The importance of foreign-born pastors to the ministry and mission of the Great Plains Conference was reinforced July 10 during the first of two Cross-Cultural Workshops.
“You have so much to teach us as far as spiritual fervor and spiritual community,” Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. told the three dozen attendees of the Zoom webinar, which also included members of those pastors’ Staff-Parish and Pastor-Parish relations committees.
During an opening welcome and devotional, the bishop said that of the 756 pastors in the conference, 109 were born outside of the United States, primarily in Africa and Asia.
The workshop, which will be repeated July 17, was organized by the Rev. Kathy Williams, who began in January as clergy leadership coordinator, working primarily with pastors in cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments.
“We want you to succeed,” Bishop Saenz told the pastors. “And we have invested in the personnel and processes so you can do just that.”
Rev. Dr. Susan Murithi, pastor at St. Paul UMC in Nebraska, led a session on a “Pastor as Anthropologist,” and said that many foreign-born ministers get a culture shock in America, particularly in the Midwest.
Murithi, who has lived in the United States for almost 10 years, said she was confused at Easter about how Easter bunnies and Easter eggs could represent the resurrection of Christ.
Angelo Gonzales, who began in July as pastor in Gridley and Turkey Creek UMCs in Kansas, said he’s observing how residents in the town of 400 act around each other and with him. “Everybody’s friendly,” he said.
Monica Magoola, a lay pastor at McCool Junction and Fairmont Community Church in the Prairie Rivers District, said she has had to learn to slow down when speaking so she can be better understood. She also had advice for new pastors: “Talk to the people and remember their names.”
Murithi said foreign-born pastors must get used to the foods and table etiquette in their new homes. She gave an example that, growing up in Kenya, she loved to eat goat.
“My kids don’t like me to say that because they think it’s embarrassing,” she said.
A member of her congregation who had goats had one slaughtered and dressed so she could enjoy it, Murithi said.
Food was also a subject brought up by the Rev. Micki McCorkle, the new superintendent for the Parsons and Five Rivers districts, in her discussion of the rural context.
McCorkle said that at gatherings such as potluck dinners, the pastor should try the food church members are well known for preparing, at least to sample it.
“Those things go a long way,” McCorkle said. “These are faith and community coming together.”
Once a pastor gets settled into an appointment, she said, there may be temptation to try to move or remove pieces of art or furniture. Usually, she said, those come with a history of being connected to a longtime member of the church.
She gave an example about a pulpit at a church where she was a pastor that was too tall for her. Rather than having it removed, she asked the church member who built it to also construct a riser for her to stand at it.
“There’s a way to add to church culture instead of taking away what was already there,” McCorkle said.
Three district superintendents — Rev. Cindy Karges, Rev. Jenny Collins and Rev. Dr. Charles Murithi — talked to the pastors about the importance of communication between them and their DSes.
“They are there to help you succeed,” Murithi said.
Rev. Shelly Petz, clergy wellness specialist, and Rev. Ever Mudambanuki, newly appointed at Nebraska City UMC, talked about the importance of self-care.
Mudambanuki said the best advice was to play, pray, plan and condition yourself. She told foreign-born pastors that homesickness can be difficult and that she has not been back to her home of Zimbabwe since 2016.
“I need to find ways to stay mentally sound,” she said.
Petz reminded pastors that they can take part in two different clergy retreats throughout the year and that they have access to the Employee Assistance Program, which can help them deal with stress, depression and other mental-health issues.
She also reminded them to take their vacation time and Sundays off as prescribed by the conference.
“Protecting that is vital in this,” Petz said.
In a panel discussion, the Rev. Michael Park, entering his second year as pastor at Chanute UMC in Kansas, was joined by the members of the church’s SPRC.
Steve Parsons, SPRC chair, praised Park for making home visits to each church member last year during the height of the COVID pandemic and his excitement about reaching out to the community.
“Those personal relationships are what makes him effective in his role,” Parsons said.
Cheryl Day, another member of the Chanute SPRC, said Park brought the socially distanced congregation together with his frequent Facebook posts.
“It helped us all become more connected,” she said.
A native of Korea who has lived in the United States for the past 11 years, Park said he was excited about interacting with the congregation in Chanute.
“This is a great joy to learn from each other, and we can embrace loving God and loving others,” he said.
A clergy couple, the Rev. Bequi Flores and Joey Flores encouraged new pastors to ask questions in their new towns.
“Just give us a chance to enjoy the lifestyles and enjoy the community,” said Joey Flores, who serves the Elsie and Madrid UMCs in Nebraska, while his wife is pastor at Wallace and Maywood UMCs.
Bequi Flores said issues with conditions of one of her church’s previous parsonages was causing stress and threatening the well-being of her family.
“There are resources all around you as a pastor, ways to communicate with the leaders of your church when you have issues like this,” she said.
Williams, formerly a pastor in a cross-racial appointment, said that clergy and congregations have much to learn from each other in the cross-cultural situations.
“Embrace the differences,” she said. “Celebrate it.”
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