Is your church multi-cultural?
Anna Heydon asks whether our churches are willing to actually include those of other cultures as well as help them.
Over the past few decades there has been a lot of important focus on the increasing diversity of different racial and ethnic cultures within our society and how this is and can be reflected in our churches. It delights my heart when I visit churches where people from all over the world worship together, because I know this reflects God's heart, and the picture of heaven which we are promised in the Bible: "After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb." Revelation 7.
However, I think it is important not to forget that there are other cultures in our society which might be less obvious but are just as important and influential. In their book "A Church for the Poor" Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams write about the under-representation of not just the working classes in UK churches, but also of working class culture, including the culture of those who are living in poverty.
Our churches are demonstrating acts of love and service more than ever before to those who are in material need through Food Banks, debt advice, night shelters etc. and this is a reason for great celebration. However, our churches need to be not just working FOR the poor but also made up OF the poor. Organised programmes of support are really important, but it is also crucial that church is a place not only where people can go to for help, but also where they can feel welcome and at home.
After all, the Bible tells us: "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus...There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:26,28. This is not necessarily easy, and involves risk and discomfort, but is also a great joy and blessing.
Martin and Natalie write that "If we surround ourselves with people 'just like us', then we will find it difficult to understand the way that other people think. We'll also miss out on the opportunity to express the beauty of the gospel that crosses all dividing walls and unites us as the people of God……Instead the goal is that we learn to be "immersed in each other's lives even when we're uncomfortable".
So many of the churches I know are places of great love. They welcome people no matter what their background. Let's take it a step further. Let's ensure that the message of welcome is not unconsciously undermined by the predominant culture of the church: that we are not excluding people by only organising social events which cost money, or make reading or learning by listening the only ways to access our services, or subconsciously only allowing those who speak in a particular style or have a particular background to lead.
Let's rejoice in the values of open-house, story-telling, and generosity even when struggling, of closeness with neighbours and willingness to go the extra mile for those who are in need, of living in the present rather than the future. This will only happen through friendships which take risks and cross divides, where people are prepared to learn from each other and receive as well as give. When we are prepared to give up some of ourselves and our own culture in order to embrace the culture of others.
The apostle Paul himself writes that: "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." 1 Corinthians 9:22. Let's pray that as we hold on tight to the cross of Jesus and the call to follow him, that we can recognise the stumbling blocks we might be putting in the way of others as they look towards him, so that our churches can be truly places of multicultural worship.
The image above is courtesy of https://pixabay.com
Anna Heydon is Development Worker for Imagine Norfolk Together in Great Yarmouth, a joint venture between the Diocese of Norwich and the Church Urban Fund, a national organisation set up by the Church of England to combat unmet needs in communities.
Read more about one of their projects here.
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