Monday, 7 February 2011

Strangers and familiars

Current debates about multi-culturalism remind me that the growth of the community that we call the UK is not just people soaking up knowledge about what it is to be British but is also about recognising that they come to our country with their own identity and culture. Our own culture changes over time and this development is made richer by people with different cultures coming to live in the UK. Multi-culturalism should be about confidence in our core British culture which is enriched by the cultures of the people coming in from the rest of the world.

In Unitarian communities it is easy to see newcomers as empty vessels coming to us to be filled. It is almost as if their lack of knowledge of Unitarianism and/or of the local community reflects their lack of knowledge full-stop. Rationally we know this is not the case. I would hope that we really don't think this but when people are new and soaking up the newness of the experience, we do need to remember that they are already full - full of all sorts of other things.

Perhaps it's a timing thing - perhaps in the early days it's about feeding the hunger to find out about Unitarianism and the local community. But as people become more comfortable and confident in their Unitarianism we should be asking them, 'What uniquely do you bring to us and what would you like to see developed and changed?' - this is not a one time question but a continuing conversation. I also think that this is not just with newcomers.

When we talk about being hospitable and compassionate towards people we are usually talking about how we are with strangers. Those of us who have had problematic relationships with our families know that being compassionate with strangers is a breeze compared to being compassionate towards some of our family members. And so it is with our communities - listening to the needs and concerns of newcomers can be much easier than doing the same with established members.

Developing communities is a finely balanced approach of recognising the needs of all, the different stages that we are all at and that we all need to give as well as receive. Our culture as a faith community should, I think, have a common thread running through time which reflects our values. How it develops is down to us all - may we all have the confidence to participate in this and the confidence to embrace change.

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