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Gary's Update: We're a Multicultural Church for a Multicultural World

posted 26 May 2015, 12:24 by Gary van der Meer   [ updated 18 Jun 2015, 11:45 ]

We are hearing many languages at St. Anne's. Over the past weeks since Easter Sunday, you have heard the scriptures read in Bengali, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin. Pentecost is our celebration of abundance, with nine languages all together. And there are more to come.

We have often heard that Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, but we might not be in the habit of thinking of St. Anne's as a multicultural church.

A multicultural church is actually a great blessing:

Enjoyment - As we hear the scriptures read, I notice the beauty of the sounds, and I find myself waiting to recognize a familiar word as I try to follow along in the English text.

Welcome - A visitor sitting among us on Sunday morning would notice how we're so relaxed about it all. Another language is part of the flow of the liturgy. It's also a tangible sign that our welcome is real and that we are genuinely interested in our world and the gifts of the people in our community.

Knowledge - Have you read along in our Ministry Highlights as we learn the story that goes with each language? You may already be interested in what is happening in our world, or it may seem remote and not especially relevant to your own life. But a multicultural church gives you a personal connection to the events of the world through people you know and care about.

Prayers - We pray differently when we have more knowledge and a deeper connection. Our prayers of gratitude are richer and more deeply felt. And we ask God on behalf of others with greater mindfulness.

As I have asked others about their experiences of multicultural churches, I have come to appreciate how it takes 3 things to make it work:

1. An integrated worship service.We need one place where we come together. This expresses our faith that God loves all people and challenges us to remember that we are all included in God's love. This ends our stereotypes. It also stops the kind of faith where two sides pray to the same God for victory over the other. The truth is that we are all to be one humanity. As a multicultural city, Toronto has many ethnic churches. They all face a great challenge. The first generation builds a prosperous thriving congregation worshiping in their language and celebrating their culture. The second generation wants to be Canadian. Often, the founders end up seeing their beloved church close as their children and grandchildren stop coming. An integrated multicultural church is a better model. It will always be for everyone.

2. Small Groups where people come together. It is so satisfying to feel like you belong and to be in a group where you can speak your language or share your culture. When people are new to Canada, a small group is essential in dealing with loneliness, as a place to ask questions about immigration status, job possibilities, and contact with family members back home. I had a conversation with a priest from Zimbabwe who gathered the Zimbabweans together. It was especially important to them to sing their songs together. Small groups come together based on interest and passion. For example, the St. Anne's Choir gathers people who love to sing, and, more specifically, the St. Anne's Music and Drama Society (MADS) gathers people who love to sing Gilbert & Sullivan. In high schools, Gay/Straight Alliance clubs give support that is much needed by gay and lesbian teens. Multicultural is more than multilingual. It would be great to have more small groups at St. Anne's. Let’s create special ways for people to belong and to receive the support they need.

3. Intentional activities for people to build community across cultures. A church made up of small groups based on language or culture would be a church of jostling cliques if there were no effort to be one community. We need activities and events that help people get to know each other. At St. Anne's, the Sunday service is the most important place for that to happen. Hikes, adult study groups, gardening days, big concerts - these are so important in building shared purpose. You can also be intentional about getting to know people who are different from you. Get together for a meal or a visit. The vitality of our whole community grows when you do this. Maybe you noticed that the membersof our newest group, English Coffee, deliberately don't all sit together on Sunday morning. And, during coffee, they make a point of talking to everyone. It's intentional.

A personal note - I grew up in an immigrant church that was full of first generation Dutch Canadians. It was going strong and full of young families. That church no longer exists. Looking to the future, I hope we can do better than that. Do we want a Toronto where people never get out of their comfort zone, where they only associate with their own kind? Do we even want a world like that? What we want for our world should fill our prayers, and it should begin from our own example.

The Pentecost story tells us that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, people were able to set aside their differences (as symbolized by their different languages) to come together in a new deeper unity.

I propose that our re-enactment of the languages of Pentecost is showing us a promising way to create this unity in our own times. Let's grow into being an integrated multicultural church, with caring supportive small groups and intentional cross-cultural friendships. A multicultural Toronto and our conflicted, multicultural world need churches that can pull this off. May God help us to make it so.

The Rev. Gary van der Meer
May 25, 2015