Pursuing a More Diverse Church: A report and two reflections


[1] Lake Park Lutheran Church (LPLC) was founded in 1911 as an English-speaking congregation on the east side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In 1998, the church was suffering from a declining membership. Through dedication of strong lay leaders and new pastoral leadership, membership increased over 200% to 710 members. Today, LPLC has a young congregation with 80 percent of our membership under age 50. The majority of our congregation identifies as white.  We have partnerships with a number of local organizations and a congregation in El Salvador.

[2] Milwaukee has a long history of racial segregation. This is reflected in our Lutheran faith communities. Amidst the congregational growth and partnerships, LPLC leaders desired to examine our history, policies, worship practices and partnership structures to evolve into a faith community that welcomes all our neighbors, shares power with our partners, and grows the body of Christ.

[3] To this end, the LPLC Council commissioned an Ethnic Diversity Task Force in 2017. Two primary goals were identified: 1) collectively examine how LPLC can become a more ethnically diverse church and develop an action plan to implement this initiative; and 2) create a LPLC statement that asserts our position on diversity and ethnic inclusivity in the church. The task force led a discussion series on racism and white privilege, visited local congregations, hosted a lecture and workshop on how children learn about race, and sponsored lay leaders to attend the YWCA’s Unlearning Racism Series. Ultimately, the task force recommended LPLC engage racial equity consultants.

[4] LPLC sought the expertise of Derute Consulting Cooperative to increase the organizational capacity of LPLC to advance our work in the areas of racial equity and inclusion within our congregation. Derute has supported organizations committed to racial justice for Black and other communities of color by providing equity and justice-oriented organizational and leadership development; trainings and workshops; participatory research, assessment, and evaluation in local and global contexts. The first phase of the LPLC project was two-fold, Derute members and the LPLC project steering committee had several in-depth conversations to understand how race shapes the LPLC church practices,  and the formal and informal LPLC culture within its policies, leadership, and congregation.  The steering committee developed buckets of concerns regarding racial equity at LPLC. The first bucket concerning Demographics and Welcoming, centered on examining the demographics of the LPLC community, and specifically how welcoming the church and the church culture is to visitors, specifically people of color. The guiding questions for this bucket are: How do stakeholders feel about the predominantly white composition and representation of LPLC? Are stakeholders welcome to inform the LPLC spiritual practices, activities, leadership development in ways that reflect anti-racism ideologies and values? The second bucket centered on Worship and Physical Space. Here, the central questions are: How is the church willing to change the worship and liturgy to be more welcoming and inclusive. Are the images, iconography, language, and LPLC Lutheran liturgical practices used in the worship space culturally accessible to non-white people? The third bucket, Dangers of White Liberalism, focuses on understanding how white liberalism intersects with white privilege and fragility for LPLC stakeholders.

[5] These buckets of concerns became guiding themes for the survey and focus groups, the data collection sections of the project. The survey went to all LPLC stakeholders;  this included the congregation, staff and leaders, and partners.  The goal of the survey was to understand the culture and climate of LPLC as it relates to racial equity and inclusion. The focus groups, called Listening toward Healing Circles, are to occur after the survey phase has been completed. Derute will facilitate four conversations with the LPLC community intended to further assess their current state of racial interactions and their comfort with inter-ethnic dialogues. One of the healing circles will be for LPLC partners and all of the other circles will be for the LPLC internal community. The survey and Listening toward Healing circles will allow Derute and the LPLC Steering Committee to understand more fully the cultural gaps and fissures within the church. Derute will then analyze all the data collected from the healing circles and survey, and use the findings to inform LPLC Learning Community Labs, the third phase of this project. The community learning labs intently focus on capacity building for the LPLC leadership, staff, and congregation. Derute will develop learning outcomes, activities, and then facilitate the learning community labs with church staff and leaders. Then church staff and leaders will become the teachers and facilitate learning community labs for the church congregation. The community learning labs will include readings, homework, reflections, and pre and post assessments for LPLC participants to measure their overall learning from the project. The learning activities will result in strategies and recommendations to understand racial equity, improve ethnic diversity at LPLC, and identify how LPLC can serve as a restorative healing space for inter-ethnic dialogue for the LPLC community.

[6] As members of LPLC and leaders of this work in our congregation, we want to offer our personal reflections on this evolving process.

Amy’s Reflection

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:36-39

[7] I attended a conference a few years ago focused on health inequities and racism. During a small group session, a facilitator asked us to identify ourselves to the person sitting next to us. While this may seem like a simple task, I was struck by how difficult this was for me to do. I felt awkward stating my race. To that point, I had not learned, nor had I been asked, to name my whiteness. Am I perpetuating a social construct by describing myself as white, I thought? Through discussion with my facilitator and subsequent deeper self-examination, I realized, no, when I identify as white, I name the reality of the way in which I experience my workplace, my church and my community. Through that activity, I recognized that while I knew many of the equity buzzwords and theories (eg. diversity, white privilege, white fragility, and intersectionality), I had very limited practice in applying these concepts in my daily interactions.

[8]So to begin, I am a white woman in my forties, a mother of two, a spouse, a public health advocate, and a member of LPLC. I have been a member of LPLC for most of my adult life and nearly all the time I have lived in Milwaukee. When I look around the sanctuary, I see a room full of my neighbors, but I am acutely aware that many of my neighbors are not among us. Milwaukee is a beautiful, racially and ethnically diverse community but it is deeply segregated. This separation of neighbors is reflected in our worship spaces and LPLC is no exception.

[9] The backbone of this separation is racism in its many forms – in the interactions between people and in the way we organize, structure and govern our institutions. I have been on a journey to understand how racism is taught, learned, and sustained. This journey has included book reads, podcasts, and workshops and discussions. I have engaged in many of these activities in small groups within my church community.

[10] We have a core group of individuals within our congregation who have endeavored to learn and grow together in our efforts to unpack racism and understand the ways in which our institutions, including our church, are complicit. Simultaneously, we recognize that most of our fellow congregants are white, and so these conversations have happened primarily among individuals with similar lived experiences with race. Though we have named a desire to see our church mirror the racial and ethnic diversity within Milwaukee, we have been challenged in moving from discussion to action.

[11] In 2019, our Ethnic Diversity Task Force recommended the church council engage a consulting group who would train our leaders to facilitate discussions on unpacking racism with the larger church body, seek input from our partner ministries and ultimately identify concrete action steps our church can take to understand racial equity and strive toward a congregation that reflects the diversity of our city. We applied for a grant from a Siebert Lutheran Foundation which was deferred. We had asked for funding to cover the full cost of the consultants. In seeking feedback from the foundation, we recognized that readiness for doing the work of anti-racism includes prioritizing it within the stewardship of the church. We reapplied asking the foundation to match the contributions of the congregation and were awarded the grant.

[12] Throughout the early stages of our engagement with Derute Consulting Cooperative, we have outlined the phases of our work together and navigated the bumpy road of gradually exposing where we need to grow. We have exchanged ideas grounded in the experience of our consultants and the history of our congregation and endeavored to do this with grace in a time when our closest connection is through webcams in a virtual meeting. Our work is just beginning. I recognize that each of us is at a different spot in our journeys and not every congregant will participate, let alone embrace the anti-racism work we are doing. My prayer for our congregation is that we open our hearts to understanding how racism has impacted our collective congregation experience: our worship, our partnerships in the community, our advocacy for justice and equity and that we have the courage to move from discussion to action.

[13] I believe a church, or any institution, can strive toward anti-racism but the work is ongoing. It is not a project in which a steering committee is formed, a list of tasks is compiled and a set of boxes is checked. While there may be a start, a time in which a congregation formally decides to dedicate themselves towards dismantling racism in the many ways it can manifest in the life of a church, there is no completion date. LPLC can never arrive at the finish line of anti-racism and decide the work is done. The loving of one’s neighbor is a daily call which one must decide to answer.

Jacqueline’s Reflection

[14] As I reflect on what compels me to participate in this work as a Black woman, mother, wife, educator, LPLC member, and Derute member during a time when we have been affronted with bloody acts of racial violence in our streets and prisons and confronted with the blatancy and ugliness of white supremacy in our social system, it is to usher in change. I bring with me all of these identities to this work and wrestle with how to how to work in community and togetherness, to bring forth an opportunity for LPLC to self-reflect and understand its practices, confront systemic biases that manifest in deeply rooted practices, and help us realize the goal of being a more inclusive church.

[15] The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, so eloquently referred to an African idiom in his speech on racism, “A person is a person through other persons.” He continued, “None of us comes into the world fully formed… We need other human beings to help us to be human. The solitary isolated human being really is a contradiction in terms.  We are made for interdependence, for complementarity. I have gifts which you do not have and you have gifts that I do not have.”[i] This passage resonated with me specifically because I see many aspects expressed in how LPLC does “community.” The church has been committed to building and sustaining congregational, local, and global community through establishing and nurturing deep relationships. I have seen this play out in our lived practices as a congregation during COVID-19.  We have communed together virtually through the formal rituals of prayer, song, church services, funerals, weddings, baptisms and Sunday School (to name a few), and informally, in check-ins, Zoom happy hours, weekly walks, and phone calls.

[16] However, while the LPLC community is strong and very relational, are we inclusive? We say that we are progressive and social justice oriented. We use our resources to support social justice causes and partner with churches and organizations that are committed to social justice and reform, but are we engaging in equitable relationships with communities who show up to the altar who have different lived experiences, look different, speak differently, make less money, dress differently, and/or have different socio-economic backgrounds? These are questions that I have grappled with as a black member of LPLC for the past several years. Over my time at LPLC, my family and I have developed some beautiful relationships rooted in love and respect, and authentic conversations. I have been moved to thought and action by sermons that have critiqued the systems of white privilege and oppression that I and other People of Color have been victim to, however, I have equally had to navigate, bring to light, explain, and experience the pervasive way that whiteness plays out in LPLC structures, policies, and practices.

[17] For example, when a LPLC church member comes to me during a service and says “Welcome to LPLC, we are happy that you are able to worship with us from All Peoples Church,” what do I do?  I received this comment after being a fairly active member in the congregation for five years. The assumption was that as a Black person, that I must be from the All Peoples Church (our partner church that is ethnically diverse and has a good number of Black members) and I could not have been a member of LPLC. My contributions, my presence, and my identity as a LPLC member was diminished and reflected this person’s unconscious or conscious bias of the predominance of whiteness at LPLC. My immediate response was a smile and then a response that I am a member of LPLC. However, I was hurt, ashamed, and questioned my role and reason for being a member of LPLC. After some deep retrospection, I felt this was a part of God’s purpose for me to have the courage, faith, and hope to be a part of the future of LPLC, help forge a space where non-white people would feel welcome, participate fully in LPLC rituals, and participate in the creation of multicultural practices that reflect the breadth and scope of the human spirit rooted in God’s grace and love. How do we go about doing this work? I think working in trust is important, holding space and grace for each other, and being open to engaging and participating in courageous conversations and actions. I pray for LPLC and our ability to realize our commitment through actions, to building a racially inclusive church community.



[i] Tutu, Desmond Archbishop.”Why, as Christians, We Must Oppose Racism: Desmond Tutu Racism Speech”. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Retrieved 1/5/2021. https://www.epicenter.org/why-as-christians-we-must-oppose-racism/


Amy Parry

Amy Parry has been a member of Lake Park Lutheran Church for 19 years where she is a co-chair of the steering committee. In her professional role, Amy is program manager at Medical College of Wisconsin focused on overdose and violence prevention. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband Jason, two teenage children, Ben and Zach, and temperamental 14-year old dog, Corky.

Jacqueline Robinson-Hunsicker

Jacqueline Robinson-Hunsicker has been a member of Lake Park Park Lutheran for 7 years. In her professional role, Jacqueline is a faculty member at Milwaukee Area Technical College and a member of Derute Consulting Cooperative. She lives in Bayside, WI with her husband Mike, three children, Massara, Amie Grace, and Noah, and dog, Marley.