The partnership model

Australia has become the second most cosmopolitan nation in the world. 1 As immigration has increased, Australian communities have become culturally more diverse. In the U.S., Harvey Conn, in his introduction of Manuel Ortiz’s book One New People, points out that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week because Christians tend to gather in ethnic groups.2  Our churches must respond to these changes in the particular contexts in which they are situated. There are doorways for welcoming and engaging in multicultural mission.

One story worth listening to comes out of the multicultural diversity of Syndal Baptist Church (SBC) in Melbourne where the church has responded to increasing populations of Asian migrants. The Vietnamese congregation was formed in the late 1970s and is part of the family at Syndal. A Chinese congregation joined SBC twelve years ago; they had been questioning whether their monocultural migrant ethnic church had a future. They had a multicultural vision that the second generation could be part of an English-speaking congregation, while maintaining a service in the Chinese language for the first-generation. Recently a Korean congregation joined Syndal with the same aspiration. Syndal has also developed room for diversity with the English-speaking and different language congregations developing their own ministries.

A characteristic of this multicultural partnership is the integration of several cultures in the children, youth and young adult ministry areas. According to the Senior Pastor, Bill Brown, the English speaking congregations have also become much more multicultural with people from Asia and many different continents being involved. Here are some practical examples from the life of Syndal:

Volunteer Conversational English classes (3 days a week) commenced because of a growing awareness of the needs of non-English speaking migrants. While aiming to help people from other cultures feel at home in Australia, it has given opportunities to talk about faith as well. More than 100 people attend the classes which are a significant development of the multicultural ministry building relationships.

The Grandparent Program is another positive example of the church’s commitment to multiculturalism. A Chinese pastor said, “Most migrants come as just one nuclear family without grandparents for children and we find this to be a deficit. So we pair them up with older people from the English congregation and it works well. It also improves their English.” This enables intercultural interaction, reflecting the Gospel call to diversity simply by sharing quality time together.

The Chinese congregation of SBC hopes the children will integrate into the English congregation and this still has a way to go. There are barriers relating to the influence of their parents and their culture which may need to be overcome. The Pastor said that the Australian-born Chinese children are still different from other Australian kids. The children are aware that they look different (including their height) and for children this can be a hindrance. Their language is perfect but the social culture is different. For example, ‘When Aussie kids play they make themselves dirty, wet and sometimes injure themselves. The Chinese kids try to avoid all these things. When the Chinese kids can’t play it’s difficult to integrate well, and some haven’t.’ The barrier is more than language; it is about different social behaviour and approaches to play. The combined Sunday School helps them to be Chinese children in an Australian context.

The Partnership model, as illustrated in Syndal’s stories above, highlights the opportunities that are not present in a monocultural congregation. Christians of different ethnic groups are encouraged to see themselves as members of one body and express visibly, their unity in diversity which captures the essence of Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:11-22 and 4:1-16. The tension may always be there but the challenge to find ways to grow together to expand God’s reign remains. Syndal’s mission shows clearly the impact of diversity on the church’s ability to live out the Gospel call to mission. The church website describes SBC as a multicultural church connecting with over 1000 people weekly. Syndal Baptist Church has English, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese speaking congregations.

How would you describe your church in relation to its cultural context?

Meewon Yang is the Non English Speaking Background (NESB) Pastor and Multicultural Consultant with the BUV. There are more than fifty NESB churches in the BUV. Prac 12.
1. Meredith Griffiths, ‘Australia nearly most multicultural nation’, AM: Current Affairs Program, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (17 November 2010), 2. Ortiz, One New People, 10.