On Monday, I wrote this article outlining why we do not want to plant homogeneous churches (nor to be one) and why we reject the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Yesterday, I outlined some of the problems that ensure when we take the stand that we do. Despite the claims of some, planting multicultural churches and being truly diverse is not without significant and ongoing difficulties. You can read that post here.
Today, despite being clear that we intend to be a genuinely culturally diverse church, I wanted to write today about how we have failed to live up to that ideal. So, in no particular order, here is where we have struggled.
This is, without doubt, the biggest issue and the one on which we are far from successful. There are, of course, some reasons beyond our control as to why we don’t have any Iranian or Afghan elders. But the fact remains that we don’t. All of our elders are white British, university educated men.
We have had some (minor) success in bringing Iranians onto our diaconate. This is positive and is evidence that we aren’t, as a fellowship, blocking such moves. But in terms of bringing diversity to our eldership – whilst it is something we are actively seeking to achieve – has proven more difficult. One of the more encouraging comments I have ever heard, however, came from an Iranian man as we were restating our desire to see Iranian people raised up to eldership. He simply said, ‘but we don’t want Iranian people to be elders because they’re Iranian, we want the right people to be elders because they’re qualified wherever they’re from.’
We do attempt to translate as much of what goes on into Farsi. So, we are clearly making efforts to be as inclusive as we are able. We do sing songs in Farsi as a congregation (the Brits sing in Finglish – Farsi transliterated English) and we permit those who speak different languages to pray in their mother tongue during our time of open prayer, knowing that it serves a large section of the congregation. We also have a time of testimony in which our Iranian brothers and sisters often contribute, where translation comes from Farsi into English.
But there can be no denying that we are not bi-lingual on an equal footing. English is clearly our main operative language, with as much translated into Farsi as we are able. As I mentioned in my original post, there is a rightness to that given that we are a church in England and so it makes most sense to primarily operate in the majority language. But as culturally diverse as we would like to be, it is clear that Farsi remains very much the second language. It is also fair to say that we don’t have the means to translate into the mother tongue of the the handful of Kurdish Sorani, Arabic, Spanish, Romanian or Latvian speakers who we frequently find with us (or who are around periodically) and thus they have no expression of their language present because we have no means to achieve it as yet.
Expressions of culture
It would be wrong to say we are devoid of any expressions of other cultures. We do, on occasion, sing well-known hymns, to tunes we know, in Finglish (Farsi transliterated English). We have also celebrated Nowruz together in the past and, were it not for lockdown, have done so again this year. Likewise, when we hold church lunches, our table is replete with food from Persia, Africa, Barbados, Eastern Europe as well as very local Oldham cuisine. In terms of dress, nobody is particularly expected to wear any particular style of clothing and most wear whatever makes them comfortable and feel free to express their culture should they wish. Whilst most end up looking alike, we have had some Africans who tended to wear the preferred clothes from their culture.
But the reality is that our services still remain fairly British. On one level, this is right and proper because we are a church in Britain. Again, it would be odd to be in the UK and yet look nothing like the local culture in which we are sited. But, if we are trying to reflect the diversity of cultures in our midst, this is something we are going to have to keep reviewing.