This is a summary of the Act2 National Forum on “Our multicultural and Intercultural Identity” held on the 3rd of August 2023 featuring the following panelists:  

  • Rev Dr Paul Goh 
  • Rev Dr Matagi Villitama 
  • Rev Amel Manyon 

The National Forums are a key engagement as part of Workstream 2: National Identity of the Act2 Project. The key question we are seeking to answer in this workstream is “What is most valuable about being a national church and how do we resource it?”

Forum 3 Reflection

Rev Cyrus Kung
Administration and Engagement Officer

The Uniting Church declared itself a multicultural Church in 1985, and it is clear there is a profound sense of pride in our long-standing commitment to be a multicultural church. It is also notable that as we continue to live into this reality there are always ongoing conversation about what being a multicultural church means both on the ground and nationally together. 

How is the Uniting Church in Australia a multicultural church today? How has this shaped our identity and self-understanding?

The Panelists affirmed that the identity of the Uniting Church is not fixed but a process and a journey. The multicultural church needs to be understood holistically taking into account the many components that form our individual identities as well as our national one. We have an ongoing vision and commitment to being a multicultural church and doing cultural research. This is the ongoing process of living out the foundations as seen in the Basis of Union in our present reality. We are called to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries.

This means that not only do we need to wrestle with documents that shape us from our foundation but also wrestle with the present-day reality of our multicultural makeup. Each Sunday across Australia we have more than 200 CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) congregations gathering for worship in languages other than English, with at least 49 different languages being used. However, according to the NCLS around 23% of all Australian churches were multicultural. i.e. where no one ethnic group accounts for 80% or more of the membership. But only 15% of our Uniting Church congregations are considered multicultural with 13% of non-English speaking background. Compared to other churches or the general population, the Uniting Church has a small proportion of its people born non-English speaking countries (13% in 2021 NCLS Attender Survey; 8.1 % in 2021 ABS Census). This means that, in reality most congregations across the uniting Church do not reflect the multicultural makeup of our wider society. 

These are some of the questions posed by the panelists to do with identity as it is enacted in the present shape of our Church 

  • What can we do better in realising our vision and identity as a multicultural and inter- cultural church?  
  • What does it mean for us today?  
  • Does it reflect our structures?  
  • Does it reflect in our decision making?  
  • Does it reflect our leadership?  

The panelists affirmed that there is much to celebrate when it comes to the Uniting Churches’ commitment to being a multicultural church. However, it was also clear that there is still much more work to be done in order to have our identity as a multicultural church to be reflected not only in particular groups in the church but have this reflected in our structures, leadership and decision-making processes across the life of the whole church. 

It was clear that there is still much more work to be done in order to have our identity as a multicultural church be reflected … in our structures, leadership and decision-making processes.

What do you see might be the challenges of becoming a multicultural church in the wider Uniting Church context?

One of the key challenges of being a multicultural church is applying tangible solutions to the questions the church is asking. Conversations about the multicultural nature of the church can often get stuck in simple affirmations of its importance but does not amount real change. Below are examples of questions that challenge our conversations to be more centered around enacting change with tangible and actionable solutions. 

These may include:   

  • How do we employ language and communication to be culturally and linguistically diverse? 
  • How do we enhance our understanding of good communication? 
  • How do we understand one another’s approaches to decision making? 
  • What needs to be done in terms of theology, structures, policies, and culture? 

In cases where congregations and faith communities are looking to join the Uniting Church, the panelists affirmed the need to have friends in the system as well as the system needing to be able to accommodate a simplicity in communication. These “friends “within the system were described as ministers from CALD backgrounds that know how to do the navigation and communication between diverse groups of people from a range of background, denominations, languages and ethnicities as well as understanding the processes of the Uniting Church. It is important to note this challenge is something that is needed for the whole church to participate in not just those who are from CALD backgrounds. It challenges the understanding of the skills required for our leaders not just in the CALD communities but in the whole of the church.   

The monocultural churches in our UCA have become custodians of their ethnic identities with language, song and dance. The panelists affirmed the importance of the National Conferences and the need for the Church to support them as they provide targeted support and networking for distinct groups of monocultural communities. There are plans also to organise a joint National Conference gathering together to celebrate as well as support concerns and issues that do impact many of the monocultural communities.

While it’s good to have our own separate National Conferences, it’s not just about mono-cultural churches, but many more diverse and other subcultures who are creating their own communities as well as opening up a bit more to include some of these newer community as well. 

There is an abundant amount of diversity even within the monocultural expressions, of CALD communities in the UCA. It is important for the church to recognise the diversity that exists within what we have labelled ‘CALD’ . This recognition can help understand better our commitment to being a multicultural and intercultural church holistically and not just in the places that we label CALD. 

It is important for the church to recognise the diversity that exists within what we have labelled ‘CALD’ .

The future, second and third generations

There has always been ongoing conversation about the place of second and third generation immigrants and their role in their local context as well as the wider Church. We are seeing more representation of leaders from these communities in our structures across the Church. However, there are still ongoing conversations about how we are supporting these ‘younger’ people to hold not only the legacy of the Uniting Church as we inherited from union in 1977 but also hold the and diversity of our monoethnic congregations.