Building Welcoming Churches

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. Or you could put up the EMBRACE Welcome poster at your front entrance, which says Welcome! in 32 different languages.
  • Could your premises be use for a drop-in centre to help people settle in, or to host a mother and toddler group, recreation centre (sport or culture) for minority ethnic groups, English language classes, or an advice centre?
  • Encourage newcomers to participate, for example, in reading a lesson or taking up the collection. Or you could invite them to get involved in any teams in your church, or join your housegroup. Encourage members of your church to build relationships with people from minority ethnic backgrounds. They could invite them into their homes, for a meal or social gathering.
  • 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.
  • Work with others on a welcome pack for new residents.

Increasing cultural and ethnic awareness in your church

  • Encourage racial awareness and anti-racism training in your congregation. Learn as much as you can about the issues surrounding immigration, asylum and racism so that you can counter myths and stereotyping. EMBRACE provides workshops in this, just get in touch with us.
  • 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.
  • Learn about other people’s religious beliefs and practices so you have a better understanding of their background.
  • Find ways of celebrating and honouring the achievement of individuals and groups from minority ethnic populations in your community.
  • Use Community Safety Groups, to make sure that even minor acts of racism are taken seriously.

Some things you might do personally

  • Donate goods, volunteer assistance and/or financial support to other charities such as minority ethnic support organisations and foodbanks.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Join EMBRACE so that we can help to keep you informed about facts and issues.
  • Pray for the work of EMBRACE and consider donating to our EMBRACE emergency fund to help fund our intiatives to help refugees.

Richard Kerr, of the EMBRACE Committee, also has the following suggestions.