London is a cosmopolitan city. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. It’s a whole swirl of colours and people and nations. It’s almost the very definition of cultural diversity. We find this to be the case even in its housing estates too (although there are always exceptions!). Birmingham is similar, but with a higher Muslim population that can be found in some of its poorest communities (and some of its richest!).
The schemes of Scotland? Traditionally very white, very working class, and very racist (and sadly, still is in many areas; again not all, there are always exceptions!). When I employed a Brazilian intern several years ago, he would be constantly racially harassed in the streets. The culprits were usually no more than 8- or 9-years old, but that sort of behaviour is learned in adult exchanges behind closed doors.
How does the church fare? Not much better. I know of only one or two mainstream Evangelical churches and denominations employing black/Asian men. In fact, I was talking to an Asian brother recently about multi-ethnic teams and he told me that in his opinion most of the multi-ethnic church leaders he knows still come from within a very middle class, highly educated demographic. We have a multi-cultural leadership in Niddrie, and by that I mean we have men from scheme backgrounds, working class and middle class (although he prefers upper middle class when we address him :-))! So, we have a multi-cultural mix. But we are all still white.
We do have a 50-year old black lady joining us, hopefully, sometime in the next 12 months as a female gospel worker. Hurrah for racial diversity, I hear you cry. Maybe (or maybe not!). But we still have to keep this dear sister in Niddrie with our main team because to send her out into the other schemes would be too traumatic for her. She will face racism here, but she will be at least guarded, loved, and protected by a bigger, more established team.
We haven’t really had to face up to the issue of race in Niddrie, or indeed as we have planned for 20schemes, because the cultural horizon has been well, so white. So, why now? Well, as I enter into my eighth year in Niddrie, the cultural horizon has changed significantly. We now have people flooding in from Poland, Africa (mainly Nigeria), Brazil, China, Romania, and Turkey (to name a few). This makes for an interesting cultural climate as the locals have to deal with the new order of things in society. In Gracemount, one of our other schemes, there seems to be an influx of Somali’s. So, we have gone from a largely white, working class, high unemployment, social housing area to a new mix of middle class (due to gentrification) and the league of nations all in less than a decade.
What does that really mean for us as a church? Well, I came to revitalise a ‘scheme’church. Therefore, in my mind, we needed to better reflect the community around us and not just be a middle-class enclave hoping to run a snatch and grab operation with the locals around us. This was to be a truly ‘community’church—one representative of Niddrie. Eight years later, we are getting there (slowly) but now that the cultural landscape is changing we have to change our outlook to deal with our new reality. One thing is for certain, and it is that immigration isn’t slowing down anytime soon. We will be a completely different scheme in five years than we were in the previous five. So, what? Everything changes you say? Schemes haven’t really. Not for over 100 years. Niddrie is over 130 years old. People have lived here for generations. Imagine walking into an Indian reservation and popping up a couple of condos and then maybe moving a few Muslims in, some Europeans, and the odd Asian people. It would look and feel weird to the indigenous population. It is ‘their’home. These people have largely been foisted upon them.
The job of the church in this new climate has to be to proclaim Christ, disciple all people, and model cultural, ethnic, and social reconciliation to our new community. Because let me tell you what’s happening already. People are dividing. The Turks just hang out with the Turks. The poles with the Poles. The Brazilians with the Brazilians, and the local indigenous with the local indigenous. An Indian gentleman is hardly likely to pop down the local Miners club for a pint anymore than a local lad is going to pop round for a Brazilian Churrascaria. Even when we have tried to reach out to the immigrant community, we have had very little success. Despite these setbacks we, as Christians, have to find the mediating ground. Isn’t it wonderful to know that what was true for the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2:14 can be true in our schemes too. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
If all this is true for Niddrie, then it has to be true for the schemes as a whole. How so? Where else will our government and local authorities send immigrant people if not to low cost, affordable housing? Where do we find this type of housing? In the schemes. Therefore, we have to prepare for this new reality at a national level. So, in an effort to keep ahead of this curve, we are beginning to start recruiting international workers to join our teams of planters across the schemes we are currently involved with. At first, we will start in Niddrie as a pilot project. There will be a lot of issues to deal with, racism being the most obvious. But, we have to make a start somewhere. By recruiting internationals from poor areas around the globe, we can accomplish at least four objectives:
(1) We can train them theologically so that if they return home, they return home biblically equipped.
(2) They can help us reach out to the international community on our doorstep.
(3) They can broaden our worldview and deepen our experience of God.
(4) We can model to the lost what Ephesians 2:14 might look like across class and ethnicity.
It is no good burying our head(s) in the sand on this issue and worrying about it another day. We have to act now even if we are, in reality, only dipping our toe(s) in the water. Regardless, we cannot close our mind(s) to what is going on around us. That kind of thinking landed the schemes in spiritual trouble in the first place. We must see our societal changes as an opportunity to proclaim Jesus and grow a church that truly reflects its evolving cultural and ethnic demographic(s).
Please pray for 20schemes and Niddrie Community Church over the next 12 months as we recruit and send out our first international worker. If this experiment bears some fruit, we are hoping to add many more of these workers to our schemes across Scotland.