Manchester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK. So it
was an appropriate venue for a conference on intercultural church
last month. We caught up with OMF’s Grace Robinson, who was part of
the organising committee, to find out more.
Manchester hosted its first intercultural church day conference on
14th January 2023. Over 100 people gathered in person with many more
joining online. It was a venture kickstarted by recently retired Rev
Canon Phil Rawlings, co-founder and director of the Manchester Centre
for the Study of Christianity and Islam. It was a true collaboration
as Phil sought to involve different individuals and organisations
which is how I came to be involved through my
role at Holy Trinity Platt and OMF (UK)!
A small group of us met together to plan the conference. It was great
to work alongside Christians from four continents representing several
different organisations including Intercultural Churches UK, the
Evangelical Alliance, Afro Diaspora Mission Network, the Resonance
band and Songs2 Serve. OMF provided excellent publicity and Life
Church in Sale were brilliant hosts – their facilities and help were invaluable.
Why have a conference on intercultural church?
But what was the purpose of the conference? And what is the
significance of Intercultural Church apart from it being a new buzz
word! According to the Council of Europe, Manchester is one of the
most culturally diverse cities in the UK. ‘In fact, Manchester is the
only local authority outside of London with residents within each of
the 90 detailed ethnic groups listed in the Census. Over 153
languages are spoken in our schools and it is one of six cities in the
UK and sixty cities worldwide, that is designated as an ‘intercultural city’.
This is why Intercultural Church is important: it is the context
Manchester churches are working in and we need to be reaching out to
the people of our city. Mission overseas is still necessary but our
churches cannot simply send people to far-flung destinations and
ignore the people from those very countries who live and work
alongside us. We need to recognise that not only do we need to reach
out to people in mission but we need to provide space in our churches
to hear from people who have come to us with a missionary fervour and
Mission overseas is still necessary but our churches
cannot simply send people to far-flung destinations and ignore
the people from those very countries who live and work alongside us.
Listening to diverse voices
For me, the
strength of the conference was the variety of voices that were heard.
It was a visual reminder that the centre of world Christianity has
shifted: we heard from church leaders from Nigeria, Ghana, Peru and
Korea as well as white British and British-born Chinese. Rev Dr Israel
Oluwole Olofinjana was our keynote speaker and eight practitioners
shared their perspectives on intercultural mission, church, worship,
and a UK-wide perspective. The attendees were also of many different
ethnicities. Our hope was that the attendees would be a mixture of
church leaders and church goers. Most people I spoke with were church
goers who had experienced changes in the demographics of their
churches but recognised that their churches had not responded to this
change. People were being kept on the margins rather than invited to
become fully participating members. Church leaders did attend but
interestingly the majority were not white British.
We need to recognise that not only do we need to reach
out to people in mission but we need to provide space in our
churches to hear from people who have come to us with a
missionary fervour and mandate.
I will leave you with a very brief summary of why, according to
Rev Dr Israel, intercultural church is important and also two
challenges that grabbed my attention.
Intercultural church is important because:
- the UK is increasingly diverse: our mission field is multicultural
- God created one human race made up of diverse people groups: so
our churches need to reflect God’s anthropology.
- Jesus died for all people. The fragmentation that happened as the
result of sin was dealt with at the cross: we the church can be a
living picture of this restoration.
- We are called to love our neighbour and so our churches need to be
spaces where this can happen: we must be places of reconciliation
between divided communities.
Finally, two particular challenges I took away…
1. Why is it that we equate intelligence with speaking the
English language and how many people do we dismiss or not even give
the opportunity to speak because of this assumption?
2. Why is it that when white missionaries go overseas, many will
be given a platform to speak straight away and yet church leaders from
the Majority World can sometimes spend years waiting before being
given the opportunity to speak in our churches?
If you’re interested in learning more about intercultural
church, here are some good places to start:
- Welcome – Intercultural Churches
United Kingdom (icuk.network)
People Commission – Evangelical Alliance (eauk.org)
- Homepage – Songs2Serve
You may also be interested in:
- Grace’s article ‘Moving
beyond multicultural church?’ for our Billions magazine, about
her role at Holy Trinity Platt as an intercultural worker.
Thanks to the Evangelical Alliance One People Commission for
sharing their photos from the day with us.