INSTITUTIONAL racism is still “very pervasive”, including in the Church of England, a conference on intercultural mission has heard.
More than 100 churchpeople from around the UK met on 26 April for the first Intercultural Mission Conference in the Church of England. It was hosted by St Paul’s, Slough, which is the Intercultural Mission Resourcing Hub in the diocese of Oxford.
A series of seminars explored themes of intercultural mission — from worship to gospel-preaching to facing the challenge of white privilege.
In one of the keynote speeches, the Revd Guy Hewitt, who is the Church of England’s Racial Justice Director, said that the Church was “at an inflection point” in terms of combating institutional racism and promoting true racial and cultural equality.
Referring to the title of a report from the Archbishops’ Anti-racism Taskforce (News 23 April 2021), Mr Hewitt said: “[The Church] is trying to move from word to deed, from lament to action . . . to realise those five Marks of Mission which include transforming unjust structures and giving full meaning to Vision and Strategy of being more diverse and fully representing the communities that we live amongst and serve.”
He went on to speak of the diversity represented in the Census 2021, and the need for the Church to bring to its centre growing worshipping traditions. “We are not talking about putting people side by side, but bringing them together to be united as one, as we are asked to be as members of the one body in Christ,” he said.
“We face a situation, politically and culturally, where institutional racism is still very pervasive.”
Referring to the Lambeth Palace Library slavery exhibition (News, 13 January, Comment, 3 March) and other church and national projects, he said: “We are only now starting to tell the truth and come to terms with the inglorious past. And we need to interrogate and be reconciled to it, if we are to go forward, if we are to give meaning to this call, to be truly intercultural: to be able to treat each other with the love and humanity that our faith calls us to do.”
He concluded: “It is not easy. There is a big challenge within churches because, for many of us, we like to stay in our comfort zones; we like to sing in languages we know; we like to listen to stories that are familiar to us. But we are being challenged here to dare to be different.”
In another keynote speech, Canon Mark Poulson, a former interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflected on the concept of intercultural mission in the Church. “Interculturalism is not the same as multiculturism,” he said.
“It’s not about the passive acceptance and tolerance of multiple cultures in one place. It’s about the dynamic exchange and interchange of cultural capital, individually and corporately. It’s not about a cosy, comfortable appreciation of the food, dress, and music of others — it’s about iron sharpening iron. The Church as the body of Christ is incomplete without every culture, every people group, every tribe, every language being fully represented.”
The conference was the launchpad of the Anglican Network of Intercultural Churches, and a new intercultural mission journal, The Oxford Journal for Intercultural Mission, edited by the Vicar of St Paul’s, the Revd Dr Tim Wambunya. His church has been involved in intercultural mission for more than 25 years, he said, with a congregation of multiple cultures and ethnicities, including Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Iranians, Kenyans, Nigerians, and Somalians.