The faces of many of our parishes are changing.  The Catholic Church in the U.S. is the most ethnically diverse denomination in one of the most multicultural countries in the world.  The shift has brought so many blessings, but many are also feeling overwhelmed and unequipped.  Maybe you have felt this in your parish.  There is hope and help!  The US Bishops have created a workshop and a practical guide called Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM) This guide is broken up into five modules which we will explore in this blog series.

Growing Pains

For the past 10 years I have served in a parish whose face has been changing just like many across the country.  It’s a small parish in a small, rural town in Western KY that has seen enormous demographic changes over the last 20 years.  Hispanic immigrants have been moving in while the people who were raised there have been moving out and into the cities.  At our parish, St. Michael’s, about 75% of our 350 families are first and second generation Hispanic immigrants.  Of those Hispanic parishioners, the majority are from indigenous cultures with their own ancient languages and cultures.  As the introduction to BICM says, “Today’s urban and suburban parishes are becoming ‘shared’ or multicultural parishes.  They find themselves serving a daunting combination of nationalities, language groups, cultures, and races.”  (p. xiii)

Sometimes this shift comes with seemingly constant growing pains and cultural clashes.  I’m reminded of a recent situation that happened during our Saturday vigil mass in English.  Our church is always open and people pop in at all times of the day or night to pray.  A woman and her three kids came into church to pray right in the middle of mass.  Kneeling in the corner by St. Michael with her candle, praying out loud in her native language, while the three kids climbed around and played behind her.  You can imagine the distraction and confusion.  Thankfully those attending mass were understanding, helped manage the kids and Mass continued.  But it was a perfect example of the challenges of shared parish life.

BICM Provides Guidance

Whether you are brand new in shared parish ministry or a seasoned intercultural minister, the BICM material can help you take the next steps in navigating these growing pains and cultural clashes.  I attended the workshop and found it very beneficial even after so many years of being immersed in Hispanic cultures.  The workshop helped participants name the cultural dynamics we experience as well as see the natural stages and movements most parishes follow as we work to integrate new groups into the parish.  For more information on pastoral planning based on what season you are in see my blog post Don’t get Stuck in the Comparison Trap.

It was also helpful to be encouraged to use neutral terms.  For example, to speak of the prevailing culture instead of saying predominant which expresses more power.  And then there’s the problem of what we call each group.  While recognizing there is diversity even in each group, we still need a respectful way to speak about each other.  We are always running into this in our parish – do we say Americans, Anglos, whites, English-speaking, non-Hispanics?  None of those seem to fit.  At BICM we were taught that the USCCB has decided to say: 1) European Americans, 2) Hispanic/Latinos, 3) African Americans, 4) Asian and Pacific Islanders and 5) Native Americans.  Even just that small change has helped me not feel so awkward in intercultural conversations and has given us a common language.

In the first Module of BICM, we were reminded of the Church’s mission to evangelize not just individuals but also cultures.  The Church is called to represent the communion of the Trinity, “to mirror that communion of Divine Persons in the way it welcomes and gathers all peoples – ‘every tribe and tongue, people and nation’ (Rev 5:9)” (BICM, p. 4)   In order to be faithful to our mission, we need “intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable ministers of the Gospel to proclaim Christ’s message effectively among all nations.” (BICM, p. 5)  These are necessary at all levels of ministry – from the leadership to the people in the pews.

Gaining knowledge, skills and attitudes

That’s what we will continue to explore over the next four modules.  BICM helps us understand culture (Module 2), build intercultural communication skills (Module 3), look at the obstacles (Module 4), and discover the stages and movements of integration in a parish (Module 5).

If you would like to dive in to understanding culture – especially in regards to the largest ethnic minority, which is quickly becoming the majority in the Church – sign up to get my eBook, 5 Cultural Differences You Need to Know to Succeed in Hispanic Ministry  And I’ll be back next month as we dive into Module 2 of Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers.  


How have you navigated cultural shifts in your parish?  Share in the comment section!

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