How do you fit four into one? That’s the challenge facing us at St James’ Alperton (North London). In an area with a majority of Hindu Gujarati people and a large number of Tamil people, St James has four services each Sunday: two in English, one in Tamil and one in Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati. With different congregations speaking different languages it is easy to become fragmented and so, over the past three years, we have worked explicitly at being one church family in all that we do.
But how do you help people from different backgrounds, with different languages, cultures and traditions express themselves in worship? Even the songs we sing draw on what is important in each of our cultures: English songs focus on intimacy and dependence, Hindi songs emphasise the victory of Jesus and Tamil songs give us a chance to thank God for his blessings and salvation. Unity amongst so many different people can get complicated!
As vicars we lead worship at each of the congregations – using translation when needed – so that everyone knows their leaders and is known by them. We also make sure that each congregation has representatives on the PCC.
But we want our unity to be more than administrative and so, six times a year, we have a One-Service Sunday when we worship altogether rather than in our usual separate timeslots. The different congregations take turns to host these services choosing how we worship and what we eat.
To help people participate as much as possible we try to use everyone’s language equally and twice a year we come together and create something new – writing and translating as we go. We have discovered that it’s better to sing in different languages at the same time than to take turns and so we translate songs from Tamil, Hindi and English cultures and use them in the separate services as well as when we come together. The presence of the Holy Spirit comes in a special way when we show our love for each other and make space for other people’s needs.
Our young people too benefit from meeting altogether on a regular basis (separate from our services), being encouraged by being part of a bigger group and learning from each other’s traditions and strengths.
We are one church. We do what we can together. We find worshipping together a challenge but visitors are always amazed that the church is on this journey. It surprises people that Christians of different cultures and languages want to be together in spite of the challenges and occasional awkwardness. Revelation 7:9 speaks of the multitude that will worship God together in Heaven. We are called to express something of this in our worship on earth.
Article by: Steve and Ali Taylor, Vicars, St James Church Alperton
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