- Current Work in Learning to Become an Intercultural Church
Both congregations are aware that we have been very white middle class congregations historically. While we use language that shows a desire to be welcoming and diverse, we often are unaware of the ways we unintentionally create barriers for those who come from other cultures or for whom English is not their first language. As the make up of our city and country becomes more diverse, we are called to rise to the challenge to become more intercultural in our approach and in our leadership.
In 2016, St Aidan’s applied for a grant to begin an intercultural ministry which has included both outreach to the intercultural community through ESL and other programs. It has also sought to offer intercultural workshops and experiences to its members on a monthly basis and found ways to integrate the intercultural community into some areas of its life and work. In 2018 CBUC joined in that process and monthly workshops with a strong turnout began once a month after Sunday worship and lunch. Both congregations have been learning what it means to see the world through another person’s eyes, culture and experience.
A recent report to St Aidan’s by a group of intercultural business students hired to look at their congregation through that lens has made a number of recommendations of possible ways to be more welcoming and of ways to be of service to and with new immigrants and those coming from other cultures to Victoria. These learnings will be incorporated into the new ministry plan and staffing model as we move forward.
2. Current Work in Learning to be a Church that takes the Call to Reconciliation Seriously.
Both congregations have a commitment to land and territory acknowledgement at the beginning of all that they do in public life. Each is committed to learning more about what it means to be involved in the reconciliation movement in adopting the calls to the church from the TRC.
In 2006, CBUC made a very conscious decision to be involved in what would later become known as the reconciliation movement. Building on the apologies of the United Church to First Nations communities for residential schools and for our participation in the genocide of their culture, they embarked on relationship building and educational programs to widen the circle of people knowledgeable of our role as individuals and as a church in the colonization of indigenous peoples. Over the last 12+ years they have been leaders in the presbytery in hosting learning events, securing grants, hosting theatre groups and working with Indigenous leaders to forge new ways of being in community together. Tough conversations have happened in what has been experienced by members of both communities as a safe place to do this work.
CBUC was present when the TRC came to Victoria in 2012 as witnesses to listen to the stories of those who suffered at residential schools. Over 40 members of CBUC attended for some or all of the commission’s work here in Victoria. They have hosted the blanket exercise a number of times as well as the deepening workshop that is a follow up of a day long experience called “The Villages”; more than 80 people participated in that pivotal event as well.
A significant portion of our local outreach dollars support Indigenous partners in the pursuit for justice. A recent court case won by the Beaver Lake Cree supported by RAVEN, one of CBUC’s partners, released a press release with the following words: To run a national campaign in support of Beaver Lake Cree RAVEN has teamed up with some amazing partners! The Leap, Cadboro Bay United Church, ENvironnement JEUnesse, Justice Climatique Montréal et Climate Justice Edmonton: we couldn’t have done it without you!
St. Aidan’s involvement with living out the TRC recommendations has been more haphazard than systematic over the years. A group attended the TRC in Victoria and was moved by the stories. Connections were made after that with First Nations People but often in the form of crafting. The youth group were taught by an elder how to do felting and under her leadership made a Christmas nativity set which is still in use. There has been a
drumming workshop, a Sunday speaker from the Songhees Wellness Centre, a congregational tour of the Songhees Wellness Centre in Esquimalt, as well as a congregational bus trip to the Quw’utsun Cultural Centre
in the Cowichan Valley. They are looking forward to having a more systematic approach to living out the TRC recommendations with CBUC.
3. Lining Up with the Two New Mandates of the National Church
Intercultural: In its newest document entitled “Vision for becoming an Intercultural church” these words are found: God exists in community, and we are invited to be in community together. Being an intercultural church means living together with a respectful awareness of each other’s differences. We do this by examining ourselves, building relationships, and distributing power fairly.
Individually and in community, we do everything through the lenses of our cultures: there is no such thing as a culture-free perspective. Our experiences and understandings are shaped by our cultures. Since we cannot capture the complexity of God through our limited cultural understandings, our understanding of God is limited when we see this God through only one dominant cultural perspective. Instead, our understandings of God and our scriptures can be deepened when we come together, as disciples of Jesus Christ, in all of our differences and diversities to acknowledge intercultural reality and richness.
We strive to become an intercultural church to deepen our understandings and experiences of God and of one another. Within the United Church, a variety of cultural expressions of faith are affirmed and welcomed. Part of the vision of the intercultural church is to create a space where we can sustain our own cultural identities while also affirming those of one another.
St Aidan’s has been ahead of the curve in the contracting with Julie Ng and beginning the work at integrating folks into the life and work of the church. CBUC has engaged wholeheartedly and going forward as an amalgamated community of faith, we will make this aspect of what it means to be a diverse community a new priority. Like the national church, we will use this lens to evaluate what we are doing, decisions we are making and leadership we are asking to sit at the table as we move forward. In our new staffing model, intercultural ministry will have an important function and we will seek to align ourselves with the national church strategy on this. We have the foundation on which to build.
Reconciliation: The calls to the church emerged from a process of discernment by the Indigenous church as The United Church of Canada as a whole discerned a way forward, following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Under the guidance of the Aboriginal Ministries Council (now the National Indigenous Council), the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle, a group of Indigenous leaders from across The United Church of Canada, gathered throughout 2016 and 2017 and gave oversight to consultations with Indigenous communities of faith during that same period. Calls to the church were the result of these conversations. Calls to the church articulates the Indigenous Church’s vision for the ongoing development of Indigenous Peoples’ mission and ministry and communities of faith within The United Church of Canada. It outlines pathways for the whole church to continue to walk in the Spirit of Christ toward justice, healing, and reconciliation.
There are many recommendations, some of them specific to the work of the national church and some of them related to the everyday work of communities of faith (you can read them all online united-church.ca). Many of them are about relationship building and about decolonizing our theology, language and way of being. These are important steps that CBUC has been on the leading edge in what was Victoria Presbytery. We again have a foundation on which to build. One of the calls to the church in this document is a sharing of wealth when land sales and transfers take place. This has been affirmed also by the region and we will faithfully need to engage this as we leverage our property assets if we want the land acknowledgements we make each Sunday to remain authentic.