At the 40th General Council in Kelowna, 2009, the following report stated:
Becoming an Intercultural Church Community:
In 2006, at the 39th General Council, The United Church of Canada committed itself to becoming an intercultural church. Intercultural is often described as “mutually reciprocal relationships among and between cultures.” In Canada, many are familiar with the term “multicultural”, which can result in somewhat surface-level celebrations of food, folk, and festivals, with polite social interactions, but without deep learning.
Our “intercultural” commitment promises to take us much deeper. The vision of an intercultural church calls all of us to move to becoming mutually welcoming and racially just communities. It calls us all toward transformation. In an intercultural church, no culture dominates another, all are welcomed and celebrated, obstacles to full participation and leadership are removed, power dynamics are deconstructed, and racial justice prevails.
No one is left unchanged in the intercultural process: some examine their own culture more deeply, some are changed through their interaction with others, and some learn more about what it means to be in intentional intercultural community together. Intercultural is not a substitute for “ethnic,” rather, it is whole way of being church together that goes beyond ethnicity, race, culture, language.
While intercultural is relatively new to the United Church, it is also very old: it reignites the vision given at Pentecost (Acts 2). At Pentecost, people came from many different cultures and backgrounds, but each person heard God’s word in their own language. No one had to give up their identity; God’s Spirit brought them together in a new way.
Understanding Culture and Racialized:
Culture is a way of being: it includes ways of life, values, norms, institutions, behaviours, rules, and guidelines, which are often passed down from one generation to another. At times, people do not realize how greatly culture influences their behaviour until they come across other ways of doing things. The intercultural church seeks to create new cultural ways of being together in community, guided by God’s Spirit.
In describing the intercultural church, a term called “racialized” is increasingly used. A term which may be new to many, racialized includes people who are racial minority, bi-racial, Aboriginal, or Métis. “Racialized” is a more inclusive alternative to “racial minority.” In any culture, those in the majority may be oblivious of their own race. But those who are perceived as belonging to a minority often find racial labels thrust upon them. Further, the term “minority” has implications of power, in terms of how who are named as “minority” and “majority.” As we seek to stretch ourselves beyond the familiar, we also seek new language in describing diverse cultural communities.
Creating an Intercultural Space:
The intercultural church seeks ways of being church together based on deep dialogue and mutual understanding. It calls us to find commonalities among our many differences and to engage in deep relationships. It calls us to create valuable spaces for people to gather in community, to learn from one another, and to nurture better places of belonging. And, it calls us to mutuality.
Such intercultural spaces do not happen by accident: they are created with intention and guided by God’s Spirit. At this General Council, we are seeking to create intentional intercultural spaces; one of the ways in which we will be doing this is by prayerfully naming an intercultural litany each day.
As we seek to intentionally create intercultural spaces and encounters, there may be insights in the Respectful Community Guidelines, developed by the Rev. Eric H.F. Law. These guidelines are often affirmed in community gatherings, and may help guide our intercultural encounters:
R = take Responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others
E = engage in Empathetic listening
S = be Sensitive to differences in communication styles
P = Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak
E = Examine your own assumptions and perceptions
C = keep Confidentiality
T = Trust ambiguity because we are not here to debate who or what is right or wrong
As we create this space together, we trust the Spirit, knowing that we will make mistakes, but also giving thanks for the gifts of grace and forgiveness on our mutual journeys of transformation.
Questions for Reflection in Becoming an Intercultural Church:
In your conversations and encounters, you may choose to hold these questions with you:
- What additional values could we hold in an intercultural space? What would we hope to not bring to the intercultural space?
- What will help stretch us beyond the familiar?
- How can we intentionally uphold the RESPECT guidelines in our conversations?
- In what ways can we be conscious of the spoken, and unspoken, cultural norms that consistently value some voices more than others?
- Did our members share responsibility for raising cultural awareness, or racial justice, concerns or did the “watchdog” role fall to only a few?
- Am I aware of my own cultural biases and notions of “normal”?
- Am I intentionally creating space for others, and learning from each other?
- In our conversations, do we continue to draw on diverse cultural traditions in prayer, song, and language for God?
- Did anyone feel they were not heard because of their culture or racial identity?