Building a Welcoming Community

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Last updated 11/12/14

‘The heart of Christianity is hospitality’
Jean Varnier in ‘Something Understood’, BBC Radio 4, Palm Sunday, 2009

‘When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ [Leviticus 19:13]


welcome poster finalIn helping to build a welcoming community it is important not just to provide a welcome for newcomers but also to help existing populations to adjust to change. Culture shock is acute for people who have left their home country, but the arrival of numbers of people who are different can also cause a range of emotions from unease and fear to hostility and aggression in local people. It is part of Christian leadership to acknowledge all these emotions and needs, and to find ways of creating mutual understanding and fellowship.

See also
EMBRACE Resources
EMBRACE Toolkit for Churches
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog No More Them and Us
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog Racism and the Church in Ireland
Contemporary Christianity p.s. blog Come with Me: A Way of Welcome 

Building Welcoming Congregations

‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’ Ephesians 2: 19

‘The authentic Christian community must always be asking, “Who is being excluded?” ’
Archbishop Rowan Williams quoted in Inter-Cultural Insights.

Richard Kerr of the Presbyterian Race Relations Panel and EMBRACE has the following suggestions:
‘Use initiative in exploring options. Find out what is appropriate in your situation and for those you meet. What works elsewhere may be a good pointer, but may well need adaptation for your situation and your gifts and resources.
Perseverance is an important attribute; if at first you don’t succeed try and try again. Some things may work, others (perhaps inexplicably) won’t.
It is important to network with other churches, statutory organisations and non-government organisations (NICEM, MCRC, Law Centre and ourselves in EMBRACE for example).
Commitment is required to make things happen and to build relationships. Within your congregation there will be a need to inform and persuade members and leaders of the importance of reaching out. This will inevitably demand patience.
Being involved may well involve risk; it will not necessarily be easy. Yet, the challenges and opportunities are there to be met, and provide us with an opportunity to share and show the love of Christ.’ Read more

Churches responses to immigration, asylum and racism

Research on church responses

Many churches have responded to the challenge of increased migration and diversity with warmth and imagination, but a 2009 survey of faith leaders and laity in Ireland, by Dr Gladys Glaniel of the Irish School of Ecumenics, reveals that such actions are patchy. The northern responses reveal that

  • 62% of lay people stated that there are immigrants or minority-ethnic people in their congregations.
  • 55% of clergy and faith leaders say that they have preached or taught on immigration, diversity or welcoming strangers in the last 12 months.
  • 44% of clergy, pastors, ministers, and faith leaders have never done anything to accommodate minority-ethnic people.
  • 19% said that the languages of minority-ethnic people had been used in services during the last 12 months. (This was more common under the heading ‘Other Christians’ which may well include migrant-led churches.)

‘We … asked clergy to provide examples of what they had done, that was out of the ordinary, to accommodate ethnic minorities. Examples included assisting with asylum claims/tribunal hearings, financial support for accommodation, education, transportation or other needs, assistance in finding jobs, translation of bibles, sermons, or other reading materials, providing English language classes, conducting open air religious services in areas where ethnic minorities live, visiting Chinese takeaways with religious materials, organising cultural evenings in which people share food and customs from their native lands; inviting ethnic minorities to take part in St Patrick’s Day celebrations; visiting their homes; organizing special welcoming committees or parish groups; encouraging prayer during worship services in native languages; using the music and dance from immigrants’ home countries in religious services; helping children settle into schools; use of church buildings, halls and car parks; and including special sections for newcomers on congregational websites. Some clergy remarked that such activities should not be considered out of the ordinary – for them, these were the ‘ordinary’ works of charity with which Christians should be engaged.’

Extract from the clergy leader survey.

Read more