Racially Segregated Churches


One thing I’ve noticed about Christian life here in North Carolina is that many, if not most, of the Protestant Churches in the area are still racially segregated.  In contrast, most of the Roman Catholic Churches in the area are racially diverse (Masses in foreign languages do technically divide people up, but all are still members of the same parish).

It seems to me that the trend towards ever-more contemporary worship styles will probably continue to functionally keep people divided, because different ethnic and cultural groups in America tend to enjoy different styles of music and expressions of worship, in general.  Those who advocate the use of contemporary worship music and practices often cite the generally unchurched nature of most young Americans, and contend that this approach gets seekers and inquirers into the Church while traditional Churches seem increasingly foreign to each succeeding generation. I do not wish to disparage the non-Orthodox people who are living their entire lives trying to preach Christ to those who know Him not; I count several such people as my friends, in fact.  This article is not an evaluation of their methods, which I believe could find a way into a broad program of Orthodox missionary work, perhaps with some modifications (para-liturgical, of course).  These Christians are mentioned here only to further the article’s main point.

The Orthodox liturgy, in contrast to contemporary worship, is worship that was established by the Apostles, and was passed down from them to each generation, through the succession of bishops that continues from the Apostles to our own bishops (a direct chain of ordination, all the way back). This liturgy, while having developed organically over the centuries, maintains the same structure as the earliest attested liturgies, and has changed little over the centuries.  No committee or worship team ever sat down and decided how to “do” liturgy in the Orthodox Church.

Thinking in terms of an axis, there are both vertical and horizontal components to the unity of Orthodox worship; vertically, in the sense of time, having been passed down from the Apostles, and horizontally, in geographic terms, knowing that all Orthodox are worshipping in virtually the same way, whether in Uganda, America, or Greece. This unity is powerful.  We fallen sinners enter in to this stream of worship, which has been going on since before we were born, and which will continue long after we are gone, which is bigger than any one of us.

Orthodox worship is timeless.  It is never old-fashioned, or modern.  It simply expresses a heavenly reality, a glimpse which the Holy Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers of the Church experienced and transmitted to us.  Their divine visions gave much substance to the liturgy, which is also going on in Heaven continuously, as the Angels worship the Holy Trinity on the throne of glory.  It is thus God-centered worship, and not created to appeal to the cultural whims of any given, short-lived generation.

Roman Catholics, having once been part of the Orthodox Church, and having a Mass which, while drastically emasculated by the “reforms” of 1969, is nonetheless still foundationally pattered on this same liturgical structure.  Their insistence on there being one Church structure and one form of worship has allowed for a much greater integration.  Thus, a visitor to a Roman Catholic Mass will notice people of all ethnicities together.  This much better reflects the vision of the Holy Scriptures, where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Orthodox mission work in Eastern Carolina faces a challenge.  A faith that was initially brought here by mostly Eastern European and Middle Eastern peoples, and which has expanded to include American converts initially mostly of Caucasian background, could easily fail to substantially reach all segments of the community.  But this would be a failure, for all people deserve the chance to receive baptism for the remission of sins in the True Church of Christ, the Orthodox Church, the only Church with an unbroken link back to the Apostles and unchanged doctrine.  Therefore, we are constantly evaluating our mission strategy, and looking for ways to invite people of all backgrounds in our Church.  We desire to be a multi-racial, multi-ethnic community.  In Greenville, we have already achieved an atmosphere that is welcoming to visitors of all backgrounds, and we seek to continue to develop this.

The Divine Liturgy is thus the catholic, or universal, form of worship for Christians.  Orthodox hymnography is full of expressions such as that when Christ was raised on the Cross, He lifted “all men” to Himself, not just for instance His fellow Jews.  It brings people of all backgrounds together.  It does not, however, force us to abandon who we are, racially and culturally speaking.  Thus, we can imagine that from that unified assembly, members would continue to express their Orthodox faith in ways comfortable to their own background, and in their own neighborhoods.  The universal will thus bring fulfillment to the particular.

If you believe that Churches should be places where all people worship together, and not a religious reaffirmation of long-standing ethnic divisions in the community, then contact us and learn how to become part of our work, to further the Gospel and Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


3 responses to “Racially Segregated Churches”

  1. Can one be a member of the church (take communion) without having to pay yearly dues that may be a burden, financially? One couple Im aware of has had problems in these economic times,not only with a job but also with health and large medical bills. Being unable to pay minimum weekly dues they stopped going to church. It is very painfull spiritually not being able to go to communion and be a part of acommunity because of financial hardship. How does the Orthodox church view such situiations?

    • One should never be denied the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) because he or she cannot pay dues. The idea of dues exists because we do have an obligation to support our Church (otherwise, it would not exist), but if there are extenuating circumstances, this must be taken into account. I am sorry to hear about this travesty. (I am also sorry that I did not see this comment until nearly six months after you posted it).

      • Indeed, it was a travesty!! It seems that a member of the ‘sisterhood’ pressured them to pay dues, and, not h aving the resources they backed off!! There was a lot of disappointment as the subjects husband has not been baptized . God willing this will change shortly as they have moved to another town.Thanks for your reply. I was beginning to think the Greek Orthodox had different rules!

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