On Tuesday 17 October, Bishop Martyn gave the keynote address to a conference of clergy and leaders within the Church of England, touching on the themes of his forthcoming book An Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World: Reflections on Intercultural Gift Exchange.
Based on the experience of developing Intercultural Worshipping Communities (IWCs) in the diocese, Bishop Martyn explained how interculturalism can be a framework for the church as it seeks to become ‘more diverse’ and to repent of the injustices it has committed against people of Global Majority Heritage, historically and in our present day.
Bishop Martyn explained that IWCs are “communities in which members have a deep understanding and respect for all cultures, where everyone – whatever their background – learns from one another and grows together. What this looks like in practices includes sharing food and sharing stories, singing and praying in multiple languages, but most importantly, it normalises questions about who is being included and who is excluded, who do I need to listen to more, and what have I still got to learn.”
This differs from assimilation, he explained – “telling people of other cultures that unless they become ‘like us’, they can’t be a part of our church or society”. It also seeks to avoid the “parallel lives” often associated with multiculturalism.
“It may be a change in our demographic context that prompted the national church to strive for a more diverse church”, he explained “but it is an ambition which is grounded in Scripture and fundamental to our calling as Christians.” For example, the Book of Revelation, speaks of there being, in the New Jerusalem, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
Underpinning our diocese’s intercultural work is the concept of intercultural gift exchange – this means that everyone is recognised as being a gift to the Body of Christ, irrespective of their racial or cultural background, their educational achievements or social status, while being attentive to the way that the cultures in which we are raised and live shape the way we offer our gifts to others, and how histories of oppression mean not everyone readily recognises themselves as a gift.
As well as Generous Giving, Bishop Martyn laid out two other principles to his framework for intercultural gift exchange – Radical Receptivity (which Revd Al Barrett defines as “opening ourselves intentionally to receive and be changed by the gifts and challenges of our ‘others’”) and Transformative Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God and recognising the Holy Spirit as the one who goes between us, enabling the giving and receiving in a way which honours God’s image in both parties). These three principles are, in turn, undergirded by three traits, Bishop Martyn explained: humility, de-centring and curiosity. In practising these, Christ is our model: to fully enter into the human experience, Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus ‘emptied himself’ or ‘poured himself out’. Despite being “in very nature God”, Christ “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” This, Paul says, is the mindset we should have in our relationships with one another.
The conference was held by Reconciliation Initiatives, with Tricia Hillas, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and a member of the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice in the Church of England, serving as the Chair. Also speaking was Sharon Prentis, Deputy Director of the Church of England’s Racial Justice Unit. You can find out more information about the conference on Reconciliation Initiatives’ website.
You can read Bishop Martyn's speech in full here.