Embracing Difference

Published 7th February 2024 by Aike Kennett-Brown

Last Friday was Culture Day at my daughter’s secondary school in SE London. Digging into my German family history (how else did I get a name like Aike?), I went to join in the festivities armed with my donation of cultural food – 35 large pretzels, freshly baked from a German supermarket chain. Arriving on time, the school hall was packed like I’ve never seen before, with students dressed in a colourful array of traditional dress from over 18 countries.

The smell of teenage excitement (and body odour) filled the air. As the evening progressed, we were treated to a fashion display, video clips of the countries represented, music and dance displays from students from Somalia, Albania, Colombia, India, Sierre Leone, Nigeria, Nepal and the Caribbean Islands to name a few. It was such a joy-filled celebration, with the audience whooping and cheering for their countries. The teenagers, dressed in traditional clothing from their countries, were so proud to have their cultural heritage celebrated.

I was particularly struck by the 3 young women from Afghanistan, spinning around in their traditional outfits, their uncovered hair flowing outwards as they danced. These girls would be banished from school in their home country. Equally moving was watching the presentation by 2 Ukrainian teenagers. As images of their beautiful country flashed across the screen from a pre-war tourist video, I couldn’t help but wonder which of these buildings might now have been obliterated by a rocket attack in the ongoing conflict with Russia. I also felt incredibly proud of this school and the amazing staff who work so hard to create a cohesive community, able to celebrate the diversity in their midst. I came away thinking that there’s so much our churches can learn from schools and their vibrant young people!

As we head for Racial Justice Sunday this coming 11th February, I’m encouraged to know that some Messy Churches are planning or have recently used February’s Get Messy! vol1 session, ‘Learning to live together.’ The session helps people go on a journey of understanding that everyone is beautiful and precious to God. All people are equal in God’s eyes and that God’s promise of eternal life is for everyone, through Christ. It also acknowledges the brokenness in our world, challenging us to notice and act on injustice in our communities and churches.

This message was at the forefront of the Church of England Education Conference NC24, that I attended on 1st February. Here, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby interviewed secondary school students who had taken part in ‘Difference’, a five-session course designed to equip people to cross divides, navigate disagreement and purse a just and flourishing world. In an afternoon workshop we were reminded that in the UK, each generation is more diverse than the one before. As the Church of England seeks to double the number of children and young people in its churches by 2030, we all need to get prepared and make sure that everyone has a seat at the table.

I wonder…?

  • Who’s missing from your Messy Church?
  • What barriers might we need to remove to allow someone to cross the threshold?
  • How can we love our global neighbours and celebrate the diversity they bring?

Aike Kennett-Brown BRF ministries Messy Church Ministry Lead

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