Learning to become an intercultural church can help us develop into lush and vibrant communities of faith.

A brilliant red-pink bloom of a hibiscus flower on a background of green leaves.
Credit: Matthew Mclalin, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Published On: November 26, 2019

Rev. Ruth Lumax offers this reflection from her participation in the educational event, “Continuing the Awkward Conversation to Become an Intercultural and Sustainable Church,” hosted by the Intercultural Ministry Network, October 17-18, 2019 at the Providence Renewal Centre, Edmonton, Alberta.


Imagine a hibiscus plant, lush green leaves, breath-taking blossoms, if only for a day.

What does a plant have to teach a human?

Quite a bit, if the human is attentive and willing to learn. Hopefully, plant and person can more than co-exist, each contributing to the other’s well-being, each transformed by the relationship between them, yet retaining unique identity.

What does a plant have to do with becoming an intercultural church or living into right relationship with all our relations?

As an inheritor of the benefits of colonization and someone who continues to address my own White privilege, it is a reminder to listen first, and then to respond in ways that are life giving not just for me, not just for humanity, but for the earth and its creatures. I feel I have not listened enough, but our siblings might say we colonial types have “not listened” too much!

Nor is it my intention to minimize the systemic injustices in our culture, nor the pain experienced by many within those systems and relationships.

Yet the hibiscus as spiritual guide, a story shared in worship at the recent Intercultural Ministries event in Edmonton, continues to root and bloom in my soul. It offers a simple, yet profound, metaphor and reality about what is required for me (and perhaps for others) on this journey to becoming an intercultural church. And, it is a story that encourages me to a lighter presence on this earth.

Am I willing to learn? How attentive am I to the stories, needs, and experiences of others? What do I need to hear, to receive, and to give in order that all our relations might flourish?

What models of intercultural relationship can we, as Christians, draw upon from Jesus’ ministry? How does our intercultural work further this kin-dom work to which God calls us?

I came away with more questions and wondering, and some processes and content that will hopefully enrich my shared ministry and the work we do on behalf of the Northern Spirit Regional Council. I also gained a renewed sense of purpose as a Christian within an increasingly secular and polarized culture. Spiced with time for conversation with other faithful folk, the blessings of the event continue to flow into my life! I offer these comments in the hopes they flow into yours as well.

Some of the information was familiar to me from other learning contexts, but it was helpful to re-frame and re-hear it from an intercultural perspective. Given that exposure to repeated trauma has a detrimental effect on brain development in children, what does that mean for people who experience trauma repeatedly as part of their lived culture?

Language is both help and hindrance in our conversations and understanding. The Chinese symbol for truth being made of the symbols for “ten,” “eyes,” and “on the table” affirmed my belief that the more diverse opinions we have, the sounder decisions we make; and the more varied cultures interacting, the richer and healthier our societies.

Singing words in English and Spanish while someone sang in Chinese — all with slightly different rhythms and tunes, but similar meanings — may appear awkward, but it sounded beautiful. It was a gentle but effective reminder that being intercultural is more than putting other languages into tunes familiar to the dominant culture, more than learning the holy music of other cultures (although the latter is important). It is also important to know when we need to have time in our separate languages/cultures and when we need to be together, and the purpose of those times.

The path for the powerful is to let power go. Blessings and resources, like water, are meant to flow! Perhaps becoming an intercultural church will be like Jesus’ own ministry — grounded in listening, respectful of and valuing differences, crossing barriers in ways that are transformational for all involved so that something new is created. Imagine an intercultural church, with lush and vibrant communities of faith... I wonder how God is calling you to help such a thing bloom, for more than day?

— Rev. Ruth Lumax, chair of Northern Spirit Regional Council and minister of First United Church, Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Find out more about Intercultural Ministries.