The vision to build a multicultural Church has become an agenda caught by many inner city Churches whereas; about 10 years ago that was not the trend. Part of the reason for this change has been the recognition and awareness that Britain is a multicultural society therefore Churches should reflect their demographics. Another reason is the development of a theology of cultural diversity which articulates that in Christ all that divides is broken down. This theology takes seriously the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that through him all nations of the earth will be blessed (take note nations plural). This promise which was fulfilled in Christ was further developed by Paul who articulated that the Church is not only meant for Jews but for Gentiles as well (Ephesians 3). Putting this into practice has implications for building a multicultural Church. I have attended many seminars, conferences and talks about multicultural Churches. I have written articles about it, reflected on the subject and involved in a multicultural Church. I am convinced that it is significant at a time in our society where the government thinks it has failed, but I am also convinced that it is not the only model of Church.
The mono-cultural Church or mono-ethnic model is one that has been heavily criticised by many scholars and practitioners of multicultural Churches. I have also critic such model of Church especially if it is in cosmopolitan cities such as London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Swansea, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. So what do I mean by mono-cultural or Mono-ethnic Churches? This will be Churches that have managed to attract for example one nationality such as Sri Lankans, Nigerians, Jamaicans, or Brazilians. This could also be Churches that have attracted a particular age group such as youth or young adults. It could also be a Church that has a group of people with something in common such as skate Church, pub Church, and biker’s Church. For the purpose of this article my attention will be focused on mono-cultural or mono-ethnic Churches that have attracted one nationality. The question is whether we should seek to change mono-cultural Churches into a multicultural Church or leave it as it is?
Some of the mono-cultural Churches I have come across did not intend to be mono-cultural rather this has happen with a combination of factors. Among such factors is the reality that new immigrants find it difficult to integrate into the British system and society therefore identity and belonging is found in their particular cultural or ethnic groupings. Mono-cultural Churches then becomes a community hub where people’s identity is affirmed. This is also true for British people living in Spain and in France where they are also known to live together in a particular area speaking English as oppose to Spanish or French. This only reinforces the fact that the issue of identity and belonging is crucial for any people living as minority in another country. If this point is taken, then I want to argue that Churches such as Black Majority Churches, Chinese Churches, Brazilian Churches and so on still have something to offer which could be easily lost in a multicultural Church. What they offer is that affirmation of people’s identity and sense of belonging. This becomes even more significant when it is understood that Britain is not post racial as we like to think. Racial prejudice still exists within British institutions such as the police as well as locally when white flight is experienced in residential areas, pubs, schools and Churches. In addition, the term non EU immigrants or coloured immigrants, aside from the fact that these are perceived by the public as intruders wanting to take over our country, are loaded terminologies that reinforces racial stereotypes. Mono-cultural Churches are therefore that place of solidarity and where coloured immigrant’s identities are nurtured.
Does this mean Churches that are mono-cultural should not seek to be multicultural? There is no straight forward answer to this, but I know from experience that it is very difficult to change an already established mono-cultural Church into a multicultural Church. I am not saying it is not possible, but what I am saying is that to go on that journey requires hard work and time. I am also saying in addition that in a case where a Church is already established as a mono-cultural Church rather than changing the dynamics, could the solution be that such a Church seek to work in ecumenical partnership with another Church that is different in ecclesiology, theology and culture? This model of ecumenical partnership is already been put into practice when Churches share buildings. Many Black Majority Churches, Asian Churches and Churches of South American origin rent from British Historic Churches such as Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, United Reformed and Catholic Churches. Some of these relationships have progressed beyond landlord/tenant to meaningful ecumenical engagement. In such cases, the affirmation of immigrant’s identity is preserved while at the same time ecumenical relation with another Church is worked out.
Another model, which favours cultural diversity, is to plant a Church with different cultures represented from the start of the Church plant. This means that in a group of those planting a Church, there should be a Black African or Caribbean, White British, an Asian or South American. This will not necessary solve all the problems but it means that different cultures are at least represented from the start of that Church. This will position the Church and give it an advantage to attract people from different cultures and ethnicities. This is easier said than done as I have not put this into practice but I am hoping to implement this one day. I know fresh expressions of Church agencies such as Urban Expression is interested in this Church model. While I cannot comment much about this Church model, I am convinced from research and experience that the mono-cultural Church model of working in ecumenical partnership with another Church is one that is working.