Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday
October 12, 2022
In May the 16th Assembly passed a resolution to strengthen the Uniting Church’s commitment to living life and faith interculturally through a range of measures.
This included the adoption of a new annual celebration - Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday. We asked Rev Dr Paul Goh, who proposed the Assembly resolution, to explain the thinking behind this new day and how this celebration might encourage us all to think more deeply about how we embrace our identity and life as an Intercultural Church.
By Rev Dr Paul Goh
The gap between what we say and what we do
In 2021, as part of my role of Multicultural & Cross Cultural with the Synod of South Australia, we conducted research with input from 55 UCA ministers and leaders and a further 30 Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) leaders in South Australia, as well as a national conversation with the Assembly’s Being a Multicultural Church Circle.
We found significant gaps between the high level of support for the UCA’s vision of being a multicultural church and the actual implementation of the Church’s statements and resolutions in local congregations.
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, with 33% of us born overseas. The 2021 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) found that of the 37% of church attenders who were born overseas, 28% were born in a non-English speaking country. But compared to other churches or the general population, the Uniting Church has a small proportion of its people born overseas. Only 8.1% of us were born in non-English speaking countries. Our congregations still lag far behind their neighbourhoods and other community institutions in reflecting cultural diversity within the life of the Church. The idea of Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday is to seek ways for us to move forward in realising our vision and commitments. It emerges from a hope that we might become, not just a multicultural church in rhetoric, but a truly Intercultural Church living faith and life cross-culturally.
Going to where our neighbours are
In 1985 the fourth Assembly declared that We are a Multicultural Church. Multiculturalism values tolerance but with no obligation to engage. We need to move from a Multicultural to an Intercultural Framework. We need to be more intentionally intercultural in our worship, service, witness and discipleship and realise this is a two-way process of reciprocity. We’re also called to love our neighbours and relate with them. It’s time to move from a ‘come to us’ paradigm to a paradigm of ‘going where our neighbours are’, discerning and joining in with what God is already doing in our neighbourhood. By doing so, we can enable both Anglo-Celtic congregations and CALD faith communities to flourish and participate in the mission of God as co-pilgrims toward a promised goal that is a renewed and reconciled world.
An opportunity to build relationships
Through planning and observing this annual Sunday Service, we hope to celebrate the UCA being a Multicultural Church and to create an opportunities for congregations and faith communities to connect and build relationships with culturally and linguistically diverse communities in their neighbourhoods. Love your neighbour is the Gospel, the next question is, ‘who is our neighbour’? Who are those with whom we can build relationship and connection, learn about their vibrant faith, language and culture and share in mission and ministry together?
Enriching and renewing our Pentecost vision
Annual observance of Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday will remind, refresh and resource the whole Uniting Church in knowing who we are as a Multicultural and Intercultural Church. We are called to be “a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole” (The Basis of Union, par 3) and that includes the “diverse gifts” showered upon us through being an Intercultural Church. Culturally and linguistically diverse gifts and expressions of faith can enrich and renew the UCA’s Pentecost vision and identity as “a fellowship of reconciliation”, and “a pilgrim people” from First Nations, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Rev 7:9).
What we can do now
There are many things Uniting Church congregations can do. We need what I like to call ‘bridge builders’ who can exercise intercultural humility, intercultural friendship and intercultural competencies in our daily life. For our congregations, I recommend starting what I call a ‘cultural audit’ of our local communities. We need to ask, ‘what is God already doing around us?’ in the culturally and linguistically diverse communities, in our own buildings and others. It is not just about giving, it is also about receiving from others. Why not invite people of other cultures into our own worship space and give them the pulpit to share their faith and preach the gospel, with an openness to listen and be inspired by their faith journey. That is something I would encourage people to consider.
Intercultural Neighbouring Sunday takes place on the 3rd Sunday in July or another date best suited to the local setting. Liturgical, theological, and practical resources will be available for the wider church.
Listen to Rev Dr Paul Goh share more about what changes we can make to become an Intercultural Church on the President’s podcast Dwelling
Read more about the 16th Assembly proposal here