In my life as a pastor, people regularly say to me, “I really like Northminster!” My standard response is, “Really? What do you like about us?” I’ve noticed over the last two years that the most frequent reply I hear is, “I like the diversity!”
Diversity according to the dictionary is “the state of being diverse…showing a great deal of variety.” Yep, that’s Northminster all right. Variety. The people who make up our congregation have a variety of skin colors, the geographical locations of our homes vary (we live all over the metropolitan area), we have socio-economic variety, age variety, varied talents, interests and passions. Northminster is nothing if not diverse.
Happy the Artist’s concept for the mural was to imagine that the children of Northminster were covering the walls with the Bible stories they were learning. I remember standing with Happy and several others in front of the large, blank wall where the children would be painted. I remember how we encouraged Happy to show a diverse group of children. This was 10 years ago, and we were a mostly white congregation then. But something in us wanted to picture diversity.
I remember standing before the finished product a week later. Five of us staring silently. All of us thinking the same thing: “Uh, we didn’t mean this diverse.”
Funny, I didn’t hear much said about the racial diversity of the picture back then. Everyone seemed focused on the fact that among the anonymous children in the painting, the blond boy in the yellow shirt was obviously Kyle, the associate pastor’s son.
Fast forward a decade. The wheels of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
Last summer to celebrate the mural’s tenth birthday, I preached a series of messages on the Bible stories behind the pictures along the children’s hallway. One afternoon I spent some time by myself in the hallway, and as I stood in front of Jesus and the Children I realized, “This wasn’t who we were 10 years ago, but it is exactly who we are now.” Thanks be to God!
Diversity is neither glamorous nor easy. Sometimes our differences challenge us when we’d rather just be comfortable. But more often our differences enrich us and help us to grow.
There is much I don’t know about living in a diverse congregation, but I’m certain of at least one thing: in Richmond, Virginia—the old capital of the Confederacy—a church that is racially and socio-economically diverse is a beautiful and compelling thing.
Like the painting on our wall.
In the picture, Jesus bears a curious resemblance to Happy the Artist. Just saying.