Many years ago I attended an Anglican Church conference for young people that demonstrated to me some of the best and worst of Church welcome and inclusion. I have sought to bring these learnings into my various Anglican Church Southern Queensland roles.
There were hundreds of young delegates from all around the world at the conference. On one particular day, a group of delegates was split up accidentally at a very busy train station. Being in an unfamiliar place and language complications subsequently made it difficult for them to find each other. The following day, one of the young delegates who got lost was made fun of publicly by the conference organiser. The delegate was left feeling absolutely humiliated, largely because in his culture being singled out in such a way was considered very shameful. This was an important lesson for me in cultural competency.
During the conference, the daily keynote speaker addressed us in English for a solid hour. Many of the international delegates from countries where English is not an official language could read English quite well, but were unable to process all the information shared verbally during the course of an hour. Many also found it impossible to understand the accents of diverse English speakers. A friend of mine and I asked the conference organiser if people could have the option of receiving the talks the night before, so they could be read ahead of the hour-long speeches to facilitate comprehension and inclusion. Our request was declined, so my friend and I instead assisted as many people as we could with understanding what the keynote speakers said.
Another opportunity missed by the conference organisers was consulting with delegates in the lead up to the event about culturally appropriate foods. The food was often cold, bland and un-filling, with bread being the primary staple served. Cold cucumber sandwiches are not enjoyed universally.
However, towards the end of the conference, delegates were invited to a dinner at a local church. It was clear from the start of the evening that the church community understood what hospitality and community are about. Everyone was made to feel warmly welcomed, valued and at ease. And, delegates’ cultural backgrounds had obviously been considered because different kinds of food were prepared using different staples, including (very simple) hot rice, which made all the difference.
These memories came to mind recently during the development of a new Parishes and other Mission Agencies Commission (PMC) resource, titled “Being Together: An inclusion and respect dialogue resource for parishes and ministries”. We launched the resource yesterday. It has been endorsed by our Regional Bishops and forms part of our Diocese’s response to General Synod’s Being Together statement.
A hallmark of “Being Together” is the way we respectfully welcome and include everyone, as we understand that every person offers something that only they can contribute. The whole can only be whole if everyone is embraced and enabled to engage and participate.
Dozens of Anglicans assisted with the development of the new resource, including nearly 30 Australian Anglicans who have anonymously shared their stories about being excluded and included in parishes – in our Diocese and beyond. By courageously sharing their negative and positive experiences, these clergy and parishioners are helping to show all of us how we can better create welcoming and respectful communities.
Their stories form the backbone of the resource, which also includes a simple blend of prayers, scriptures, activities and discussion time.
In his ministry, Jesus used narrative to share knowledge, initiate discussions and connect with people. This is why personal stories centred on specific parish experiences have been sourced to form the backbone of the new Parishes and other Mission Agencies Commission resource.
The resource sessions cover the following themes:
- Disability, impairment and neuro-diversity
- Age and life stage
- First Nations and cultural and linguistic diversity
- Major unexpected life events
- Socio-economic situation.
The 90-page resource may be used in a variety of ways. For example, while the resource is presented in eight modules and may be used as a course, your parish or ministry may wish to:
- change the session order
- use a selection of the sessions
- use selected elements of the resource for group discussions or other (non-commercial) activities.
Every day in our faith communities we are presented with opportunities to use our giftings, skills, resources, church spaces and, most importantly, our knowledge that every person has inherent dignity, for the common good. By choosing to include and respect others, we create space for them to contribute their God-given dignity and gifts.
I sincerely thank the dozens of diverse Anglican community members who assisted with the creation of the resource over the last year, including by sharing personal stories, providing brief biographies, giving session feedback or participating in a session test run.
The new resource may be downloaded from the Anglican Church Southern Queensland website.
Please join me in this prayer for all the faith communities who use this resource:
You commanded us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves,
and taught us that all are our neighbour, loved and cherished by God.
Help us to see your face in all those we meet,
empower us to show your hospitality,
welcoming all so that we may build places of belonging
where everyone may love and learn together.