Multicultural Church

What does a healthy multicultural church look like? Following is an except from the book, The Vision of a Multicultural Church, published in 1998. I was impressed that, for a document originating out of the Uniting Church, it had a clear focus on evangelism along with the expected social justice focus. There are many good principles here I think.

We believe that a multicultural church is one where the following concepts are embraced and put into practice.

1. A Common Faith

The multicultural church is united by a common faith in the triune God and the desire to serve and witness to the compassion, love and justice of God. The image of the church as the body of Christ means that we who are in Christ have a variety of gifts, functions and cultures and yet we can be connected to each other without doing everything the same way. We have our cultural differences and yet we can work together within the framework of what the Uniting Church in Australia is. This framework is set out in The Basis of Union and Constitution which establishes the foundations of our commitment to Christian unity.

2. Affirming One Another’s Culture

A multicultural church is one with an inclusive understanding and acceptance of all cultures. It is a church where one can sustain one’s own cultural identity while affirming others. It is a church where every culture is embraced but where the barriers are broken down. It is open, accepting and joyful. It respects and nurtures mutuality of ministry. It acknowledges a variety of cultural expressions of the one faith.

3. Sharing of All Resources

A multicultural church is able to share everything, including cultural richness as well as property and resources (power). It shares each other’s language, values and customs. When we share property and resources well, feelings of racial discrimination or nationalistic superiority will be overcome.

4. Equal Participation in Decision Making

A multicultural church is like a table, a round table. At a round table, people can participate as equals. No new migrant member should have to feel like a guest in such a church. It is a place where we are welcomed as we are. There is cultural sensitivity in decision making where the minority groups are consulted and decisions are not solely made according to western value systems. People whose mother tongue is not English are often diffident about contributing to a debate in synod or presbytery meetings, but this should not prevent their experiences and views being sought more extensively in the whole life of the church. Equal participation also means sharing of responsibilities as a congregation and individual members. Each group needs to endeavour to fulfil their tasks according to their capacity and capability, regardless of when they joined or the cultures from which they came.

5. Inclusiveness

A multicultural church is inclusive of all peoples and cultures, women and men, young and old. It affirms different cultural groups worshipping in their own language or operating in their own way. But all congregations also need contact with the wider church, striving to work together as one body in Christ. It sometimes involves distinguishing between what is cultural and what is faith. It holds an ecumenical perspective that seeks the unity of all those who bear the name Christian.

6. Being a Sign of Hope and Reconciliation

A multicultural church is a sign of hope within the community and particularly to those who are pushed to its fringes. It actively works for the reconciliation or restoration of different individuals or groups who are otherwise alienated from each other. It binds all people together in the name of love. It is a church that works for justice and peace for all. In this area a multicultural church takes its prophetic task seriously.

7. Growing in Mission and Evangelism

A multicultural church reaches out to people of different cultures with the clear message of the gospel of Jesus, proclaiming it joyfully, sharing its life with them and serving them. While maintaining the need to take a strong role in global mission, it also sees the need for an effective evangelism in Australia, which is becoming racially, religiously and culturally a microcosm of the world. Many people such as Asian students, refugees from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and others are arriving here to reside. These people are in need of jobs, housing, language training, social links, community integration and spiritual nurture.

8. Accepting and Preparing for Changes

A multicultural church is not static. It is a church which is able to adjust to the changes of our time and life. A multicultural church is serious about the meaning of changes to prepare for the future. The implications of these changes are enormous. They directly affect structure, mission strategy, administration, and Christian education. As the community surrounding us is rapidly changing, changes in the church will be inevitable, because the church is an agent to serve the community.

10 thoughts on “Multicultural Church

  1. Wow!
    I like this. It could easily become the charter / constitution / church order of a multicultural church. However, the problem is always one of implementing a charter / constitution / church order – and of course, interpretation thereof. E.g., “It acknowledges a variety of cultural expressions of the one faith” and “It sometimes involves distinguishing between what is cultural and what is faith.” Who decides?
    By the way, thanks for the great blog, Matt!

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  2. Ronald, implementation and interpretation struck me as a critical issue too. I think we just have to take it one step at a time and re-evaluate and revise as we go along.
    (and I’m glad you’re enjoing the blog)

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  3. These are issues my church needs to work through. About 2/3 of my church are white Aussies (of whom I’m the youngest) but nearly all the decision-making is done by them.

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  4. I find this a bit odd.
    We started a multicultural church a little over 20 years ago, and it’s had its ups and downs, but I don’t think one can lay down in advance what it should look like. One of the essential things about a multicultural church is that it will pretty certainly be unique, because of the mixture of cultures. One thing we’ve found is that the cultural mix changes over time too, and that means that the church changes.

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  5. Eric, we have the same problem. I find that eastern cultures are far less egalitarian, which puts easterners on unequal footing in churches run on egalitarian lines. They are far more likely to just leave things to leaders when we’re not. Paradoxically our egalitarianism aspirations result in equalities.

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  6. Steve, I appreciate there is much that can only be figured out as the community evolves, but would you see at least some of these principles as important for healthy multiculturalism? I would have thought the first two as a bear minimum.

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  7. Steve, surely one must start with a decision to do multicultural ministry. Shouldn’t one at least lay down a few “rules” (I use the word lightly)? That is not to say that these rules won’t change as the congregation grows. In fact, it has to – since the initial “rules” will probably be laid out by people from just one culture!

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  8. Matt,
    I don’t have much quibble with the content of the first two, or indeed with most of the others. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to have much specifically to do with being multicultural. But when they are violated, of course the church becomes less multicultural.
    An example from our church is that when we started, after some discussion, we chose to make our patron saint St Nicholas of Japan, specifically because he was a Russian missionary who went to Japan and planted a Japanese Church, not a Russian one.
    Fifteen years later a group of newcomers in the church wanted to ditch him, because he was too Russian and they thought the church should be more Greek. A rather acrimonious meeting was held, and the result was that all the Russians and Georgians left, because they felt that if a Russian saint wasn’t welcome, then they weren’t either.
    But the problem was not that a multicultural church had become unhealthy; the problem was that some people did not want a multicultural church at all, and were trying to change a multicultural church into a monocultural one. One of the people agitating for the change actually said (on another occasion) that “The Orthodox Church is not missionary, because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.”
    Ronald,
    I’m not sure why one must start “with a decision to do multicultural ministry”. Who makes such a decision, and who are the people who will “do” the ministry? I think there is an important distinction between a multicultural “ministry” and a multicultural church.
    In our case we were members of a parish that had been started by Greeks who were worried about their children being Anglicised and drifting away from the church because they did not understand Greek services, so they got an English-speaking non-Greek priest and had English services (some Greek nationalists objected when the priest was ordained because he wasn’t Greek). But a visiting priest came and said “this church was built by Greeks with Greek money” and and clearly implied that xeni weren’t welcome.
    So a group of us decided that we wanted to start a multicultural and multiethnic church where people of any ethnic or cultural background would be welcome, and petitioned the bishop to that effect. There was no decision by any one to “do” multicultural ministry. We wanted a multicultural CHURCH. We wanted a church in which people were welcome because they wanted to follow Christ, not because they belonged to this or that ethnic or cultural background.
    And generally we have. We’ve had four priests – two American (one of Swedish and the other of Polish background), a Romanian and a Kenyan (the present one). We’ve had an ever-changing mixture of people of different ethnic and cultural groups and have sampled their cuisine and their customs, and have generally (with some exceptions noted above) managed to remain a welcoming fellowship of people of different origins who welcome people of other different origins. But our aim not not to “do” multicultural ministry, but to be a multicultural community doing Christian ministry.

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  9. Steve, you said, “But when they are violated, of course the church becomes less multicultural.” Yes, I think that’s all that need be said. They don’t create multicultural church but they do facilitate it.
    And I agree, this need not be intentional. It can just happen simply when we engage with communities indiscriminately.

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