Ray Cuthbert is the founding pastor of Broadway Disciples United Church (BDUC) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he has served since 1997. BDUC is a woven congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Canada housed at a prominent site in downtown Winnipeg. Church growth has happened slowly but consistently and today the church serves people of all ages through a variety of ministries.
In an interview, Cuthbert reflected on ways that Disciples can transform their churches into vital congregations that support our identity of being “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”
Question: Broadway Disciples United Church has an interesting history. How did it come about?
Cuthbert: We are the outgrowth of three partners who decided to work together to create an ecumenical, multi-ethnic church for people of all ages. One partner was St. Stephens-Broadway United Church, which originally had its roots in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches but had become part of the United Church of Canada. At the time of our merger, St. Stephens’ membership had dwindled to a handful of older members. Home Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where I was the pastor, was a congregation of young families, about three-quarters of whom were Filipino. John Welsey United Church of Canada was an all-Filipino congregation, comprised primarily of middle age people. In 1997, the three congregations came together.
Question: Did you lay out a plan for how the merger would take place?
Cuthbert: Yes. We spent six months just living together as one. Then we came up with a common vision: to be the ecumenical, multi-ethnic church we are today. And last, although it was less specific, we decided to show people possibilities and a new model of worship.
One of the most difficult issues was around making changes in the music used in worship. One of our churches was accustomed to singing Gospel songs; the other two prided themselves on the stately hymns of classical compositions. One also had a more contemporary worship style. We had to find a way to bring all those needs together. Today’s worship blends even more contemporary music with the traditions we had when we came together.
Originally people thought that our combined church concept was a fluke, but we meant it when we said, “No matter what your color, age, or ethnicity, we welcome you.”
All our members are part both of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Canada.
Question: Who attends Broadway Disciples United Church?
Cuthbert: Our congregation is predominately Filipino; however we have people from Korea, Indonesia, the West Indies, and whites in attendance.
Question: How large is Broadway Disciples United Church?
Cuthbert: We have an active church membership of about 180 people. For many years our membership had stayed at around 135 to 150. But then we became actively engaged in resettling immigrants from the Philippines. Most of them had worked in Saudi Arabia prior to moving to Canada. We made contact with them, welcomed them, and many moved to Winnipeg to join the growing community of Filipinos who live here.
Question: What type of ministries does Broadway Disciples United offer today?
We have a Sunday school class for people of all ages, a Sunday morning worship service, a vibrant Christian education team that has various activities, Junior Church and home Bible studies, among other things. We have four praise bands for men, women and youth.
Question: Members at BDUC worship in a beautiful space just across the street from Manitoba’s Legislative Building. Can you explain some of the church design?
Cuthbert: Our present building was constructed in 1970, following a church fire two years earlier. The architect designed our current building in the shape of a ship – an ancient symbol for the church. Our open structure has an aesthetic and atmosphere that is welcoming but appropriate for worship.
Question: Why do you feel this combined church concept has worked for about 13 years?
Cuthbert: If you open yourself up to the moving of the Holy Spirit, you may find yourself going in a different direction than what you might have considered and that’s led us to being the multi-ethnic church we are today.
Christianity is an incarnational relationship – meaning you have to give flesh to what you believe. Part of giving flesh is saying it. Another part is living it. That’s what we’re working toward.
Question: Disciples in Canada represent only a tiny number of those in organized religions. What is the future of Disciples in your country?
Cuthbert: Disciples in Canada are a microcosm of Disciples everywhere. As long as a church is in the survival mode, it’s not going to grow. Once you move past that, then you may have a chance. But if a congregation doesn’t get active in something it feels vitally passionate about, it’s unlikely that church will grow.
By: Wanda Bryant Wills – [email protected]