On 23 May the Glen Waverley Uniting Church was in full colour. More than 300 people from diverse cultures gathered to join in a time of fellowship and worship to mark 30 years since the Uniting Church declared itself to be a multicultural Church.
It was an event that, in a symbolic way, reflected the diversity within the Uniting Church, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.
The reality is that the synod is much more diverse than the service reflected.
The altar of the church was decorated by the congregation, with doves for the service the next day being Pentecost Sunday. Rev Eseta Meneilly had decorated the right side of the altar with cultural symbols signifying the migrant journey travelling different paths and coming together in our diversity to express our common faith.
The worship was held in 14 languages with songs sung in six different languages, including English, and prayers led in seven languages.
The procession was led by the playing of the Didgeridoo followed by a traditional Indigenous welcome dance. In the acknowledgement of country, Ken Sumner, the State Director for Congress Victoria, expounded on the acknowledgement.
The moderator Dan Wootton led the call to worship as well as the closing blessing. All the prayers were translated into 10 languages. The congregation members joined in their language of choice.
Songs were sung in Korean, Cook Island/ Maori, Samoan, Indonesian, Tagalog (a language spoken in the Philippines) and English. The scripture readings were also done in different languages with the English translation projected on the screen. The scripture was read in Hindi and Chollo (a language spoken in Sudan). The Old Testament reading was also read in the traditional Chollo way. In their culture the proclamation of the gospel and the reading of the scripture are accompanied by a song. Members of the Chollo community sang a song before the reading of the Old Testament.
Rev Dr Monica Melanchthon, associate professor and coordinator of old Testament Studies at the Pilgrim Theological College, delivered the message. She spoke on Mark’s version of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman.
Rev Fie Marino, the NextGen resource and development officer for the Intercultural unit, introduced some of the young people going on a trip to China and invited the congregation to give generously to the event during the offertory. Prior to the service a fundraising multicultural tea was held to raise funds for the China trip.
For moderator-elect Rev Sharon Hollis it was a showcase of the cultural diversity in music, language and different ways of doing things.
“It was a great service,” Ms Hollis said.
“There was a celebration in our coming together with the people of diverse cultures who are proud to belong to the Uniting Church.
“We also need to make such gatherings relational so that people get to know those from different cultures.”
While the service was reflective of the cultural diversity and faith expressions within the Uniting Church, which needs to be celebrated, the journey goes on and much needs to be done to make our Church vibrantly intercultural. We have much to learn from each other’s hidden cultures and the ongoing work to create a faith culture with meaningful engagement, learning, sharing and celebration.