Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Church Leaders Trying to Attract New Followers from Racial, Ethnic Minorities

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Church Leaders Trying to Attract New Followers from Racial, Ethnic Minorities

Article excerpt

Church leaders welcome ethnic, racial minority followers

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When they moved to Owen Sound 10 years ago, John Johnson and his family were the only non-white people in his church.

Over the years, a few other non-white members joined Rockcliffe Pentecostal Church, which Johnson describes as "one big family."

The father of two finds the church so welcoming that he's introduced many reluctant Indian friends to Rockcliffe.

"I tell them my story," he says. "They all come to this church and they have positive experiences."

Many church leaders want to give minorities a similar welcome. The immigrant and minority population is expanding beyond big cities, and leaders believe their churches must do a better job of serving an increasingly diverse population, especially as attendance plummets.

According to a 2017 Ipsos survey, only 40 per cent of Canadians attend church compared to 63 per cent in 2006.

Meanwhile the nation's immigrant population is growing. Foreign born individuals will make up 30 per cent of Canada's population by 2036, according to Statistics Canada, and the bulk of them will be in Ontario.

"Cultural diversity is definitely growing year on year," said Cid Latty, a congregational development associate of the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. "Some of the churches have 20, 30, 40 different nations worshipping in the same context."

Last year, 25 of the association's churches sponsored 119 refugees, Latty said.

Diversity is integral to the Christian community, church leaders say.

"From a theological perspective, we'd say that reflects heaven. Heaven's a place where every people is present -- every tribe, every tongue, every nation," said Merv Budd, senior minister at North Burlington Baptist Church in Burlington, Ont.

The 170-member congregation is predominantly white, but there is a growing population of Indian, South Asian, Caribbean and African members.

It's the same story in Kitchener, Ont., at Highland Baptist Church. Pastor Das Sydney says that 10 years ago, the church was 95 per cent white, and now roughly 80 of the 200 attendees are non-white. They include people from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Sudan, Romania and Burma.

"The diversity that we have is a microcosm of the kingdom of God," said Sydney.

Sydney says his church also seeks unity with the First Nations community and hosted a Baptist conference aimed at reconciliation two years ago.

In Thunder Bay, Ont., Italian, Portuguese, Filipino, Chinese, Syrian and First Nations parishioners worship at St. Anthony's Parish, said Rev. Luigi Filippini.

"The church is like a mama in welcoming all the children. We serve the community as much as we can."

Faith unites the different cultures, Filippini says.

"There's also a strong flavour of identity because they are all Roman Catholics."

The church has masses in Italian, Portuguese and English to better serve its members.

Churches that don't have comparable diversity are striving to meet the needs of their cities' various ethnicities. In Cambridge, Ont., for example, pastor Dan Fietje said the church should represent the larger community's diversity.

After noticing that the ethnic makeup of the 150-member Cambridge Community Church did not reflect the city's ethnic makeup, Fietje raised the issue with the church board and the church is now re-evaluating aspects of its culture. …

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