The Rev. Art Cribbs includes a group of children in his sermon during a recent Sunday service at San Marino Congregational Church in San Marino, Calif. Over the past year, Cribbs has forged a new path as the minister and only black member of a nearly all-white church tucked in San Marino, one of Los Angeles’ whitest, wealthiest suburbs. (AP photo/Ric Francis)
SAN MARINO, Calif. — Microphone in hand, the Rev. Art Cribbs eases himself onto the chancel steps until he is at eye level with the tiniest of his congregants. They gather around eagerly as he pulls out a toy globe and begins to spin it, his finger stopping on Africa.
“What do people in Africa look like? What does an African look like?” he asks the children.
“Like you!” a little boy blurts out as the adults in the pews erupt in laughter.
For Cribbs, it’s just another of the bittersweet moments that pop up every day at San Marino Congregational United Church of Christ. A church where nobody looks like him.
Over the past year, Cribbs has forged a new spiritual path as the minister and only black member of the nearly all-white Christian church tucked in one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest suburbs. It’s an unlikely fit for a pastor who was born in Watts and who keeps Malcolm X’s writings on his bookshelf, an odd choice for a man in the throes of a doctoral dissertation on black liberation theology.
Yet both the church and the man say the pairing has stretched and changed them in ways that make them proud.
“We are saying in this dance, this marriage, ‘Let’s see if we can get along. Let’s see if we can get along with integrity — not with compromise, with integrity,’” said Cribbs. “I respect the fact that this is not Watts, or Harlem, or East Oakland. I recognized that before I came here, and after coming here, I’m getting to know what that means in a new and different way every day.”
Cribbs’ resume was the third of 145 applications to make its way to the church, and the selection committee knew immediately that they needed to persuade Cribbs to leave his large, all-black church in San Diego. San Marino had been struggling for years to bolster its 60-person membership, and Cribbs’ charisma, depth and eloquence seemed to be the answer. His audition tape was so powerful it made the chair of the selection committee cry.
“What we were really trying to work at is what is most needed in this community. What is most needed by us as a congregation. Where do we need to be stretched and grow?” said Donald Shenk, the committee chair. “It really didn’t have anything to do with the color of his skin. This was going to be our Moses to lead us out of Egypt.”(p2)