God called you on. It was such a blessing to have you visit GAC for our 30th and the LOCC meeting recently. Your preaching was SUCH a blessing when you were here, and I’m glad for those who experience that blessing along with your gifted music talents weekly. Your friend, Clyde Davis

  8. I have not met you personally, but I have heard good things about you. When you say Girard is white it is. It is my hometown and I often went back. It is a testimony to who you are and to who they are and who God is that you have made such an impact for God’s kingdom. Praise God!

  9. This is a great article and I am glad to be part of Bedford Community church. Now perhaps we can look at the next barrier, that being the barrier people with disabilities face. It is time to look beyond a disability to the ability that can contribute to the vital work of ministry in any number of areas. Though the parallel is not exact people with disabilities face prejudices and frustration because others can’t or won’t look beyond a disability to see the potential value of the talents and gift that person may have.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story, conviction, and great hope, Kelvin. This is a beautiful piece that spoke deeply to me. Thank you for being God’s instrument!

  11. Kelvin,
    I have always been blessed by your ministry from the time I came to know you. I praise the Lord for your humility and steadfastness in pursuing your call, knowing that your example will encourage many others to find their home in the Alliance, to the blessing of us all and the exaltation of the Lord.

  12. Kelvin, such a wonderful article. You are truly a gifted person and I know that your church is blessed to have you as their pastor. Continue to do God’s work and watch him work on your behalf! Congrats in all your endeavors and don’t think this is all God has for you. There is more to come.
    Be well and God Bless!

  13. It is wonderful to hear where your journey has taken you to. Michele & I where apart of the church in Pittsburgh. Although you most likely don’t remember us we remember you & your wife, because of the heart you both had for the things of the Lord.

  14. Hi Pastor Kelvin! I always knew you would do great things in His name, from Music Minister at the CMA church in Girard, to Nyack and now as lead pastor at Bedford. I am not surprised! I watched you grow in your faith and service and am so PROUD of the man of God you have become. I am proud to have met you and to be able to follow you and to be able to say, “I knew you when.” When you were a single man, to married man, then father with a family of your own, to lead Pastor of your own church. May God continue to bless you and your beautiful family! I will continue to follow you on FB. Btw…have a little “ministry” of my own. I teach in a Catholic School (was raised in a Catholic Church as a girl,) and it’s like “coming home.” I live in gorgeous Hendersonville, NC and I get to teach precious little first graders the 3Rs and teach/talk about JESUS anytime I feel like it. What a priviledge! What sweet, open hearts they have for Jesus! Take care hi to Doni. MAY GOD CONTINUE TO BLESS! Melanie

  15. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE TESTIMONY ON WHAT GOD CAN DO FOR THOSE HE CHOSE TO DO HIS WORK. I AM GRATEFUL FOR HIS USING SO MANY TO LOVE SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE YOU ALONG THE WAY. MAY GOD CONTINUE TO SHINE HIS FACE UPON YOU AND YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR MINISTRY PASTOR KELVIN.MUCH LOVE FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOURS ALWAYS.

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