“Is your church a multicultural church?” a local clergy friend asked me over coffee one day. In a diverse city like Toronto it is a question often asked of pastors. “Absolutely!” I said with a smile. There is no doubt the congregation in which my husband and I serve is multi-ethnic. Nearly 50  percent of our members are first- or second-generation Canadians, coming from 30 different countries from around the world. “How do you do it?” he asked. That was a question I asked myself more than a decade ago leading me on an 8-year doctoral research project on creating healthy multi-ethnic churches in an increasingly multicultural world. My research generated some helpful tips that congregations can consider.

Become Multicultural before you are “Multicultural”

“Multiculturalism is nice, but it really doesn’t apply to my church or community.” I hear this comment a lot. But is it valid? Many churches don’t realize how multicultural their church and communities are. Lauren Beth Bowers in her book Becoming a Multicultural Church, suggests that culture is not only about race. Culture encompasses gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social status, age and ability. Every person in your church has been influenced by cultural values and experiences. The first step to being multicultural is to see and acknowledge the difference that is all around you. Nurturing a healthy respect for diversity can give your congregation a broader understanding of the worldwide Christian experience and how to relate to others different from you.

Diversify your Leadership

Does your church leadership reflect your congregation’s and community’s demographics? If your church is culturally diverse then the leadership should be culturally diverse too. Make an extra effort to invite people from different cultures and backgrounds to participate in the decision making and other aspects of the mission and ministry of the church. Think about your session, board, ushers and greeters, church school and other committees.

Do Something Different

  • Our church held a cultural bazaar to learn about different cultures around the world. Members provided food samples, artifacts, clothing, and maps to educate others about their family of origin and historical roots.
  • We began offering ESL and conversational English classes for the community.
  • Our youth group held a Games of the World One evening a Korean family in our church taught some traditional Korean games to the youth group. It was fun for all, but it also helped the Korean kids feel more at home.
  • Engage in Bible study techniques that have a different perspective when it comes to considering the scriptural message from the eyes of others. Eric Law offers the Kaleidoscope Bible Study method and can be accessed on line at: https://www.kscopeinstitute.org/free-resources The United Church of Canada also offers a bible study from a postcolonial perspective in That All May Be One: A Resource for Educating toward Racial Justice, Wenh-In Ng, 2004: United Church Publishing House.

Celebrate in Worship

Worship is the central act of a Christian and is the way we express our devotion and love for God, and there are many ways to express our devotion. Learning from other cultures can revive tired worship.

  • Music: We often sing hymns and choruses that are common to worship in other countries. Don’t be afraid to use a variety of instruments in worship too. Remember: most global hymns were not intended to be played on the organ.
  • Lay Participation: Involve different people in the worship leadership. One Pentecost we had nine individuals with microphones recite the Lord’s Prayer in their mother tongue while the rest of us prayed in English. It sounded like what we would imagine Pentecost to have been.
  • We have also provided a space for new immigrants to share their testimonies either in worship or in our congregational newsletter.
  • Try something new: One day we received the offering “African style” by having the congregation dance and sing their offerings to a basket at the front of the sanctuary. It was a powerful experience for all involved.
  • On World Communion Sunday we had a liturgy of the breads and presented breads from around the world and placed them on tables around the Lord’s Table. We then remembered each country in prayer. After Communion we shared the breads and spreads during coffee hour. Go to http://heatherprincedoss.com/bread-from-the-world/ for a sample liturgy.
  • Our church has turned our traditional Scottish heritage night into a Multicultural Night, and at our annual congregational Christmas Dinner people share how they celebrated Christmas in their countries of birth.

Through these small, deliberate acts, our congregation has succeeded in creating a space that welcomes diversity and is drawing closer to the profound vision in Revelation 7:9-12 where every man and woman from every nation with gather to worship at God’s throne in the Kingdom.

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Rev. Dr. Heather J. Vais

Rev. Dr. Heather J. Vais is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. She has a D.Min. in Developing heathy Multi-ethnic churches. Her thesis entitled “Beyond Cordiality: Interpreting Practices of Mutual Hospitality toward Building Interculturally Competent Community at Thornhill Presbyterian Church” can be found on-line at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/77645/6/Vais_Heather_J_201705_DMin_thesis.pdf