New immigrants arrving in the U.S. South are changing and in some cases challenging traditional practices of churches in this region, reports the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 21).
Jennifer Lee writes that “A flood of immigrants — Jamaicans, Vietnamese, Hispanics and others — are forcing new compromises in the South’s traditionally white, conservative churches. The arrivals are part of an immigration boom sparked by strong economies in states like Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
In metropolitan Atlanta alone, one of every 10 residents is foreign born, according to a recent study by Georgia State University.” Unlike earlier waves of immigration where newcomers arrived in enclaves with other immigrants from the same home countries, this new influx is largely in suburban areas where the different groups mingle and sometimes collide.
Such heterogeneous populations often means that different immigrant groups have to share congregations, sometimes clashing on differing worship styles. While some churches try to adjust to the newcomers — such as by creating several services — hoping that they will pump life into congregations affected by white flight, others see the dissolving of decades-old traditions. Immigrants’ transient lifestyles test Southern churches that are home to several generations of families.
Some immigrants find it difficult to make a commitment to congregations, since they are not sure of their legal status or employment opportunities, Lee adds.