May 2019

From the Minister’s Desk

One in Christ

I am a newly ordained Presbyter and, like many others, I recognise the joys and complexities of the context in which we are called to exercise mission and ministry in Britain today. We seem to have been called into the most culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse context in the history of Britain, especially within large cities such as London, Birmingham and Coventry.  Therefore, I think this is both an exciting and challenging time for the Church. 

I continue to reflect on questions such as, “Do we embrace each other’s individual uniqueness as gifts to the Church, while understanding our belonging to One God, One Church and One Humanity?” 

In John 15 Jesus is seen as the vine, and his disciples as the branches. The text also highlights that without the vine, we can do nothing. The words of Jesus make it clear that a branch which does not remain in him is similar to one that is thrown away and consequently withers. I believe, therefore, that we are called to dwell together in that abiding place in Christ, in spite of our differences. I draw encouragement from knowing that it is possible for diverse individuals to maintain their particularity while dwelling within the collective. This dwelling together leads to joy and a fulfilment that comes from seeing each individual or group of people, as unique branches dwelling in the same vine. This leads to the greater good and enrichment of the Church, and its mission and ministry.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting South Africa as part of a mission trip organised jointly by the Methodist and Baptist Churches, for women from Minority Ethnic Backgrounds, to experience ministry in a different context.  This trip was very insightful at many levels. Firstly, I was struck by the way the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) do Church.  We had the opportunity to lead worship or preach in at least one Church during our ten day stay.

I was particularly impressed by the multilinguistic composition of the congregation where I preached.  I have been reliably informed that at least thirteen languages are spoken in South Africa, including English. In that service, were at least four spoken languages. The Methodist Mission Partner, who was our host was very impressive. He made a successful attempt to greet the congregation in at least four languages! Worship was life giving. Different groups led Praise Songs in their own languages, and everyone joining in. This led me into the presence of God and to reflect on the words of Psalm 133:1, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity”.

We had an opportunity to observe a Council Meeting in session. I was particularly encouraged by the composition of the leadership and the way individuals interacted with each other during the meeting. Yes, they may have been at their best behaviour as they knew they had visitors present. That may have been true at the beginning of the meeting, but as it progressed, individuals appeared to be relaxed. That did not alter the behaviours and the interactions in any significant way.  I know I witnessed a very productive Council Meeting on that special Sunday.

I learnt during that meeting that there were some Language Fellowship groups within the Church. However, these groups only met after the service or during the week. On speaking to the members of the Fellowship groups, it became clear that members were aware of the role of Fellowship groups within the life of the Church. It is noted that coming to this position had not been easy, and it had taken a lot of effort from both the local minister and members of the various Fellowship groups. Clearly this was not without its own challenges, but what I took out of the experience was how important it is to be a learning Church, one that learns from each other. Although the Psalmist, may well have been referring to family members living affably with one another, it is possible to see here a reference to unity in worship. The Psalmist affirms life-giving blessings of God particularly present in a community living, and worshipping in unity. 

On my return from MCSA, I have increasingly questioned the various labels we use to describe one another. I am for example wrestling with the term “multiculturalism”. I have observed that, such terms encourage our behaviours and attitudes to be shaped by our cultures, rather than that which bring us together, the love of God, in which we all find our shared identity.

Multiculturalism, as a framework of practice, attracts the temptation to privilege the good of specific cultural groups over others, thereby destroying the common good in support of minority interest. This can lead to competitiveness among the various groups, as they strive for recognition, and the risk of strengthening the hegemony of the dominant group. I believe that the distinct calling of each person, irrespective of ethnicity, culture, language or sexual orientation, is a gift to the Church. It is disappointing that in the 21st century, we pride ourselves in being a “multicultural Church”, which of course assumes homogenous cultural
groups, yet many minority groups, within cultural groups, are also diverse and experience exclusion of their identities and participation.

How might it look like if we simply identified ourselves as the Church of God, in which our differences are an acceptable norm? I don’t think that the Church of Christ really needs an adjective, but Church must be exactly that, a place where all are welcome. My prayer is that embracing multiculturalism does not equate to the creation of an environment in which different “isms” are harnessed and strengthened in the name of “culture”. It is in the nature of cultures to be diverse. I long for a Church that learns and places our belonging together in One God, One Church and One Humanity at the centre of mission and ministry.

Rev Charity Nzegwu, Presbyter, Cambridge Circuit