After six years of working with my current parish, I’ve discovered that the most challenging aspect of working in a multicultural parish is overcoming fear. I used to fear sounding dumb when attempting Spanish, and I was afraid of being insensitive toward certain cultures, and I did not want to alienate one group to serve the other. At times it felt easier to separate the Hispanic community from the English-speaking, but I knew deep down it was not right.
Over the years, our parish has learned how to integrate multiple ethnic communities. We’ve fortunately seen progress in many different areas. As a result, we’ve seen more young people step up and accurately represent the surrounding community. What has helped us become integrated?
A FULL COMMITMENT FROM STAFF AND LEADERSHIP
While there is still some separation in some areas (e.g., different liturgies), there is a total commitment from the entire staff to serve both the English and Spanish-speaking population. No one has said, “Well, that’s the other community.” or “They should talk to…” In the end, the entire staff is committed to the whole mission field, including other cultures and countries.
Whether your parish is multicultural or not, it’s critical to have the staff identify and recognize everyone who lives in the mission field. With a focus on who your parish is called to serve, you can create more effective and powerful ministries that change lives.
FOCUSING ON THE NEXT GENERATION
The young people in our community are more multicultural than any other generation, and they are used to going to school with people who look, speak, think and act differently from them. So when it came to integrating our programs, our youth ministry came first, and our elementary came next.
Bringing both communities together through our formation programs was a more profound unity. The Church was no longer divided, and people grew in their faith. Other results included a saving in resources because of a lack of redundancy. There was more trust, and new leaders emerged.
If you are afraid to start something new, always start with young people. They are willing to take on new endeavors, even if it means failure. All you need are caring and compassionate adults to guide them along the way. If you are looking to breathe new life into your parish, always start with the young people.
MAKING OURSELVES UNCOMFORTABLE
There are going to be occasions when we get it wrong. Maybe the translated email is full of errors, or we underestimate the value of saying a prayer in one language over another. When forming a bridge between any two communities, it’s about making sacrifices and being open to looking at situations in a different light.
Not only do we have to be willing to embrace discomfort, but we have to invite the kids, teens, and adults from both communities to do the same. With the discomfort comes trust, and you introduce the opportunity to trust by ensuring everyone is represented and that a diversity of voices can be heard. If mistakes are made, then promote forgiveness and provide opportunities for understanding.
Does every parish have to be multicultural? Only if that’s what is required by the mission field. What your parish needs to understand is how to be diverse. Even if your parish resides in a rural area, knowing how to embrace the differences between culture, age, and gender will serve as a reminder of the Church’s beauty. And when the Church is aware of her beauty, it speaks volumes as a witness of God’s love for the entire world.
What efforts does your parish take to become more diverse?