Bishop Guli's newspaper article about our vision for a truly diverse Church

Bishop Guli has written a feature for the Church of England Newspaper about our vision for real transformation in  Diocese of Leicester churches that will see worshippers willing to be changed by encounter with others.

This is the text of her article:

Revelling In Difference

Before my appointment as Bishop of Loughborough, the Diocese of Leicester (in which I serve) had already committed to working towards increased involvement of people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritage in all areas of church life. It has been my privilege to lead in this area since my arrival in Advent 2017. The theology underlying the principle of greater inclusion is that God’s beauty and splendour is best recognised when we celebrate the diversity of creation in all its many forms. The world around us has changed enormously in recent years and we are increasingly conscious of greater multiculturalism in the neighbourhoods where we live, our places of work and society more generally. England has not been “white” for many years now and yet the Church of England has stubbornly resisted, or simply found it impossible (depending on your point of view), to reflect this change. If you walk into any church, regardless of the wider context in which that church sits, you are likely to find a congregation that is primarily, if not totally, white British. The church has been aware of this anomaly for a long time and, for the last 30 years at least, has been talking about the need for change but in reality very little has happened. In the Diocese of Leicester we are intentionally working towards creating churches that look much more like the society around us, churches that are places of welcome for all people regardless of the colour of their skin or their cultural heritage.

The first stage of the initiative was to appoint a BAME Mission and Ministry Enabler, Canon Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy, who began by undertaking research to map out what the picture currently looks like. The results showed us that the bar is pretty low. The majority of our churches have no BAME people in their congregations and even in the most diversely populated areas, numbers are very small. Whilst some churches expressed a desire to work for change, others believed this was not an issue for them at all because they live in largely white rural areas. This way of thinking continues to pose a challenge, reflecting something of the bubbles in which we exist. In truth, however white our neighbourhood might seem, we’re still likely to meet BAME people at work, at school, in hospital, the places where we shop etc and yet our lives are essentially separate. We mix with people like ourselves and often don’t even notice those who may be different. To move towards an alternative way of thinking and being in the diocese we are consciously seeking to tell stories – on our website, in our magazine and diocesan mailings, that reflect and celebrate the diversity that already exists. To notice how God is already at work in the lives of people of BAME heritage and to ensure that everyone sees themselves reflected in the life of the diocese.

With the evidence gathered from the research, we have planned the next stage of the project which is to create six intercultural worshipping communities (IWCs) over the next five years. One will be a new plant and five will involve developing existing churches into places of greater ethnic diversity, with the aim of planting and grafting more churches from 2024 onwards. An IWC is essentially a church community where people from different cultural and ethnic heritage deliberately interact with one another in order to deepen their understanding and experience of God and of each other. They learn and grow together to build communities which are transformed, shaped, and moulded from each other’s experiences. The project aims to better serve people from BAME communities and also to encourage more BAME Christians to get involved and lead in a range of areas in parish and diocesan life, including lay leadership and ordained ministries. We are not interested in creating ghettos where people from different cultures worship separately, rather we are striving for something richer and more meaningful – an integrated and shared Christian life that does not reduce everything to the lowest common denominator but revels in difference.

To help transform our vision into reality, the Diocese of Leicester has received SDF funding from the Church Commissioners. Whilst this no doubt helps, providing all kinds of opportunities, I’m very clear that no amount of money in itself will unscramble the obstacles we face. The changes we are seeking are much less about finance and much more about conversion of heart and mind – a transformed attitude towards how we welcome people, how we celebrate diversity and how we are truly open to change.  In my experience, most churches want to be places of welcome to all and many believe they are. The problem is that for the majority, that welcome is predicated (often quite unconsciously) on the notion that once people enter the church they will begin to speak and act as we do – that they will learn how to conform and fit in by behaving as we do and expressing their faith as we have always done. That is a kind of conditional welcome that doesn’t truly value the other for who they are and for the experiences they bring. Real transformation, if it is to come, requires an openness to change ourselves through our encounter with others. That kind of change is more difficult to achieve and can be very painful for it involves letting go of some things, in order to allow other things to come into being. So whilst this initiative is undoubtedly about increased involvement of BAME people in all areas of diocesan life, at its core lies a journey towards greater openness and generosity of heart – one which truly sees the face of Christ in others so that none need be strangers and aliens for together we are fellow citizens in the household of God.



First published on: 21st October 2019

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