Pentecost 5A. 2008
A Liturgy is also available
BEING A MULTICULTURAL CHURCH...
Nearly 10 years ago, when I was a little more enthusiastic about things Synod,
I remember receiving the Working Papers and list of elective workshops
for the then up-and-coming Synod meeting in Sydney.
In that information was an elective called: ‘Possibilities for a multicultural church’.
Let me share with you some of the things I remember
which were recorded in those notes.
The NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia
is centred on the most multicultural part of Australia.
Over 40% of all immigrant arrivals to Australia finish up in NSW.
23% of all people in Australia have one parent born overseas -
a category to which I belong.
We have over 70 mono-ethnic migrant congregations in NSW
and about 17% of UCA membership
are people of non-English speaking background.
But have we taken seriously what it means
to be the church in such a multicultural setting?
The notes then went on to outline the two main responses
Uniting Church people have given in the past.
The first says:
‘Migrants should learn to assimilate as quickly as possible. We have plenty of half-full churches... let them join one of these and learn to do things the Uniting Church way’.
The second says:
‘We’ll do our thing, you do yours. The occasional migrant ethnic presentations at Synod are entertaining, but not crucial to what is happening in our local scene, so let those folks get on with their thing’.
Both these responses are inadequate. Neither response takes seriously
the migrant experience of pain and dislocation
and neither engages with the other culture in a serious dialogue.
At the Fourth National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Sydney in 1985,
a Statement called The Uniting Church is a multicultural church
was adopted by that Assembly.
It was an historic and bold commitment. Parts of that Statement read as follows:
“The fact that our membership comprises people of many races, cultures and languages, is a reminder that the church is both product and agent of mission...
“It is essential therefore to provide for full participation of Aboriginal and ethnic people, women and men, in decision making in the councils of the church.
“Opportunities should be made... for bilingual worship, and for fellowship across racial and cultural boundaries.
“The Uniting Church welcomes those Christians of other church traditions who find in the Basis of Union and the life of the Uniting Church a faith community of which they want to be part...
Twenty years later, in 2005, and during another National Assembly,
29 songs had been received by the judges in a
Multicultural Song Writing Competition.
One of the entries was called ‘Celebration Song’ written by a Linda Sutton.
Let’s listen to the words:
We celebrate the difference,
in union with the Son,
And by (the) Holy Spirit,
Are blended into one.
We celebrate traditions, and make them each our own;
In many kinds of cultures, we serve to make you known.
And when the Word is spoken, and heard in every tongue;
beneath the Southern Cross, O Lord, you blend us into one.
We celebrate your presence, in many different ways.
While worshipping together, we offer you our praise.
And when the bread is broken, and when we take the wine;
beneath the Southern Cross, O Lord, your people all combine.
We celebrate your Spirit, in you there's no divide.
In loving one another, we serve you side by side.
Together as your people, forgiven, loved and free;
beneath the Southern Cross, O Lord, preserve our unity.
Many of the documents we call the New Testament,
reflect a certain multiculturalism in their shaping.
Even though those stories have Jesus being primarily concerned about Jews,
some of those same stories have him later changing his mind
and including people who were not Jews.
According to a new book I received this week, its author, Barrie Wilson,
outlines (and challenges) how the Acts of the Apostles presents the dominant model
of how the early christian movement becoming multinational:
“…under the vigorous impetus of Paul, this new religious enterprise moved out of Jerusalem into other countries – into modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, and Italy. Acts portrayed Christianity as friendly to Roman values, positioning it so effectively that ultimately it would become the official religion of the Mediterranean world” (Wilson 2008:131-32).
But it also appears, scholars tell us, the early movements
did not find Matthew’s so-called ‘great commission’ warning for instance,
and written before Acts, an easy ‘commission’ to follow.
Nevertheless, over time, and not without a struggle as I said,
the Jesus Movement, Christian Judaism and then the Christ Movement
did become a multi-racial, multicultural community.
And the result, locally, here in Australia?
People of different cultures bring
new images for the expression of the gospel, and
new insights into the gospel and perspectives on it.
Multiculturalism faces us with challenges and sometimes
makes us feel uncomfortable, but it also holds out a promise.
For a multicultural church is both an inclusive church
and a sign of hope within the community.
It binds all people together in the name of love.
It works for justice and peace for all.
It is able to adjust to the changes of our time and life.
On this day, Multicultural Sunday, people of the Uniting Church in Australia
like us, are gathering for worship.
And on this Sunday that worship in the Uniting Church in Australia
will be spoken and sung and prayed in more than 100 different languages,
around a quarter of the number of languages spoken in Australia.
On this day, Multicultural Sunday, we at St James in Canberra share in that great celebration.
For on this day we:
• acknowledge those here who have come from another culture...
• affirm them in their ministry among those of us who are Anglo Celtic...
• celebrate the enriching contribution all have made to each other’s lives... and
• join together in becoming a sign of hope and reconciliation in our community.
“Celebration Song” in Mission Prayer Handbook 2006. ‘God’s word, God’s world. NSW: Sydney. Uniting Church National Assembly.
Wilson, B. 2008. How Jesus Became Christian. Canada. Random House.