A mash-up of traditional hymns, ’70s folk songs, and African drumbeats, Sunday mornings at Hartford Street Presbyterian Church in Natick are not your typical church service.
The Rev. Eric Markman is not your typical pastor.
Markman, 56, took the reins at Hartford Street Presbyterian two years ago, and since then the small church of 125 members has developed a big reputation for diversity.
Church members are white, African-American, Cameroonian, Indian, Brazilian, Taiwanese, Costa Rican, and Canadian.
And while Markman revels in the multicultural atmosphere, he maintains that it was never the end goal — just a byproduct of the church’s mission to embrace all with open arms.
“There is no formula that I know of,” says Markman, who lives with his wife in Haverhill. “It happens, I really think, out of living out God’s love for the world and welcoming all who come to this church.”
It didn’t use to be that way. Dave Pitts of Marlborough, a member since 1988, remembers when it used be practically “all old white guys.”
In the past decade, young immigrant families began to appear on Sunday mornings. Member Agnes Tabo, from Cameroon, says she doubts she would find such a welcoming atmosphere anywhere else.
Under Markman’s guidance, the immigrant spirit has become part of the fabric of Sunday morning service.
For him, taking on the Natick church was a natural fit after years of working to build connections in communities where most people did not look like him. A Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1980s, Markman went on to spend eight years leading a church with a diverse congregation on New York’s upper West Side.
“Diversity is an enriching factor . . . It’s something that causes a richness in experience, and an ability to see the world in a new way,” Markman says. “And I think that’s a lot of what this church is all about.”
The melting pot tradition at Hartford Street Presbyterian has given Markman a new perspective on the faith he holds dear.
As he learned to conduct traditional infant presentation ceremonies, common in India and Cameroon, he thought it an unusual custom — until he realized it was modern twist on Jesus’ entrance into the world.
“I’ll say, ‘Gee, this is part of the Bible, isn’t it?’ ” Markman says, chuckling. “And they’ll say, ‘And? What’s your point?’ ”
— Martine Powers