A United Methodist congregation in the Cincinnati area has been awarded a $10,000 Racial Ethnic Local Church Concerns (RELCC) grant by Discipleship Ministries of the UMC. Forest Chapel UMC is located on the north side of Cincinnati in a multicultural area, home to many African, Bhutanese, and South Korean immigrants. As the largely Euro-American congregation watched the community around them change, the church realized the need to change with it.
“Forest Chapel has been on a multiyear journey of shifting its identity from predominantly Euro-American to a place of encounter where multi-ethnic people are welcome,” says Pastor Kabamba Kiboko. “On Sunday, February 2, 2020, a small group of committed people from Forest Chapel and the community embarked on the first steps of the assessment of our assets and how we could change to better meet the needs of our neighbors.”
The first goal that emerged was to engage more with a Bhutanese group that was holding native language classes in the Forest Chapel building. Pastor Kabamba served as a bridge between the Bhutanese and Forest Chapel communities, helping them to see past difference and embrace God’s love for all people.
“She continued to share with the Bhutanese the stories of Jesus Christ and preached on Sunday mornings about love and acceptance of others,” says Maureen Smith, a church leader.
On May 31, Pentecost Sunday, Forest Chapel received 77 new Bhutanese members by professions of faith. Several months later, 10 Bhutanese teenagers were also baptized into the faith.
As these two cultures continue their journey together at Forest Chapel UMC, they share in worship once each quarter. Typically, Bhutanese worship lasts for three or more hours, with much movement and dance, quite different from most Euro-American worship services. Worshiping together on a more regular basis will take intentionality and compromise.
Plans are also underway to invite the Bhutanese congregation to take part in discipleship classes and to find ways to integrate the different groups’ prayer life and outreach in the community, such as the church’s giving garden, cared for by church and community members alike. The RELCC grant will support these efforts to help both congregations live more fully into God’s beloved community.
The purpose of the Discipleship Ministries Racial Ethnic Local Church Concerns Grants (RELCC) is to provide funding to strengthen the ethnic local church through leadership training, small groups, worship, stewardship, and spiritual formation as they engage in developing disciple-making systems inside the church walls as well as in the community.