What Churches Can Do
The command to love your neighbour extends to everybody who lives near you and everybody you meet in the six days between attending church. … We should avoid thinking of ‘church’ as simply a ‘church’ building and instead think of ourselves as the active, committed people of God.’
Welcoming Angels, Dublin 2005, p. 40.
Many of us would love to get to know our new neighbours, helping them to adjust to new surroundings, and building more inclusive communities. We are concerned with the needs of people who have been forced to flee from their own countries. As change produces fear and suspicion, and there is an increase in overt racism, we want to find ways of creating bridges of trust. These are just a few ideas as to how to make a start:
Becoming a more welcoming congregation
- Ensure that your church buildings are welcoming from the outside, with clear signs.
- Language is very important, and it is helpful if people can be greeted with a phrase or two in their own language.
- Encourage newcomers to participate, for example, in reading a lesson or taking up the collection/ offertory.
- Include some aspect of the worship tradition from the country of origin, such as a song or a prayer.
- Invite members of minority ethnic Christian groups to take part in special services.
- Hold special services for example, in Refugee Week, Anti-Racism Sunday, or Holocaust Memorial Day, and invite members of minority groups to speak or attend.
- Could your premises be use for a drop-in centre to help people settle in, or host a mother and toddler group, recreation centre (sport or culture) for minority ethnic groups, English language classes, or an advice centre?
- Work with others on a welcome pack for new residents.
Increasing cultural and ethnic awareness
- Encourage racial awareness and anti-racism training in your congregation or area.
- Hold celebration meals such as harvest suppers where you might invite people from a minority ethnic group to cook for you.
- Celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year.
- Visit cultural centres together. For example, people from a rural background, anywhere in the world, will find something in common at somewhere like the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
- Visit the cultural centres of minority ethnic communities – such as the Indian Community Centre in Belfast, to learn, and to affirm their presence as part of a shared society.
- Learn about other people’s religious beliefs and practices by hosting an exhibition, visiting religious centres, or inviting members of other faiths to explain their religious beliefs.
- Find ways of celebrating and honouring the achievement of individuals and groups from minority ethnic populations in your community.
- Use any forum, inter-church groups, Community Safety Groups, District Policing Partnerships, to make sure that even minor acts of racism are taken seriously.
Some practical things you might do personally or in a group
- Pray for the work of EMBRACE and the building of a more welcoming community.
- Invite people from minority ethnic backgrounds to your home.
- Learn as much as you can about the issues surrounding immigration, asylum and racism so that you can counter myths and stereotyping.
- Join EMBRACE so that we can help to keep you informed about facts and issues.
- Let EMBRACE know about the good and the bad news from your local area – in congregations and in the community.
- Consider training in order to volunteer to teach English as a second language, become an adult literacy tutor, volunteer as a translator, or teach computer literacy.
- Undertake race awareness or cultural diversity training.
- Volunteer with other groups or forums such as the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS), or Red Cross, and welcoming initiatives such as the Belfast Friendship Club.
- Contribute to the EMBRACE emergency fund or the ongoing work of EMBRACE.
- Donate goods, volunteer assistance and/or financial support to other charities such as minority ethnic support organisations and foodbanks.
BUILDING WELCOMING CONGREGATIONS
Richard Kerr, of the Presbyterian Race Relations Panel and EMBRACE, also has the following suggestions.