A Conversation with Cláudio Carvalhaes Preacher at the Racial Ethnic and Immigrants Convocation and the Multicultural Church Conference at the Big Tent, Louisville, KY Presbyterian Church U.S.A .
Rev. Cláudio Carvalhaes, professor of worship at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, will be the featured speaker during a luncheon jointly sponsored by the Racial Ethnic and Immigrants Convocation and the Multicultural Church Conference at the Big Tent. Carvalhaes will also be leading a plenary session jointly sponsored by the Multicultural Ministries Office and the Theology, Worship, and Education ministry area. The next two pages contain reflections from Carvalhaes about his current work, the challenges facing immigrants today, and what people can expect to hear from him during this year’s Big Tent (see details on the events at Big Tent on pages 8 &9).
What are the important parts of your work at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia that you would like members and leaders of PC(USA) congregations to know more about?
I believe that if we are to transform the church, it has to be through worship, learning to practice and rehearsing a new church to create new reality together. What I try to do at Lutheran Seminary is to prepare students, pastors, teachers, and lay people for a complex reality that demands new thinking and practicing of our faith with solid engagement with our traditions and cultures. This means connecting the sacraments with a globalized reality, a multiethnic faith with multicultural liturgical/theological resources, a faith mixed in multiple identities and focusing our mission always on love. Worship is an act of love and not only of faith. Being at a Lutheran seminary now, I am learning to love another tradition and learning that if we are to live this faith together, it is to be more through our mutual love than our beliefs. Beliefs come after love. And I believe more and more that the future of the church will be ecumenical, multiethnic, culturally complex, transnational, and made of a fractured, hybrid, and unexpected faith.
What excites you about the opportunity to preach at the Racial Ethnic and Immigrant Convocation and Multicultural Church Conference during the Big Tent”?
The offices [in Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women] are working hard to help the church at large to be open and consider this part of the church as their own people. What these offices do is almost an impossible task, and I honor their work, efforts, and the material they provide. I love the fact that they are joining forces and working together at Big Tent. To lead worship and speak at the luncheon is a gift to me! By being together we find common ways to support each other, heal our wounds, tend to our broken stories, help people find their own voices, strengthen our mission, and find new channels to challenge the church to engage with us, strange
and stranger brothers and sisters. The themes of “Creating a beloved community” and “Singing harmony” make deep demands on us, and I hope the whole church hears this cry and responds to it. All of that excites me immensely!
What do you hope Big Tent participants will learn from meeting and listening to you?
I hope to be a catalyst of strengths, mutual discovery, and healing. The work belongs to the people, and I hope to enter into this work with my brothers and sisters. I have been in this country for 15 years now, and I know what it means and feels [like] to be a foreigner, a minority. I think I can speak and listen to and from their hearts. One theme of Big Tent is to “Love God. Love neighbor. Let God take care of the rest.” I love that! Love is what can save us all from perishing, from becoming irrelevant, from not having a word to this world anymore! However, unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love our neighbor, our love of God will be meaningless. To love is to open ourselves up to each other. If we are open to the Spirit and learn to love, then God will take care of the rest. Christianity is more about love and less about faith, so meetings like that are wonderful opportunities for us to learn about our diversity and how to love one another. I will bring my passion, hoping that we all will be fired up to go back to our churches and make changes, stick together, and open ourselves for the challenges and changes of the Spirit.
What are the greatest challenges facing new immigrants, and how can the PC(USA) be helpful in addressing them?
There are so many troubles, thus so many challenges today for us as the Church of Jesus Christ to engage that is hard even to name
a few. That is because immigration is not an isolated theme but is connected with much larger and deeper issues. A few examples:
- The North American Free Trade Agreement is destroying Mexico
and is the cause of so much of the influx of immigrants to the U.S.
- The U.S. represents 4 percent of the world’s population but uses
more than 40 percent of all of the earth’s natural resources and is exhausting its limits; and it is creating slave labor and overuse of natural resources.
- Agribusiness is devastating lands and causing droughts in many places, destroying the earth without any care for biodiversity,
the rhythms of the earth, and causing a consequential need for pesticides that end up getting us all sick and the poor having to eat even worse food.
- Larger political decisions are also challenges for the new immigrants. When we don’t vote to divest our money from businesses that support governments that enforce policies that destroy minorities, we approve a wall that creates divisions and politics of exclusion. Those things are mirrors of what we believe here in this country, with deep consequences to new immigrants.
- The wall of sin, shame, and hatred between the U.S. and Mexico continues to be, and will always be, a challenge for the church. The wall fosters a whole [range] of injustices: a private jails system pushing for more immigrant detentions, sexual exploitation, militarization of the borders and abuse of undocumented immigrants. We have a false sense of security that the wall will protect us. We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, cannot rest until this wall is down. All of these factors are impoverishing people and forcing them to move from rural areas and even from their own countries to places where the money is. As you see, these complex problems are related to new immigrants and minorities everywhere. They are at the heart of the very notion of the mission of the church, who we are in relation to strangers, and how our practices define our discipleship with Jesus in relation to others and our mutual love. That goes to the theme of Big Tent: Placing God’s First Things First.
What can PC(USA) congregations, members, and leaders do to be more welcoming to new immigrants?
There is no magical answer to that, and the road is long and painful to all of us. In any case, here are few things to begin with:
1. Go out of your churches and meet immigrants where they are: cleaning your house, taking care of your kids, on the streets, in tomato fields, in restaurants, waiting for a job at a corner of your city.
2. Be open to be changed. Know that you will not be the same if you are to welcome strangers.
3. You are going to lose in order to gain; things cannot be only your way.
4. Embrace perplexities, paradoxes, and uncertainties.
5. Learn to sing other people’s songs, pray somebody else’s prayers, confess other people’s confessions, practice other people’s
liturgical actions, and forgive each other’s offenses.
6. Learn to embrace a variety of identities. You are not a pure breed but a multiplicity of identities.
7. As I said, to be welcoming is a painful road ahead, to the point that your church will belong to others as much as it used to be
8. Have immigrants, strangers, minorities at all leadership levels, making decisions, including [in] the pulpit.
9. Go after other churches that are doing multiple multicultural ministries, and keep learning.
10. Learn another language.
11. Know that there are other forms of order and other notions and senses of decency that are not exactly the way of order and decency you know. Others are not disordered or indecent because they don’t match your way of understanding.
12. There is no such thing as US and THEM. We are all we/us!
As the African adage says: I am because you are, you are because I am.
What is it about the PC(USA) that gives you confidence that it will continue to become a more inclusive and diverse church?
To be honest, I am not that confident. I am hopeful but not that confident. The processes of the church are too slow, and I have seen enough to know that this project is always in a perilous stage. As soon as we start to shift/move/open things, the powers that be get scared and find ways to make it more difficult for us to be included. We are up against a historically patriarchal and self-enclosed system that is always threatening us, clearly or in unspoken manners, to kick us out if we don’t behave. It will take a long road for many of us to feel we are at “home.”
Read the whole magazine here: http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/resources/torch_summer2013(2)_-_web_version.pdf