An Intercultural & Sustainable Church

Intercultural Ministry
Continuing the Awkward Conversation

We are thankful for three writers who report on two recent education events organized by the Intercultural Ministry Network of Northern Spirit and Chinook Winds Region. “Continuing the Awkward Conversation to be an Intercultural and Sustainability Church” was held on October 16-18, 2019 and the “Korean Ministers & Lay Leaders Gathering,” on October 18-19, 2019. Both events took place in Edmonton. Our writers are Rev. Chang-Han Kim of Calgary and sessional lecturer at Booth University College as well as Gaie Goin and Rev. Ruth Lumax, both of First United Church, Wetaskiwin. Photos by Margery Wright.

Invaluable Frameworks & Practices for an Intercultural & Sustainable Church by Rev. Dr Chang-Han Kim

Rev. Dr Chang-Han Kim
Our writer, Rev. Dr Chang-Han Kim, is a sessional lecturer at Booth University College and supervisor for the Korean United Church in Calgary.

These two educational events were a fascinating combination of workshops and worship services. The main speakers were Rev. Dr Andrew Sung Park (Korean) and Rev. Dr Eric H. F. Law (Chinese) who are both from the United States. Both are prolific authors and have a lot of experiences in different ministries. Not only did they offer invaluable frameworks for an intercultural and sustainable church, but also challenged us to engage in applicable practices by presenting various examples and illustrations. The opening and closing worship services offered an ideal space for an intercultural experience in which a communal drama was unfolded, many unheard voices being intersected and shared. The gatherings brought up a wealth of insightful ideas. However, as an ethnic member, I’d like to focus mainly on the issues of ethnicity and interculturalism.

Although we live in a rich multicultural Canadian setting, Canadian churches still remain ethnic and religious enclaves, lacking intercultural dialogue and integration. Dr Park’s typology of interculturalism offered a good opportunity to reflect on the United Church (UC)’s intercultural ministry. The first two amalgamations (melting pot) and assimilation models are formulated as A+B+C=D  and A+B+C=A respectively. Since these models can eventually melt into a dominant group in the process of cultural interaction and transformation, they both can’t be free from an identity problem. The third cultural pluralism model (or A+B+C =A+B+C) can maintain a mutual equal recognition, but it can’t gain distance from a multicultural mosaic. Finally, Dr Park suggested an apt type for intercultural ministry, the new ethnic identity model (or A+B+C=Aˈ+Bˈ+Cˈ). In following the model, an Asian (A) can be an Asian-Canadian (Aˈ) without sacrificing his or her cultural heritage, while respecting other people’s identities (Bˈ+Cˈ). This model can create and retain intersectional spaces for mutual interactions and recognition while embracing each other on the threshold of “the danger of assimilation and the transformation from the margin.” Particularly, therefore, Dr Park’s term “inclusive ethnocentrism” was an eye-opener for me in that it intends to “uphold the values, worth, and ethos of each ethnic group without excluding other ethnic groups.” “Ethnocentrism” is an undeniably loaded term but still a useful device for considering ethnicity. This allowed us in the Korean gatherings at the Korean United to discuss in what ways (Korean) ministers and laypeople, as ethnic members have faced isolation in ministry and invisibility in the church.   

Cycle of Blessings

Along with Dr Park’s theoretical presentation, Dr Law, the founder of the Kaleidoscope Institute, demonstrated a practical model for a sustainable intercultural community:  the “cycle of blessings” that forms six currencies (time & place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, money, and wellness). The model was based on his work Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries (2013). He defined the concept of currency as “something that is in circulation as a medium of exchange.” As a river continues to flow, going over all forms of terrains, the envisioned cycle of blessings is the unending cyclic consequences of flowing through all the six currencies. The six currencies are not necessarily equidimensional because every community has its specific circumstances. The important thing is how we engage in the flow of the currencies. As a practical example, Dr Law introduced a play of “mutual invitation” (of which instructions are available on his institute web site at I believe it is a helpful game that we can apply to any specific situations. The cycle of blessings can be a process to set up scaffolding to realize our intercultural ideal.      

An Awkward Conversation
Presenter: Dr. Andrew Sung Park

Well-framed by the gathering organizers’ wonderful work, we were thus willing and enthusiastic to set up with effort scaffoldings so that we might build diversity in unity and unity in diversity. This encouragement allowed the continual influx of our exiting emotions and feelings throughout the meetings, thereby intensifying intercultural awareness and spawning egalitarian moods. Drs. Park’s and Law’s guidance enhanced our understanding of intercultural ministry and the ensuing small group discussions allowed for each person’s voice to be heard openly without the fear of cultural amalgamation or assimilation. Furthermore, in the two worship services (the Opening Ceremony and the Cultural Evening) at Grace United Church, I encountered some unexpected and unforgettable moments that the currencies of openness and inclusiveness took into my heart and mind. The performances and presentations in the form of music, a poem, and a play were cross-cultural and multilingual as well as exciting and exhilarating. We didn’t have to speak in tongues to feel a vision that “We are not alone.”

All in all, I am grateful to have joined the gatherings, which created a “temporary intercultural milieu” in some ways akin to the story of Jesus’ transfiguration in the mountain (Matthew 9:28-36). However, we cannot stay there forever; we have to face reality. When our faith journey embarks on an exciting adventure, it invites a demanding challenge. The challenge is how we can embody our intercultural vision in our local churches. It is a sad fact that ethnic presence is sparse in UCC, which goes against the reality of multicultural Canada. Years ago, I regularly attended a “white” United Church where a “white” minister during the worship service invited me to do a five-minute presentation on Korea. My presentation was another invitation to an ensuing conversation. I don’t want my story to remain a minority report or a passing phenomenon. I want to see the different stories woven into a bigger story. Can intercultural ministry save the church? The gatherings gave me the answer: “Yes.”

How does the United Church of Canada become an “intercultural and sustainable church?” 

By Gaie Goin

As we continue this “Awkward Conversation” as a church, we need to recognize and realize that being intercultural takes more than welcoming others to come and be like the church is now.

Being part of the cultural majority in the church has limited my ability to see the biases that cultural minorities experience in our church.

Beginning with opening comments by Rev. Dr A Sung Park, I began to connect what the church we are, compared to an intercultural church looks like. Hospitality and relationship are enhanced as intercultural gifts are recognized and shared among all ethnic groups. My experience in the church has been more of a ‘welcome everyone to become more like the already dominant us.”

An Awkward Conversation: Presenter Rev. Dr. Eric Law
An Awkward Conversation: Presenter Rev. Dr. Eric Law

As Rev. Dr Eric Law led us through a variety of awareness building interactions, my eyes were opened to the reality of power structures in our church that limit our understanding and therefore our ability to become an intercultural church. Dr Law presented practical activities to address awareness of power and privilege in our interactions with one another. His examples of ways to find truth, beginning with “ten eyes on the table,” followed by a mutual invitation to share pre-planned stories, and learning to recognize where power lies in discussion and meeting groups, offering opportunities for all participants to examine and respond to power dynamics and the blind spots that privilege carries.

Although the learning event was titled “Continuing the Awkward Conversation to Become an Intercultural and Sustainable Church,” for me it was a leap forward in recognizing some of why change is slow and giving practical strategies to build awareness and actively implement processes to be intercultural.

Dr Sung Park and Dr Law spoke from different experiences that dove-tailed into new understandings of truth, blessings, inclusion and voice. My journey toward understanding and building intercultural relationships continues to expand as each new experience opens my eyes a little wider.

‘Blessings and resources, like water, are meant to flow!’ by Rev. Ruth Lumax who is also Chair, Northern Spirit Regional Council

Imagine a Hibiscus plant, lush green leaves, breath-taking blooms, if only for a day.

What does a plant have to teach a human?

Quite a bit, if the human is attentive and willing to learn. Hopefully, plant and person can more than co-exist, each contributing to the other’s well-being, each transformed by the relationship between them, yet retaining a unique identity.

What does a plant have to do with becoming an Inter-cultural church or living into right relationship with all our relations?

As an inheritor of the benefits of colonization and someone who continues to address my own white privilege it is a reminder to listen first, and then to respond in ways that are life-giving not just for me, not just for humanity but for the earth and its creatures. I feel I have not listened enough, but our sisters and brothers might say we colonial types have “not listened” too much!

Nor is it my intention to minimize the systemic injustices in our culture, nor the pain experienced by many within those systems and relationships.

Yet the Hibiscus as spiritual guide, a story shared in worship at the recent Inter-cultural Event, continues to root and bloom in my soul. It offers a simple, yet profound, metaphor and reality about what is required for me (perhaps for others) on this journey to becoming an inter-cultural church. And it is one that encourages me to a lighter presence on this earth.

Am I willing to learn? How attentive am I to the stories, needs, experiences of others? What do I need to hear, to receive, to give in order that all our relations might flourish?

What models of inter-cultural relationship can we, as Christians, draw upon from Jesus’ ministry? How does our inter-cultural work further this kin-dom work to which God calls us?

I came away with more questions and wondering, some process and content that will enrich my shared ministry and hopefully the work we do on behalf of the Northern Spirit Regional Council, and a renewed sense of purpose as a Christian within an increasingly secular and polarized culture. Spiced with time for conversation with other faithful folk, the blessings of the event continue to flow into my life! I offer these comments in the hopes they flow into yours as well.

Some of the information was familiar to me from other learning contexts, but it was helpful to re-frame and re-hear it from an inter-cultural perspective. Given that exposure to repeated trauma has a detrimental effect on brain development in children, what does that mean for people who experience trauma repeatedly as part of their lived culture?   Language is both help and hindrance in our conversations and understanding. The Chinese symbol for Truth being made of the symbols for “ten”, “eyes” and “on the table” affirmed my belief that the more diverse opinions we have, the sounder decisions we make; and the more varied cultures interacting, the richer and healthier our societies. Singing words in English and Spanish while someone sang in Chinese, all with slightly different rhythms and tunes, but similar meanings, may appear awkward, but it sounded beautiful. It was a gentle but effective reminder that being inter-cultural is more than putting other languages into tunes familiar to the dominant culture, more than learning the holy music of other cultures, although the latter is important. It is also important to know when we need to have time in our separate language/cultures and when we need to be together and the purpose of those times. The path for the powerful is to let power go. Blessings and resources, like water, are meant to flow! Perhaps becoming an inter-cultural church, will be like Jesus’ own ministry, grounded in listening, respectful of and valuing differences, crossing barriers in ways that are transformational for all involved and something new is created. Imagine an inter-cultural church, with lush and vibrant communities of faith…  I wonder how God is calling you to help such a thing bloom, for more than day!?