Celebrating diversity before Turkey Day

Way, way back in November of 2002, I went to the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook to see the local unveiling of  “America’s Table,” a Thanksgiving reader developed by the American Jewish Committee.

The 15-page reader was designed to help any family, Jewish or not, add meaning to their Thanksgiving meal by discussing the immigrant experience in America.

Close to 50 people from different backgrounds took part, reading aloud. Several talked about the immigrant journeys of their ancestors.

I quoted Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski afterward: “Before I came to this breakfast, I felt weird. Now I feel normal.”

It was a unifying experience. That was the idea.

The Westchester chapter of the AJC has continued to hold annual Thanksgiving breakfasts since then. I’ve been to most of them, so I can tell you that it’s refreshing to hear people of different faiths and backgrounds talk about their stories — which often have striking similarities — just before one of the most American of holidays.

It is a simple yet effective and moving experience.

You can download “America’s Table” here.

This year’s breakfast is tomorrow morning at Manhattanville College. I’ll be the speaker. I only get 10 minutes or so — so I shouldn’t slow things down too much.

I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve learned from covering many groups of people over the years.

This year’s breakfast will also honor three organizations: the Duchesne Center for Religion and Social Justice at Manhattanville; Westchester Youth Councils; and Neighbors Link. Congratulations to them.

The AJC, the Westchester Jewish Council and Manhattanville on putting on this year’s breakfast.

Segregation vs. diversity in church

It was in 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous observation about Sunday mornings:

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We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. Now, I’m sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I’m not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we’ve so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn’t start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God.

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A new study by two profs shows that things haven’t changed all that much: 9 in 10 congregations have a single racial group that accounts for more than 80 percent of membership.

Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University, and Christopher P. Scheitle, senior research assistant at The Pennsylvania State University, published the findings in the academic journal Sociological Inquiry in August.

“Socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm,” Dougherty says in a statement.

The study shows that churches have a particularly hard time keeping minority members they already have.

Congregations that are diverse share certain characteristics: diverse leadership; racially inclusive worship; and they provide opportunities for members to get togetheer.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a white member of a Latino church or a black attending a white church or what the specific groups are,” Dougherty says. “If you’re the under-represented group, do you call it ‘my church’? That feeling of ‘us’ is the key.”

Photo: Library of Congress