Being a Multicultural Church

Christ born into every culture

Circle Advocate Rev. Dr Matagi Vilitama shares a Christmas message.

Christmas is a time for family and community in most cultures. It is one time in the year when families travel to spend quality time with loved ones and enjoy being in communion with one another.

In many island cultures, the umu or lovo (earth oven) is central in the festive season – an event where everyone gathers around to tutala (share stories), reaffirm relationships through worship, singing, dancing and feasting together. These occasions take into consideration those who are less fortunate in the community. The festive umu represents peace, hope, joy, love, giving, reciprocity, family, community, relationships, celebration and fun.

Christmas highlights love as the greatest ethic of all. Love enables us to transcend barriers that prevent us from being a church who is called to envelop all types of peoples and cultures. At the last Assembly, the resolution on the same gender marriage had the potential to be divisive within the Church. Since then, it has also reminded us about the ethic of love, the resilience of hope and the ability to live in tension and navigate ourselves within polarised understandings.

For our circle, Advent and Christmas is a story of God breaking barriers. The essence of the nativity narrative is that of God breaking into our world – not on a stallion with a sword in hand but by being born into a young engaged couple. God comes to us humbling and emptying Godself into human skin taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7 ESV). Over the last few months, Uniting Church national conferences have celebrated their unique identities, at the same time recognising and intentionally breaking new ground with second and third generations, working with them to identify and begin to assist with their pressing issues.

Cultural and linguistic diverse (CALD) communities celebrate the idea that Jesus was born a Jew in a lowly manger and raised in a Jewish culture. He grew up speaking Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and possibly Latin. The itinerant preacher was comfortable in his own skin yet able to cross borders and move freely across cultural boundaries. Jesus was cross-cultural. Christmas reminds our CALD communities that Christ is born into every culture and speaks all our beautiful languages.

Yes, we love the fact that we will celebrate Christmas in the Uniting Church by worshipping and singing carols in more than 29 languages (and many more Aboriginal languages). How that beautiful sound, the uniqueness of costumes, expression in dances and the taste of many delicious ethnic delicacies will make our celebrations even more special!

Events such as the Christmas umu are needed in our world where individualism rules the day. We are very mindful of those who have fallen on a wayside, sleeping rough and finding Christmas a lonely time. Let us not just remember but be in solidarity with the isolated, abused and disadvantaged because of their age, gender, ethnic or cultural difference.

From ‘Being a Multicultural Church Circle’, I pray peace, hope, joy and love in abundance for you and your community. Here’s wishing you a very merry Christmas and a safe new year.

Matagi Jessop Vilitama