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Is Everyone Really Welcome Here? The Challenges of Multiculturalism in the UCC

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”

A familiar slogan, this theme of the StillSpeaking campaign, but is it really true?  Is it true in your local church?  Think back to last Sunday. Who did you sit with in church?  Did they look like you?  Did they talk like you?  Did they speak your language?

We struggle to become a multicultural church but cultural differences, language differences, worship styles and the comfort of the familiar continue to segregate us.  Few churches are able to blend comfortably.  Several have made attempts; some have been successful, others have not. 

Even the successful ones are not truly multicultural, but are, instead, churches which have welcomed individuals from outside their culture to be part of theirs.  While many Euro-American churches have invited Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans into their congregations and have taken on some of their cultural traditions, overall they remain Euro-American churches.  Asian church members often speak English and invite other ethnic groups to worship with them, but their worship and fellowship remain culturally Asian.

What should a multicultural church look like?  I invite you to picture my “ideal scenario.”  You walk into the Narthex and are greeted by the ushers.  Looking down the aisle, you see people of all ethnicities sitting together.  Songs are sung in several languages – Spanish, Samoan and English, perhaps – and range in style from traditional hymns to gospel and praise music.  The sermon is preached in English with on-screen translations provided in the languages spoken by congregants.   Scripture is read in each language.

During the week, Bible studies in those languages are offered, as is a cultural studies class designed to help everyone embrace both the cultures represented in the church and others.  Dances, concerts and plays representing various cultural styles are held throughout the year.

Does your church fit this bill?  Mine doesn’t.  If you were to visit the First Samoan Church of Los Angeles you would see a beautifully harmonious group of people, all smiling, all dressed alike.  They greet one another in Samoan and speak but little English – that mostly for the sake of the younger members.  They enjoy worshiping in their own style and, while hospitable to visitors, they are not prepared to change their ways to become multicultural.

Becoming a multicultural church takes time.  We must learn about each other, growing in our understanding of how others worship and experience God.  We must start slowly, but we MUST start.  Being nurtured in our own heritage is good and we do not want to lose that.  We experience God, church and worship differently because God created us differently.  In these differences we are blessed by our Creator to see God in other cultures, hear God’s voice in other languages and find God’s love in the tension of diversity.

I invite you to visit my church, First Samoan Church of Los Angeles.  Come and see how the Samoans worship, hear how we praise and sing God in our exuberant style.  Step out of your comfort zone and take a faith journey to Los Angeles.

I, in turn, will encourage the members of our Samoan congregation to visit you.  Are you ready for them?   Will they feel welcome among you?
Are you ready to journey towards being a multicultural church?   God has more to say to us about how different cultures and ethnicities can live in harmony.  God is still speaking!

Comments

2 Responses to “Is Everyone Really Welcome Here? The Challenges of Multiculturalism in the UCC”
  1. Bruce Jones says:

    Becoming a multi-cultural church is perhaps the most difficult challenge facing our churches today. I am grateful that we are making beginnings in the Southern California-Nevada UCC, but we have a long way to go.

  2. garry curley says:

    Dear Sepu,
    Thankyou for your article on multiculturism in the Church.I happen to be experiencing a multicultural experience here in Western Sydney with a Samoan Missionary Church.I have been attending the Church services now for six weeks and feel as if i have experienced God in very new and delightful ways.

    I agree with your comments above about multiculturism and worship.Yes a culture should maintain its own identity with itself and God.

    I have been an Australian resident for 55 years now,i have a european background mainly Irish/English.

    The most important part of being in Gods Church are the people.My first meeting with the Samoan people in Sydney was a delight. Experiencing worship in the Samoan way was altogether new to me as an Aussie believer.My heart was warmed in the meeting,hearing Gods people worshipping in the Samoan language was very new to me.The Pastor warmly welcomed me during the meeting, and i had a chance to acquaint myself with other members of the Church as well.The friendliness and humour of the Samoan people also warmed my heart.The children are particularly fun loving and laughter seems resonate among these children which also delights my heart.

    In the last six weeks i have learnt more about the Samoan culture than i ever new before.Its been amazing to me to see how Gods love permeates through a different culture to my own.God is amazing and so are his people.The pastor and his wife have been so kind and loving towards me.My heart is still warm.Bless you in your efforts to establish a multicultural Church,my knowledge of Samoan culture has helped me understand the Samoan people and their worship of the one true God in Jesus Christ.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Garry.

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