Church engagement develops social capital for immigrants


Tuesday 28 Jun 2016

Monica ShortA Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher has identified that church engagement for recent immigrants upholds a sense of wellbeing and develops social capital.

Lecturer and PhD candidate in the CSU School of Humanities and Social Sciences Ms Monica Short (pictured) examined how the Anglican Church of Australia outside capital cities engages with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Her research also examined the intentions, impacts and implications of these engagements, and the role of churches in immigrant resettlement.

The findings of Ms Short's research are included in her new book Three Anglican Churches – Engaging with people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, which will be launched in Bendigo on Sunday 10 July.

"My case study looked at three Anglican Churches engaging with people from diverse cultural backgrounds who settled in Australia outside of capital cities," Ms Short said.

These three churches  ̶  St Paul's Cathedral Bendigo, House of the True Light Church, Bendigo, and St Margaret's Anglican Church, Mildura  ̶  are located in rural and regional Australia and have active engagements with people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Twenty-five members of these congregations participated in this research.

"Migrating to a new country can be confusing and isolating, and for the research participants joining a church is part of the migration experience," Ms Short said.

"Church is perceived by some as a 'go to' place for assistance, love, warmth and/or kindness in times of confusion or when experiencing exclusion.

"Faith is part of the identity of participants from CALD backgrounds and informs their actions. They desire to intentionally connect with God, church and others. They want to feel heard, included and have their abilities respected as well as used."

Ms Short said all the Australians and people from diverse cultural backgrounds she interviewed felt they benefited from the relationship more than others realised, and that building a genuine culturally respectful church community among different ethnic groups was considered to be time well spent.

"This research encourages Christians and all people to treat immigrants with dignity and respect," Ms Short said. "This involves intentionally listening to people from CALD backgrounds, identifying with them and making them feel heard.

"Public spaces – such as churches – which connect people with people and with God were seen as vitally important. Some interviewees connect to church because it felt like a safe place for them and a window into the Australian community. Others consider it a place to meet people and make friends. Some thought of it as a home away from home; a kind, helpful and nurturing place. Others describe it as a place that helps them grow in their personal relationship with God.

Ms Short emphasised that an important finding of her research is that engagement upholds people's well-being and develops social capital.

"The three churches in this report affirmed and used the skills of migrants in their congregations and promoted the abilities of people from CALD backgrounds within the local communities. In turn, the CALD participants felt valued when their help was warmly received. They desire not to be seen only as people who need help from the church but also as people who can help the church.

"The participants consider that a consequence of this emerging multi-ethnic social capital is the connecting of churches to local communities. Therefore, social integration and inclusion has the potential to grow churches."

The study also found that interviewees described barriers to engaging with general Australian society, including churches. These include misunderstanding Australian Anglican Church culture, and an inability to negotiate entry into Christian activities.

"The challenge for regional Australian Anglican churches is to develop a national and global vision of social justice, inclusion and integration," Ms Short said. "Culturally-sensitive approaches to ministry, mission, evangelism, discipleship and prayer can help build Christian unity and develop community with each other and with God."


ends

Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084

Media Note:

Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Ms Monica Short.

The book Three Anglican Churches – Engaging with people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, will be launched at the Anglican Church of Australia South East Bendigo, 14 Keck Street, Flora Hill, Victoria, at 12pm following the 11am service on Sunday 10 July.

Please RSVP to Archdeacon Greg Harris on (03) 5443 3482 or greg@southeastbendigo.com

Ms Short gratefully acknowledges the support of her research partners, Bush Church Aid (BCA), the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo, CSU, and the assistance of the three churches and parishioners involved in the study; St Paul's Cathedral Bendigo, House of the True Light Church, Bendigo, and St Margaret's Anglican Church, Mildura.

More details about the book can be found here.

The recommendations in the book include:

Training in cultural competency for leadership teams for churches, specific to their local rural communities.

Churches connecting with locally-established rural community networks which are building multi-ethnic social capital and well-being, including spiritual well-being.

Churches analysing local CALD communities' demographic trends and developing a culturally-sensitive action plan through reflection and prayer.

Diversifying local church leadership teams to represent the diversity existing within their rural communities.

Mission societies identifying pockets in rural, regional and remote Australia where CALD people have congregated and partnering with the associated dioceses to jointly develop a 5 to 10 year vision for engaging with migrants in these areas.

Churches considering how they will evolve ministries over time, particularly when first and second generation migrants no longer need help but wish to engage with the church and utilise their leadership and other skills.