From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:43:30


                          by Eva Stimson 
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev.--Less than a week after the O.J. Simpson verdict turned 
the spotlight on racial divisions in the U.S. population, an unusually 
diverse group of West Coast Presbyterians came together to talk about 
eradicating racism in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 
     The timing was coincidental. For the past 23 years a steadily growing 
number of racial-ethnic Presbyterians from northern California and Nevada 
have gathered annually in October for a conference sponsored by the Ethnic 
Concerns Committee of the Synod of the Pacific's Sierra Mission Area. 
     "I'm troubled by statistics that show that in 1993 our denomination 
was approximately 95 percent white," the Rev. Elliot Bernadel-Huey told the 
group of nearly 100 people who attended this year's conference, Oct. 6-8, 
at Zephyr Point Conference Center here on Lake Tahoe.  "Does this mean that 
God's love is primarily for white European-Americans?" 
     Bernadel-Huey, a Chinese-American who works as a physical therapist in 
Hayward, Calif., led the group in an intense six-hour session of "diversity 
training." Participants included persons of Asian, Hispanic, European and 
Middle Eastern ancestry and a large contingent of recent immigrants from 
Southeast Asia. 
     Assisting Bernadel-Huey were Sarah Reyes, a high school assistant 
principal and member of the multiracial Trinity Presbyterian Church in 
Stockton, Calif., and the Rev. Les Sauer, associate for justice and social 
concerns for the Sierra Mission Area. 
     Unfortunately, said Bernadel-Huey, some Presbyterian  congregations 
have begun reaching out to racial minorities only because they see their 
membership shrinking. "Our concern for diversity must be about more than 
institutional maintenance and survival," he declared. 
     On a more pastoral note, he commented, "So much in church and society 
works to undermine this central truth: that Jesus loves us fully and 
completely. We are called to let go of a vision of ourselves that has been 
twisted by racism." 
     "We need to redefine the word 'American' so that it does not just mean 
people of European ancestry," said Alice Nishi, a Japanese-American from 
Davis, Calif., who received one of the denomination's annual Women of Faith 
awards at the 1992 General Assembly. Although she was born in the United 
States, Nishi says, people still come up to her and comment, "My, you speak 
good English."  
     Fellowship and mutual support were major components of the Zephyr 
Point conference.  Participants rejoiced at an announcement by five young 
members of the Indonesian  Presbyterian Church of Fresno, Calif., that 
their congregation had just purchased its own building. They also 
applauded the upcoming Oct. 29 ordination of Bruce Reyes-Chow, the first 
Filipino man to be ordained in the PC(USA). 
     Founded in 1972, the Ethnic Concerns Committee (ECC) represents at 
least a dozen racial-ethnic communities in the four presbyteries (Nevada, 
Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stockton) that comprise the Sierra Mission 
     "The purpose of ECC has been to nurture racial-ethnic persons in 
leadership and advocacy for access and service at the various governing 
body levels of the Presbyterian Church," Sauer explains. In his work with 
the committee in the past few years he has noted that the longtime members 
have begun serving as mentors to a growing number of recent immigrants and 
new Presbyterians. 
     "ECC has been a gateway for the racial-ethnic folks to get them into 
the Presbyterian Church," Sauer says. "It has also been a prod to the 
denomination to make a place for these people in the church." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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