Are we a multicultural Church?

The Uniting Church prides itself on being a multicultural church, but are we really? We have a broad diversity of cultures who worship as part of the Uniting Church but many of these experiences are still mono ethnic communities who gather together for meetings. Our communities, our schools , our workplaces are often very different. Our children and young people live with significant cultural diversity every day.

In a recent workshop run by the Assembly on being a intercultural, intergenerational church they talked about the various terms used to reflect cultural engagement. Multicultural is actually a reflection of what we have in the church, many cultures meeting together but staying in their own groups. At times in the church we do have cross cultural experiences, where people from different cultures cross over into another culture to learn more about it and sometimes to belong. Yet the original culture is not changed by those visiting with a new culture. The visitors are expected to adapt.

The assembly team were encouraging us to think about what it means to be an intercultural church. What would it mean if our gatherings truly reflected the diversity of the community and everyone had a space to express their culture within the bigger context.

There is much debate over the wording, for some “cross” cultural is about placing the cross of Jesus between our cultures giving us the opportunity to meet each other and each others culture and our own culture through the lens of Jesus. To do so means we need to start by acknowledging that each of our cultures sees and engages Jesus differently.

Most of my ministry life I have been part of predominantly Anglo worshiping communities, yet there have been people who have chosen to be part of them from other cultures. As the dominant culture and it being my own culture I am often blind to the things that are part of this that can come across as racist or disrespectful. I remember talking with a friend about the worship we did, who was not white, about how we could improve our worship for people from other cultures. She pointed out to me that often when we did visuals that thought about the poor most of the people were not white and as she rightly pointed out there are also poor white people in the world as well. I was so embarrassed I had not even noticed this before, but promptly made sure this was not the case anymore.

To have a diversity of cultures in a community is such a blessing. Each of us see Jesus with a different lens. In sharing our perspectives together our faith becomes that much more enriched and we are able to dive even deeper together and with God. But to do so means that we need to be willing to hear that our assumptions or the normal parts of our culture can be offensive to others. We don’t mean it but that doesn’t make it less so. It is only through honest and hard conversations are we able to grow in love for each other, not just in words but in real community together.

This week I discovered a great article on our assembly website called towards intentionally anti-racist worship. If your church does have people of different cultures as part of it or if you would like to move in this direction I strongly recommend you have a read.

As Christians we like to think we are all about love and care, we can be oblivious to how our own culture is embeded in all that we do, particularly when we are part of the dominant culture. Not all things about our culture are about love and care. When we are called by Jesus to follow him we are also called to leave our past lives behind to be reborn, but our culture can be so intrinsic that we don’t even notice where it does separate us from others and from God. To look at our own culture can be hard and when we discover the truth about ourselves there can be alot of shame that comes with that. But if we are to grow into the loving community that Christ calls us to, we must follow the lead of Jesus who was even challenged about his own cultural assumptions by the Syrophoenician woman.

As I have journeyed more and more over recent years with people from other cultures and learnt how to live and work deeply with them, my own faith and practices have also deepened. In some ways I have been liberated in my faith through doing this hard work. I pray that you too may have the courage to cross over to learn more from your brothers and sisters who are not like you.

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Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.

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