New cultural diversity report gives voice to international people
The Lord Looks on the Heart, Part 2: International Voices from the Church of Ireland parishes of Dublin & Glendalough by the Revd Prof Anne Lodge features the thoughts and contributions of people of 14 different nationalities attending six Church of Ireland parishes in the dioceses.
The report gives voice to people from international backgrounds who have found themselves at home in Church of Ireland parishes. It focuses on how they came to join their parishes and what made them stay. In doing this, it provides insights into what constitutes a welcome and what newcomers to parishes value as well as what encourages them to stay. It also highlights a number of things for parishes to consider in building connections with parishioners and communities.
Another aspect is outreach from parishes to people living in direct provision and emergency accommodation centres supporting individuals with no expectation of seeing them in church on Sundays but because it is a “biblical imperative”. All this is looked at through the lens of the Book of Ruth and the four key characters: Ruth, Naomi, Boaz and Oprah.
Launching the report, Archbishop Michael Jackson thanked Prof Lodge for having the vision and perspective to undertake the work, which is part of her Self–Supporting Ministry in the dioceses. He also thanked all who participated for “putting their heads above the parapet and allowing their voices to be heard”. This, he said, meant they were making a contribution to the future development of the dioceses.
In a question and answer session, Prof Lodge explained that the six participating parishes were selected as a result of their response to the initial survey, the results of which were published in October 2020. Incumbents responded to the survey stating that a substantial proportion of their congregations were made up of people from international backgrounds. Focus groups were formed and a total of 31 people from 14 countries took part and answered six questions. Furthermore, she and the Archbishop visited two parishes which supported people living in direct provision centres and accommodation centres for people coming from Ukraine.
Of the 31 people, Prof Lodge explained, 26 were from an Anglican or Anglican–adjacent background. Six were not but had made the choice to attend a Church of Ireland church. “One of the things about moving to a strange place is that you seek out things that are familiar, things that connect you to home,” she said. “The Church, the hymn book, societies like GFS and Mothers’ Union, these are familiar to people.”
She added that some people checked parish websites before moving to an area and noted that it was important for parishes to maintain their online presence and make sure they can be found on Google Maps. They chose a church that accorded with their faith.
Many spoke of the warmth of the welcome on the day they first walked into the church but why did they stay? “You have to tie in warmth of welcome with sustained warmth… The welcome of the incumbent is really important but it has to be backed up by members of the congregation. They need to be willing to visit people, be social with people outside church,” Prof Lodge commented adding that incumbents offered practical support such as remembering that a child is due to start school and ensuring that their parents know how to get a place.
The importance of hospitality was highlighted with one of the participating parishes going so far as to say that if a parish wants to be inclusive it must have “a good tea”. Good preaching and prayer were also deemed important with Prof Lodge pointing out that building the newcomers’ experiences into sermons spoke of the respect of the incumbent for international people and inclusivity. She said that while incumbents could not act alone, they must model inclusivity and ensure that newcomers had opportunities to get involved in roles within the parish or representing the parish at diocesan level. “This says to newcomers ‘I trust you’ and trust means the world,” she said.
“Ultimately the parish can be a great place of social and cultural support. Several people talked about the parish as a surrogate family. In the parish they can check out cultural norms and develop work skills,” she explained. It was particularly special for people to have been elected to roles such as church warden or synod representative, she said.
Prof Lodge also spoke of the need to see more international people in robed ministry. She said it was important for people to be represented at the front of the church and the Church needed to make sure that the pathway to robed ministry was clear to all.
Among the learnings for parishes and the dioceses that she highlighted was the need to:
- do more for young people and young adults;
- restore hospitality after church post–Covid;
- establish a parish welcome committee to greet people but also say goodbye after the service;
- establish Bible studies for parishioners;
- have a trained and vetted ministry team to support the incumbent in visiting;
- to encourage more international people to train for robed ministry;
- each parish to assess their diversity in all aspects of their ministry;
- produce a guide to how the Church of Ireland works;
- hold cultural events at parish and diocesan level;
- have support for incumbents.
Prof Lodge said it was important to share good practice to support other parishes in their discipleship and suggested that a Bible study on the Book of Ruth would be very helpful for both parishes and the dioceses.