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So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

- Ephesians 2:19–22

In November 2004 the Sydney Diocesan magazine “Southern Cross” contained a small article “Boost for the West’s multicultural ministry”. It was headed with a photograph of three familiar faces – Ken Tang, Michael Safari and Bruce Morrison.

The article set out the strategy being developed by our then-recently installed Senior Minister:

“We have the one long-term unifying goal and strategy … to build a second generation church from the children and youth from the four language groups [English, Farsi, Cantonese and Mandarin] and we are working to integrate the children’s and youth ministries”

It is worth reflecting on how that strategy has fared 20 years on. Some things caught us by surprise. In 2004 the description of the “multi-ethnic” Parramatta area was, “a mix of Anglo-Saxon, Chinese and Middle-Eastern…”. There was little sense yet of the enormous wave of South Asian migration that was to arrive. But the model of how to reach such a diverse group of people has been proved – today we still have Chinese and Farsi congregations of first-generation immigrants meeting in their heart languages, but their children have grown up in the gospel together. If you want to know what this second generation church that was prayed and planned for looks like then show up any Sunday at 5pm to see the growth that God has given – the children who made their way through the integrated children’s and youth ministry are now meeting along with many others besides!

Doing church this way has been costly and difficult – I recently saw St John’s described as not so much a large church as a family of smaller churches. But we are a family and we have gathered together with a common purpose. It’s a complex way of doing things but the rewards are great. One of the great advantages of the difficult way that we have done things is that the second generation have been gospelled effectively and productively.

Often when people come to live in another land they are keen to maintain the cultural links with home. I know that’s the case for myself. I don’t think I’d be nearly as strident about being British if I was actually living in Britain! This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it can lead to some difficulties. One of them is when we seek to experience church according to our cultural expectations. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this and we would do well to learn from each other’s ways of gathering together – but it can have an inadvertent effect on our children. We come to Australia in order to give them what we hope is a better future. Our whole life has become a movement away from our original culture to be immersed into something else and we encourage our children to embrace this movement from the old to the new and to make the very best of it. But then we take them to a mono-cultural church like back home that is the opposite of that movement! It’s the “old” way of doing things when everything else about their experience of migration (or being born and growing up in Australia) is of the movement to the “new”. We encourage them to move away from our own cultural backgrounds and yet we can then clothe the gospel in those old cultures. No wonder many of our children then walk away from church if they associate it with other things that they have left behind!

The great advantage of building a children’s and youth ministry with people from many different backgrounds and cultures is that our ethnicity is not the default unifying factor – and so something else has to be. Of course, that something else is the gospel! So our second generation now grow up hearing and living out the gospel together with an Australian cultural flavour. And for so many of them that means that they stay! Again, take the opportunity one Sunday to stick your head into the 5pm congregation and see if that 20 year old strategy hasn’t been generously blessed by our God who delights in joining and growing together in Christ a people from all over the world! We also see that same wonderful mixture in our other services too. It’s a fantastic expression of the work that God does to build a people who are all united in Christ despite their many apparent differences.

And while we’re at it, why don’t we stop and give thanks for 20 years of faithful ministry by Michael, Ken and Bruce?! It’s a privilege to work with them and a joy to share in the fruit of their strategic labour in the Lord.

Who knows what the next 20 years will bring? Time to start planning and praying some more!

David Ould
Senior Associate Minister