Anglo-can? image

Why don’t we have more Asian Senior Ministers?

In my Mission Area there is one Asian Senior Minister, in the whole Northern Region I think there are only two. Why?

It can’t be because the North Shore doesn’t have a significant Asian population. More than a quarter of those living in our Parish speak a Chinese language at home. About 20% of the North Shore’s population has Asian ancestry. Statistics for cultural association, ethnic background and language spoken at home all tell this same story. None of this is news.

So what is the reason?

Some have said to me it is because of the lack of confidence in the language abilities of Asian ministers. After all, a senior minister needs to be able to minister to all the groups in the parish. Frankly, I find this unconvincing. I think nothing of having a Chinese dentist and Chinese optometrist, a Korean GP. Some are first generation, some are third - language is not an issue with any of them.

I’ve heard a nominator say their parish isn’t yet ready to have an Asian Senior minister - they’ll contemplate an assistant or specialised ethnic minister but not a senior minister, or at least not yet - they need to wait.  You can have an Anglo minister to Asians but not an Asian to Anglos.

I know of some fine godly gospel hearted ministers who’ve come up against this kind of attitude time and again and have left for other denominations and ministry opportunities. They’re not pushing for equal representation or furthering career ambitions. They just want freedom to get on with gospel ministry and see bigger opportunities for that outside of the Anglican system.

There are some encouraging signs around the diocese that this problem is being addressed. Moore College has made much in recent years of being open to people of all ethnic backgrounds. It was encouraging to see them appoint Dan Wu to the faculty this year. There are some great students coming through. Synod also has a number of Part 7 members from an Asian background.

The biggest place that needs reform though is the practice of nominators. They can’t and shouldn’t be controlled. The last thing we need is some quota system or central control. But at the moment some great guys aren’t getting a fair run because of their race. That needs to change. Its not only inherently wrong, and at odds with the gospel itself, it will have consequences for our churches. When the guy at the front is always Anglo then the churches will reflect that too.

Before Moore College I did an Arts degree with a politics major in white male guilt - it’s not my intention to stir that up here. But it would be great to start a conversation about who is, and who isn’t leading our churches. What is your Mission Area and Region like? If you are coming up to an AGM then what do those standing to be nominators think about this? And what can we do about it?

The Rev Michael Kellahan has experienced the highs and lows of church planting. He also understands ministering in a less well-resourced context, and is currently rector of St Barnabas, Roseville East in Sydney's north.

Comments (7)

Please sign in or register to add a comment.

  • Huntly Gordon
    March 6, 13 - 11:19am
    I think you are spot on here Michael. Thank you for raising this issue.

    Perhaps we could go one step further and nominate an Asian Australian as Archbishop of Sydney? Kanishka Raffel and Peter Lin are two outstanding men.
  • Richard Blight
    March 6, 13 - 12:36pm
    I wonder if it would be helpful here to consider the difference between Australian Born Chinese (and other nationalities) and Chinese born-and-raised native speakers. We have more of the former (but still not many) and a few of the latter - but more often our Chinese speaking pastors are not Moore College trained. I can understand THAT being an issue, but I find it hard to imagine a parish that would resist having a Moore-trained Asian minister . . .
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 6, 13 - 12:41pm
    Huntly, thanks & yes - well done to the nominators who saw their godliness & gifts years ago
  • Michael Kellahan
    March 6, 13 - 2:21pm
    Richard, yes it gets complicated when you consider background, language, level of cultural association so some of our Chinese ministers only speak English. So yes, I've dumbed stuff down here - you might ask what is an Asian minister? But go with my broad brush for a moment. The situations I'm describing here include MTC grads with no language issues. I wouldn't have blogged if this were a one off. I keep hearing it. So sadly not hard to imagine for those caught out by it.
  • David Clarke
    March 6, 13 - 2:35pm
    Maybe now that Crossway (the biggest parish in the diocese) has appointed Gary Koo it may help some others take a similiar step.
  • Philip Griffin
    March 7, 13 - 7:49am
    Michael, thank you for raising what is a very important issue. Quite apart from the fact that we are pastoring more and more people from an Asian background in the upper north shore, the gospel itself tells us that a person's ethnicity should never preclude that person from pastoring those from other ethnic backgrounds. I'd very happily sit under the pastoral leadership of an Asian Sen. Minister.
  • Nick Gilbert
    March 7, 13 - 1:23pm
    Let's not forget that the Bishop of Western Sydney is Ivan Lee, a great Christian man who always appears equally at home regardless of the make up of the congregations he visits.

    But I agree. The culture of the diocese is formed at least as much at the local level as the episcopal, if not more so.