Bishop Mark has challenged us to consider ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’
I remember, once upon a time, learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which says that after meeting needs for survival and safety, humans need a sense of belonging.
The congregation to which I belong (there’s that word!) is small but very diverse – an interesting lot. Most Sundays, we would have 30 or maybe 35 people attend our one service at 10am. The church is in the Brisbane CBD, not in a suburb where there may be more homogeneity in the people who gather to worship. There is a small core of ‘regulars’ and, until COVID times, there were quite a few worshippers who were only in Australia temporarily – some as tertiary students or lecturers, some on contracts with an international company, doctors undertaking specialties – people who may be in Brisbane for only one or two years and want a spiritual home while here.
As we approach Pentecost, I recall that over the years, it has not been unusual for John 3:16 to be read in more than 20 languages other than English in this small group. These languages have included not only the anticipated German and Scandinavian languages, but some more unexpected languages such as Swahili, Malagasy, Tigrinya, Welsh, Korean, Tamil, Bahasa, Japanese, Arabic and Urdu.
How do people with such diverse linguistic (and cultural) backgrounds come together to sing the Lord’s song?
It seems that no matter how diverse the group, people will come together to sing the Lord’s song if they feel they ‘belong’ – not ‘belong’ in the sense of a club, but being somewhere where they feel safe, comfortable, accepted and prepared to be challenged to grow in their faith. Our little congregation is big on inclusivity – in fact we have a Diversity and Inclusivity Statement that is displayed prominently. It includes a statement that says that the congregation recognises diversity as a gift from God, and that we celebrate and affirm this rich diversity. That translates to: Whoever you are, you are welcome and we hope you feel you belong in this community of worship.
Sound theology matters. Liturgy matters. Our worship services include elements that will be familiar to all Lutherans. We are blessed to have a wonderful pipe organ (and organists!). Beautiful music and a familiar hymn can be comforting and uplifting, saying you are not in a strange place.
Forming relationships fosters belonging. Hospitality matters. Sharing morning tea or a celebratory lunch gives people opportunities to interact, find common ground and learn something new. A bring-a-plate Pentecost lunch provides an opportunity for showcasing food – some dishes are ‘old favourites’ from a childhood that was spent far away. Joining in matters. Whether it’s helping clean up when the roof leaks, getting dirty replanting a garden bed or reading a lesson, joining in nurtures ‘belonging’. So often it seems that it’s the little things that make us feel like we ‘belong’. There’s no one way.
When we have opportunities to ‘belong’ we tend to sing the Lord’s song in a new land (mostly) in tune, and in harmony with others, to His glory.
Chair, St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Brisbane City
Chair, District Church Board, LCAQD