People from different cultural backgrounds may have different comfort zones on ‘space’ – some like more distance, some like to get closer.
Edward T Hall – an anthropologist and one of the founding fathers of intercultural communication – categorised the space surrounding people into personal space, social space and public space.
Personal space refers to the ‘bubble’ surrounding a person, which can only be entered by friends or close family members. In contrast, a person’s public space is usually reserved for more impersonal and anonymous interactions.
The layer of space between an individual’s personal and public space is often called social space. This is the physical space where everyday contact takes place, such as on a crowded train or bus.
Every culture has a set of hidden cultural rules concerning the physical space between people when communicating. Breaking any of these rules could be interpreted as impolite or even threatening.
To be culturally sensitive we need to understand how different cultures perceived space.
This year, the Cross Cultural Mission and Ministry unit (CCMM) wants to focus on a different kind of SPACE.
Henri Nouwen, in his book, Reaching Out, wrote:
“Hospitality … means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.”
Nouwen poignantly captures the essence of hospitality as “the creation of a free space” for the other. Who is this ‘other’ he was referring to?
For him, it’s the ‘stranger’. In our multicultural Church who might be the ‘strangers’ in our midst?
Who do we need to create space for? Who has no space in our multicultural Church?
Diversity is the DNA of a multicultural Church. In a diverse Church we need to intentionally create space to understand those who are different from us – culturally, linguistically, theologically.
And the space we create must be safe for those who are different.
The CCMM have chosen ‘The Call to Create Space’ as the theme for 2013. We want you to join us in creating space for the ‘other’. The stranger in our midst, the voiceless, someone from another culture or someone who speaks with a different accent.
We want to create space where different voices or ideas can be heard.
You might need to leave your comfort zone and get to know a person or a community that is different from you. And this might mean that you need to slow down, make time and create the space that is needed for a transformation that might not otherwise take place.
Rev Swee-Ann Koh
Director – Cross-cultural Mission and Ministry Unit