"We are one people under one roof, following one Lord."

An article by Rebecca Newland, then Rector of St Philip's, published in St Mark's Review, May 2014.

One of the most interesting science fiction movies to appear in recent years is District 9 the South African independent film that portrays the bleak treatment of aliens in Johannesburg. The aliens are intelligent, large, insect like, extraterrestrials who are marooned on earth. The 'prawns' are confined to a government camp and live in poverty, desperation and despair. Like all good science fiction it uses the narrative to explore human and thereby social themes. Racism and xenophobia, the relationship between 'self' and the 'other' are its key subjects. Why the movie is so compelling is because it confronts us all with our inhumanity' are prejudice and our fear of the other. What happens to the aliens is in essence no different than what happens between nations and ethnic groups and in our own country. All of us are only too aware of how the 'self'/'other' dynamic plays itself out in our lives and the lives of our neighbours.

The stories of how each of us has been affected by prejudice and exclusion surround us all. When I was growing up I attended the local catholic school. Every day I had to run the gauntlet past the children of the local public school who would call over the fence as I walked past, "Catholics, Catholics make us sick, call the doctor quick, quick, quick." My little story is just one of many accounts of how we humans more than not often treat 'the other' with suspicion and abuse. We are at one and the same time fascinated by the other and repelled, full of interest and stricken with fear. We are all too aware of the violence we inflict in the name of religion and ideology, our various tribes. We are all too aware of how easily we devolve into our various camps, the various Camps that seem to be part of every institution and social setting.

When I was a young girl growing up in a working class suburb the roles of women and men were very defined. The women did women's work. The men did men's work. In the Catholic church to which I belonged at the time men, and only men, could be in the sanctuary doing men's work and the women were on the other side of the altar rail doing 'women's work'. A letter written by a ten year old girl sent to the catholic Press in the decade I was born highlights the incomprehension with which many today would react to the stark division of labour inside and outside of the church:

Why do you think we should not have girl servers? We should be a family … Are there some of you who don't like girl servers? Please tell us why you don't like them? We can't think of any good reasons. [1]

If I had a chance to talk to this young girl today I would perhaps explain that the reasons may not be 'good' but there are reasons for this type of exclusion. The reasons I believe are fundamentally related to how we divide the world up, how we categorise, name and thereby control the behaviour of others. It is to do with how we deal with diversity and difference. All human beings do this, both men and women, and the consequences are profound and far reaching.

This question of living with, honouring and embracing diversity of all types, this question of how to be one common humanity while recognizing our unique gifts and qualities, is one that has challenged individuals and communities in all times and places. Our responses have ranged from imitating and idolizing the other, to scapegoating and violence and the very uncomfortable in-between. The violence we inflict upon each other is not just physical. It can be the consequence of a power imbalance where those who hold the power use threats and intimidation, neglect or acts of omission, to maintain the status quo.

In 21st century multi-cultural Australia these questions are currently political hot issues. For the church in Australia these questions go to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and a community that embodies and is a foretaste of the Kingdom values he preached and lived. If God was at work in and through Jesus Christ reconciling the world to God self and by implication self to other (2 Cor. 5.18), then how we respond to and embrace the diverse other is no mere side issue but the core business of being ambassadors of reconciliation. Reconciliation, as used in the New Testament, is literally for the parties in a relationship to be changed, from enemies or those who are estranged, to people who are now at-one, those who are now friends. Peace among the 'nations' is not a pipe dream. The church is to proclaim it loud and clear by being an ever-present foretaste of God's all encompassing shalom. The church is called to model true friendship and unity based on God's all embracing love and self: sacrifice revealed in Christ Jesus.

In my own ministry and service as rector of St Philip's Anglican Church in O'Connor my community and I have had to attempt to understand and live this ministry of reconciliation in very practical, day-to-day ways. What follows is a reflection on how I have personally struggled with these issues in ministry and how my understanding about what reconciliation is on a day-to-day basis has been deepened and enriched. It is a personal reflection in that my own life has been defined and determined by how I like all humans, have been categorized and controlled by powerful others and how it may be possible, though difficult, to live differently together. It is about how my unnamed assumptions and prejudices have been challenged and how the church is the place, bar none, where we are called to struggle with these questions and allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ. Yet is not just my story; it is our story the story of a local church community made up of a wonderful group of different human beings, on their own journey and walking together.

In 2011, our church community was doubled in size, over one weekend, by the arrival of a South Sudanese Dinka group. The group, around 60 to 80 people, had split from another church and was looking for a place in which to worship. In consultation with the Bishop and others, we offered hospitality and began the process of beginning to understand their culture, their story and their needs. We struggled with a range of issues: administration, governance, church usage, collective agreements and understandings and perhaps most critically the question of integration and embrace of diversity. A question that hovered in the background was, "What model of a multi-cultural church did we want to express?"

As the rector and leader, this question animated me the most, as I believed that what we say and do as a Christian community is revelatory in both positive and negative ways. Like the bible itself a local church can reveal the very worst of human behaviour and the very best of what God offers humanity through Christ. For me there is no point preaching compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation if we are not living it. There is no point valuing diversity, inclusion and relationship (values articulated at St Philip's) if it does not mean we embrace, celebrate and welcome the 'other' into our midst and around the Lord's Table in the fullest way possible. The church is a witness to the good news of Christ and we were gifted with the perfect opportunity to proclaim this good news in the midst of our neighborhood and city. In a country seemingly divided over how we treat immigrants and refugees we had the opportunity to make the attempt to model the way of Christ in whom 'there is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female' (Galatians 3.28).

Surprisingly, the local church is uniquely placed to be foretaste of God's vision of peace, wholeness, love and glory. It is a 'thin place, a Celtic term that describes places where 'the fabric that separates heaven and earth is so thin it becomes almost translucent and one is able to encounter the joy and peace of heaven." [2] Places of wilderness and natural beauty, beautiful music and stunning art are 'thin places'. Jesus' statement, 'Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me' (Matt 25.40) leads us to a thin place. [3] Worship at its very best is a thin place. The church in these moments points people to the love of God and the coming of God's kingdom and we find ourselves proclaiming the gospel in simple words and actions.

I need to say right up front that the community of St Philip's rose to the challenges before it with grace, generosity and good humour. One may think that multicultural ministry sounds exciting and relatively easy. It is not. David Anderson who began an intentional multicultural ministry in Columbia, Maryland, writes:

Multicultural ministry is not an easy process and is uncomfortable for even the most open-minded, obedient and mature follower of Christ … anyone who has wrestled in the multicultural ministry ring knows it is a lot harder than it looks and sounds. [4]

My leadership team, both English-speaking and Dinka, and the people we serve can all attest to this truth. Embracing diversity, confronting one's hidden assumptions and prejudices, withdrawing one's projections and ideations, moving out of one's comfort zone, giving up control and power and embracing change are all acutely uncomfortable and at times confusing and painful.

It is a journey of birth, of transformation, of dying to self and rising to a new reality God has put on your doorstep. Anderson, who is writing from an American perspective but whose insights are still relevant for us, believes that there is a continuum for each individual and community from racism to reconciler. [5] The stages in between are cynic, agnostic, seeker, conversion, babe, child, teen and adult. In this spectrum a cynic is someone who doesn't really care about other races or multicultural issues and is happy with his or her own kind. Conversion is when someone realizes that God wants them to deal with these issues in their heart and in society. A teen is someone who is developing and growing as a reconciler.

A reconciler is:

Fully devoted to being a change agent, and understands that God has called him or her to be an ambassador of reconciliation. These people seek education on topics related to race relations and are developing cross-cultural relationships with those of other races. They seek to be channels of God's love, grace, justice and forgiveness through friendships and societal contributions. [6]

As I reflect on the people of St Philip's and myself, I imagine that we are on the other side of conversion but not yet fully-grown into this new ministry.

How could it be any different? The Kingdom of God the synoptic gospels proclaim, the eternal and restored life John declares, the new creation Paul rhapsodizes about, is currently in the realm of the 'already and not-yet'. We struggle and groan, fall down and get up as we strive towards the vision that God gives us through Christ and empowers us to do by the Holy Spirit.

This vision is always articulated in and incarnated in the particular. It is in the particular that we come face-to-face with ourselves and the other and the multi-coloured glory of God's diverse creation. Even in the biblical vision humanity is not a homogenized mass or a single global culture. [7] People of every tribe and language and people and nation will bring their wealth and their praises to God (Rev. 7.9, 21.24-26). The vision of God's Future, unity in diversity, mirrors the very nature of God, three in one. As we look around we find that the fractured, but diverse reality of the world in which we live, but hints at this holistic possibility.

In Australia many tribes and nations are represented. It is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world today. [8] Almost half the Australian population is either first- or second-generation immigrants and one Australian in every five was born overseas. One Australian in six speaks a language other than English at home. [9] Even before colonization, there were over 500 different clan groups or 'nations' around the continent with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages. [10] Australia has also been called one the most successful multi-cultural countries on earth. Before the Dinka group joined us at St Philip's, we already were a 'multi-cultural' church with individuals and families from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Africa, the Solomon Islands and Korea, along with our Anglo-Saxon contingent. After the Dinka arrival we have also welcomed people from the Netherlands, Iran and Sri Lanka. This nationwide multi-cultural context poses an enormous challenge for a predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon church like the Anglican Church of Australia. Not only in terms of evangelism and church growth but how the dominant church with well-established traditions and structures negotiates and embraces difference and otherness.

According to a survey amongst Anglican, Baptist, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Salvation Army and Seventh-day Adventist ministers and church leaders conducted in Victoria, over 60% of respondents said it was definitely better or generally better to have people of different cultures together. 33% said it depended on the culture and situation and a small 2% said it was better to have people of different cultures separate. [11] The numbers give a clue to attitudes and sentiment. When it comes to practice there seem to be three broad approaches:

When we began discussions with the Dinka group about how we would work together I was wary of the idea of them simply establishing a worshipping congregation and paying for the space. This did not speak to me of the radical table fellowship Jesus embodied or the Body of Christ Paul worked so hard for in his church building. Instead it portrayed a very commercial, functional, material and in the end fractured picture of God's humanity. Perhaps easier, but for me it sidestepped the more challenging issue of integration and transformation when we collectively choose to work as one people. The phrase I have used in meetings and in preaching to all the diverse people in our parish is that we are 'one people under one roof, following one Lord'.

At the same time as holding a 'unified' picture before us the combined leadership began the task of building relationships, developing understandings and meeting people 'where they were at'. Being 'one people under one roof' has not meant that we required everyone to give up what makes them unique. We have asked neither the English-speaking brethren to give up their traditions or culture nor have we asked the Dinka people to lay down their culture. Instead we have tried to provide opportunities for combined worship (an extraordinary challenge), the building of relationships and the honouring of culture. We have encouraged people to give a little, to compromise, to understand but ultimately to embrace the diversity and difference. To facilitate my own ministry amongst the Dinka people I began the process of learning Dinka, a very alien language for my tongue and background. However, this one step, no matter how imperfectly I achieve it, has probably done the most to build my relationship with the Dinka community.

We also searched for and obtained funding to run a multi-cultural ministry program. We employ two family ministers, a female English deacon, and a male Dinka person. Together they coordinate the two Sunday schools, the 10.00am service and the Dinka 1.00pm service and work together to build relationships across the congregations. The work with the Dinka children and families is particularly critical. As a refugee community, the Dinka face extraordinary challenges in Australia in terms of integration, understanding the dominant culture, obtaining relevant and current education, finding work, supporting families back in South Sudan, all the while living with the mental and emotional consequences of displacement, violence, trauma and long term insecurity. The Sunday school program teaches scripture and Christian values through ''Godly Play" plus Dinka song and dance.

Great joy was brought to my heart this year when our Dinka Sunday school children, around 40 youngsters, performed at the South Sudanese Independence Day celebrations. The eyes of every adult were riveted to the children, their pride was palpable and their joy immense. The children were so engaging and so good at what they did the ACT organizer of next year's multi-cultural festival has booked them for the stage show. The program will also shortly begin English classes and Bible study classes for adults. All this, though very basic, is part of the ministry of reconciliation; core business for the Church of God and it seems core business for my life.

A few months ago the Dinka community at St Philip's held a celebration, a celebration of being part of St Philip's. It had taken them two years to come to the point where they saw themselves as 'one people under one roof'. The break from the original church had been over a tribal matter back in South Sudan. The issue was of such intensity and risk that they decided to separate rather than risk violence and broken relationships. The split added to their trauma and pain. For many months they were seen in the wider Sudanese community as the Ayual clan who worshipped at St Philip's. However over time that changed and they came to see themselves and others as one people, one people who worshipped the one God. For their celebration they invited people from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and their former church. St Philip's was packed and the message was clear from all speakers: 'we are one people, we follow one Lord and St Philip's is for everyone: every tribe, every colour, every person'. One Dinka speaker held up a Bible and said, 'the cover may be black, the inside may be white, but we are one'. To say I was moved by this celebration would be a gross understatement.

It is not easy being 'one'. We are both nurtured and formed in relationship but we are 'also challenged in terms of identity. Augustine said many centuries ago that, 'the human race is, more than any other species, social by nature and quarrelsome by perversion'. [12] The sociality of human beings is part and parcel of our greatest intimacies and accomplishments but also of our disconnection and discord for no human being is intrinsically complete by himself or herself. [13] We are drawn to others and find ourselves 'coming into being' through our relationships with the other. We model our being on and actions on others and we learn to desire what they desire. However it is our 'proximity' to others that brings out our envy, our pride, our resentment and ultimately our most 'vicious atrocities'. [14] This should alert us to the challenges that face any church as it attempts to live, work and worship together. It is our togetherness that creates amazing possibilities but also the opportunity for the playing out of resentment, fear, greed, envy, exclusion and violence.

As I reflect on my own story and hear the stories of others it seems we are broken in our hearts by the violence we do to others and have had done to us. Our relationships are if not broken or breaking, are at risk of fracture and disconnection. It is a bleak and discouraging picture but the one that seems most honest to me. Yet we are offered something so profound, so life-affirming and transformative in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He lived and preached a different message and marched to a different drum. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God in brutal, violent and ethnically excluding circumstances. In his day and age the Roman Pax was built on conquest, violence and oppression. As the Roman historian Tacitus put it: "they make a desolation and call it peace". Instead of this picture the one we have from Christ is of a reconciling God who's Kingdom grants dignity and value to all people, especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed by the world. [15] When he appeared to the disciples and offered peace and forgiveness in the face of their abandonment and betrayal he literally broke the mold and gave us all another Reality.

In stark opposition to the way the world seems to work the message of Christ is about reconciliation, the coming together of the parts of a broken whole, whether they are relationships between God and humans, between individuals, family members, ethnic groups or beliefs. In his death and resurrection we are restored to God, to each other and the whole of creation. The church then is to live in the light of the kingdom and is in the business of restoring wholeness to broken people, broken families and broken communities." [16] When we are in solidarity with God through Christ we are in solidarity with one another. When we imitate Christ Jesus we put the other first and we renounce all that contributes to broken bodies, hearts and minds. The church then must have its own house in order, its own parts sharing and being one, for it to proclaim with integrity Christ's solidarity.

For me this reconciliation is all encompassing. As servants of reconciliation we are called to:

… challenge the racism, sexism, classism and nationalism that still plague both church and society. It should lead us to challenge any strategy that aims to create peace through violence or oppression [and exclusion]. It requires us to work with the New Testament vision of the church as a multi-national, multi-cultural people" [17]

Reconciliation, the bringing of fractured parts together, across ethnic boundaries does not develop automatically. It is sheer hard work at times, as Paul discovered when he took the gospel to the gentiles and found the church growing into a multi- cultural movement. However the rewards and joy are immense. We are deeply enriched by the diversity and uniqueness of other people. We are transformed and changed into ever more Christ like-ness. We find in ourselves hidden sources of wisdom and strength. We find our ministry brings hope, wholeness and transformation to others—and we are blessed.


Notes

1. Quoted in Maitland, S. A Map of the New Country; Women and Christianity. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1983, p. 161.
2. Frost, M. The Road to Missional; Journey to the Centre of the Church. Baker Books, Grand Rapids USA, 2011, p. 36.
3. Frost, M. 2011. The Road to Missional; Journey to the Centre of the Church, p. 36.
4. Anderson, D. A. and Cabellon, M. R. Multicultural Ministry Handbook: Connecting Creatively to a Diverse World. Inter Varsity Press, Illinois, 2010, pp. 23, 163.
5. Anderson, D. A. and Cabellon, M. R. Multicultural Ministry Handbook, p. 27.
6. Anderson, D. A. and Cabellon, M. R. Multicultural Ministry Handbook, p. 27.
7. Wright, C. J. H. The Mission of God. Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative. Inter Varsity Press, Illinois, 2006, p. 456.
8. http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people. (Accessed 24 July 2013).
9. Hughes, P., and Bond S. A Handbook for Cross-cultural Ministry. Open Book Publishers, Adelaide SA, 2005, p. 7.
10. http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people. (Accessed 24 (July 2013).
11. Hughes, P. and Bond S. A Handbook for Cross-cultural Ministry, p.33
12. Palaver, W. Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory. Michigan State University Press, 2013, p. 37.
13. Palaver, W. Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory, p. 36.
14. Palaver, W. Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory, p. 63.
15. Colijn, B. Images of Salvation in the New Testament. Inter-Varsity Press, Illinois, 2010, p. 80.
16. Colijn B. Images of Salvation in the New Testament, p. 79.
17. Colijn, B. Images of Salvation in the New Testament, p. 193.