South Australian lessons on being a multicultural church

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If you look around and listen to your local congregation today, would you consider the people there to be of the same background and culture as the congregation of 20 years ago? How many of your congregation’s current members speak a language other than English? How many didn’t grow up in Australia? How many even have a different appearance than most around them?

If you consider that your fellow church members look and sound a bit different than those of 20 years ago, you would not be alone in that conclusion. That’s because immigration is boosting the Christian population in Australia while religious affiliation among those born here is declining.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 24% of people living in South Australia were born overseas. Of those, nearly 50% (49.1%) are Christians.

Because the changing demographics affects the nature and dynamics of Christian communities, churches need to know how to adapt to stay relevant and even grow.

A multicultural church

In 1985, the Uniting Church Assembly made the declaration “We are a multicultural church.” As a Church we continue on our journey to fully realise what it means to be a multicultural church, living faith and life cross-culturally.

“We do this by building relationships that are based on mutual respect, collaboration and recognition of the gifts and calling of peoples of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds,” says UCA South Australia Moderator Rev Sue Ellis.

“We also assist the Church to fully utilise the gifts and calling of members from culturally diverse backgrounds and to continue to develop respectful and reconciling relationships with First Peoples across the life of the church. Additionally, we become multicultural by developing culturally sensitive and appropriate policies that respond to the needs of UCA members and by fostering models of cross-cultural ministry and mission, outreach and evangelism that reflect the hospitality of God.”

Lessons to be learned

Dr David Turnbull, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies at Tabor College, is one of Adelaide’s leading proponents for cross-cultural ministry. In his doctoral thesis David investigated clergy and cultural intelligence amongst UCA and Baptist Churches in South Australia. He believes that there are some key dimensions (theological, cultural and experiential) required by leaders to realise a vision of a multicultural church and will be giving a lecture on these lessons in the last week of October.

Many South Australian communities are composed of people, around half of whom are from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.  CALD ministry in SA works with a network of CALD ministers, pastors and lay leaders from mainstream cultural backgrounds and with diverse communities.

“This includes monocultural communities (who worship in languages like Korean, Fijian and Dinka Bor), intentionally intercultural churches who have significant CALD participation and leadership, and a growing number of mainstream churches who are increasing their capacity to engage with CALD peoples,” says Sue. “Regardless of where your congregation finds itself on this spectrum, there are lessons to be learned from each other.”

David’s lecture is titled: “Capacity building for Multicultural Church: Lessons from a South Australian clergy study.” It is scheduled for Tuesday 29 October at 7:00pm, followed by a light supper, at Tabor College in Millswood, Adelaide. If you would like to attend please book via Eventbrite here.



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