For over three years now an alarm has gone off on my phone at 10am that simply says: Diversity. Forefront's founding pastor, Brian Moll, had challenged our staff to pray about one thing for a few months and really lean into a particular thing that inspired/bothered us. As I remember it a few days earlier I had been in a meeting with leadership resident Jordan Rice who is now the founding pastor of Renaissance Church in Harlem. He shared that the thing that most burned on his heart for the church and that most defined how he wanted to do ministry came from the lips of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who once said:
"It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."
This totally rocked my world. I was heartbroken by this statement and struggled to sleep. I had no idea what to do about it so I just started reaching out to friends who I knew were passionate about seeing a better world, a kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Tanya Riches told me about Nikki Lerner and next thing I knew I was jumping into a hire car for a whirlwind 32 hour visit to Columbia MD to attend the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network conference at Bridgeway Community Church.
For the last few years our church, Forefront Brooklyn, has stumbled its way through this journey of becoming diverse. I'm so grateful for my worship team who have wrestled with me about the tension of being authentic, put up with my hair brained ideas and instincts, learned to sing a phrases in other languages, and allowed themselves to be stretched by a vast array of musical genres. I love that we're a church where people turn up on a Sunday morning not knowing what to expect in worship, that we're prepared to be met by a surprising God, that we expect that we won't be comfortable 100 percent of the time, that we're ok with giving up our own preferences in order that other people might have room at the table.
I'm not sure where I picked up this idea but I believe that leadership is about delegating authority not just tasks. I'm proud of the leaders that I have in my team and the unique style and talents that they bring to the table. I love that I get to collaborate with, and learn from, each and every one of them. Because of their commitment to the vision Forefront has for diversity we're able to see the true colors in our community and we're able to worship in a variety of different ways week in and week out. These leaders blow me away:
Jubi Williams, a first generation Indian immigrant, who loves to rework old hymns and classical Evangelical standards. Jubi mostly leads an all women worship band and has been known to tear up during rehearsals because she's so overwhelmed by what God has done in her life.
David Portalatin, aka David J from BK, a Brooklyn born and raised Puerto Rican who writes like Bob Dylan and sings like Bruce Springsteen. David came to us from another NYC church and was burnt out on the idea of worship trying to fit into a one size fits all approach. He's also an amazing songwriter and part of the Songwriting Guild.
Angela Lockett-Colas, an African American gospel singer who leads a choir out at a Baptist church in Crown Heights monthly. Angela's huge heart for worship and for the gospel helps to stretch us and often has us crossing aisles to embrace each other during worship.
Lindsey Luff Fulgenzi, a Memphis native who grew up in a large Southern church and who wants to sing more than top 20 CCLI songs, songs with substance and story, songs with sighing and suffering, songs that matter. Lindsey is a powerhouse country singer songwriter and one of the original members of the Songwriting Guild.
Leslie Hill, a newcomer to our church having found us round the time of our FCQ series 2015. While he is a formidable talent he is also one of the warmest people I know and never shy to give a brand new person a huge welcoming hug. Leslie is a trained opera singer and sings hymns like an angel.
Amy Leon, born and raised in Harlem, is a force of nature, a poet, a spoken word artist, an activist who isn't frightened to talk about her mixed racial identity and to speak about how Black Lives Matter. Will never forget the Sunday she first led in Brooklyn after the Ferguson decision. We learned to lament that day.
Katherine Knipp Willis, an acting teacher and Lucid Body instructor who has helped our extroverted church become more centered, quiet and conscious of the earth that we inhabit. Katie serves on the prayer team and collaborated on one of the most unique services we've ever done: Silence Sunday.
Stef Fontela, a Filipino San Francisco native who's been around from day one and was the first person we baptised. She loves to cover pop songs that bring a twist to the topics we're covering in the sermon and brings her RnB sensibility to worship. When she's not leading she's usually in the front row taking copious notes.
And there's so many other names and stories of team members who have helped build an amazing, welcoming, diverse environment at FFBK.
One of the most important things that I've realized over the last few years as my alarm persistently calls me to be mindful of the diversity of God's world is that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Whether I like it or not, and whether you like it or not, God loves each and every one in their own unique, diverse, colorful, fantastic way.
We believe and practice that and it is why I #LoveForefront
Would love to hear your story of why you love Forefront. Share on social media and use #LoveForefront to be a part of this conversation.
If you want to hear some of the amazing sounds these leaders help create then our Soundcloud is below: