Read This Article: “The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts”

“The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts” by Warren St. John

This articles is a must-read, and shows the church – and evangelicals / conservatives no less – at its best (and worst, but mostly best). Here are some quotes to whet your appetites.

Mr. Perrin said he advocated for an international church because the Bible told him to.


In 2004, the Clarkston Baptist Church adopted the changes proposed by elders like Mr. Perrin, and merged with the Filipino and Nigerian congregations. They renamed their church the Clarkston International Bible Church. That change was too much for many of the older members, like Brenda and Robert White. They left after more than 20 years as members.

“I really resented that,” Mrs. White said of the name change. “I know it’s the 21st century and we have to change and do things differently. But I don’t think it’s fair that we had to cater to the foreign people rather than them trying to change to our way of doing things.”

“It just wasn’t Baptist church anymore,” she said.


Merging congregations has meant compromise for everyone. The immigrants who join the main congregation have to give up worshiping in their native languages. Older Southern Baptist parishioners have given up traditional hymns and organ music.

Other areas, like the potluck lunch in the gym every Sunday, have required little adjustment. “Everybody likes everybody else’s food,” Mr. Perrin said.


For many of those who have joined the main congregation, the experience has been life changing. Marcelle Bess, a white American and a lifelong member of the church, said two of her daughters were dating young Filipino men they had met through the church. She hopes they will marry, she said.

Mr. Perrin said the impact of the church on his life hit him when he and his wife were traveling through the Midwest. They stopped to worship at whatever Baptist church they could find.

“Every church that we walked into was pure white Caucasian,” he said. “My wife and I really felt uncomfortable, because, we realized, here in Clarkston is what the world is all about.”

Mr. Kitchin thinks that in the not-so-distant future many more American churches will face the sort of questions his church has. He said he was frequently asked for advice.

“I tell people, ‘America is changing,’ ” he said. “ ‘Get over it.’ ”


I love that last line, "Get over it." Good for them! This is really encouraging, though it's also sad to see people idolize their own racially segregated congregation over a truly international community.
Joshua said…
My wife and I live and "work" in this community amongst/with the refuggee population. This is acutally the second time this year that the NYtimes has done a long story on it. The other was in January about a soccer team called the Fuggees. On the ground the church has a slightly more mixed reception than the article implies. Even if its theology makes me squirm, I cannot get any Presbyterians to engage in similar ways.

D.W., I am not sure if your comment about "racially segregated" was intended against the Liberian pastor, but if so...I would want to strongly disagree with it.

I was talking about this quote:

“I really resented that,” Mrs. White said of the name change. “I know it’s the 21st century and we have to change and do things differently. But I don’t think it’s fair that we had to cater to the foreign people rather than them trying to change to our way of doing things.”

“It just wasn’t Baptist church anymore,” she said.

I though it was fairly clear that I was upset about the racially segregated white communities that are resistant to the Nigerian and Filipino immigrants.
Thanks Travis. What a wonderful story. I liked this quote too:
A recent study by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam underscored the practical complications of diversity. In interviews with 30,000 Americans, the study found that residents of more diverse communities “tend to withdraw from collective life,” voting less and volunteering less than those in more homogeneous communities.

The study noted a conspicuous exception.

“In many large evangelical congregations,” the researchers wrote, “the participants constituted the largest thoroughly integrated gatherings we have ever witnessed.”
Joshua said…

thanks for the clarification. some of the liberian, franco-phone, and ethiopian churches are getting pressured (overly in my opinion) to quickly assimilate in a way that would compromise their welcoming presence for new arrivals.

if i sounded overly jumpy toward you, it was because i am toward others!

that being said, i heartily agree with your concern about that comment.
Thanks for the comments, all three of you!

Joshua, it is one of the amazing benefits of the theo-blogosphere that you - a member of the group in question - should pop up and contribute to the conversation. I would love to hear more from you about the 'mixed reception' that the church has 'on the ground'. Also, elaboration of your comments about Prebyterians would be welcome.
Joshua said…
Just to be clear, I am neither a refugee (which I think is known) nor a member of Clarkston International Bible Church. I just live in the community and have a part time job working at loval NGO. As for the church itself, I have had some contact with them and am impressed with their willingness to adapt, reach out, and allow their space to be used. Most of my comments come from refugees who have been there.

Tensions on the ground.

1)As the article briefly mentioned there has been considerable "discussion" between the church and the community regarding prosleytizing and ESL. A large majority of the refugee community in Atlanta is Muslim and there is a mosque nearby that is equally diverse (and led by a refugee). Questions of conversion, evangelism, and how to relate to vulnerable populations is a delicate one and I don't want to render a final judgment. I'll just say that there are some Muslims who have felt manipulated, rather than respected.

2) There are a lot of questions about committments to social justice, long-term empowerment, etc. in regard to the church. Can you be welcoming to people, but not engaged in the problems that they face.

3) There are questions about how to relate to and encourage local pastors v. making one church.

4) My own theological views as a liberal evangelical or a orthodox liberal are seriously in disagreement with the church.

My bigger issues would be my affiliation with the PCUSA. There simply is apathy, disengagement, and pratical ambivalence about the situation. This comes from both members of the left of the denomination and those in the new Presbyterian Global Fellowship. This is particularly frustrating considering how many international Presbyterian churches/pastors there are in Atlanta and how the local churches and presbytery have claimed to be committed to the issues. The long outdated modes of minsitry, relating, and missions inhibit the churches from engaging even when they want to or claim to want to. Much of this has to do with me and my ecclesial crisis, I find myself theological comfortable with the broad reformed position of the PCUSA, but frustrated with its myopic tendencies and old traditions of engagement. More than you wanted to know.
Joshua said…
one more thing, for you pts folk. are you aware of City Seminary NY which is a great organization/seminary attempting to address these types of questions?

Thanks for the further elaboration. I find this all quite fascinating as it represents something of an inner struggle of mine. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

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