From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Multi-cultural ministry workshop: diversity ultimately enriches us all

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the April 12, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

About 80 persons attended a multi-cultural ministry workshop at Gonzaga University March 29-31, sponsored by the Sisters of Providence, GU and the Diocese of Spokane. Workshop facilitator was the Rev. Eric H.F. Law, an Anglican priest originally from Canada now living in California.

Rev. Law, who specializes in multi-cultural training, guided the participants in a series of presentations and small group sessions. The presentations included topics such as “What is culture and why are there intercultural conflicts?” and “Strategies for building respectful multicultural communities.”

An analogy that Rev. Law used to describe culture was that of an iceberg. At the top are the “external cultures of seeing, hearing, touching: explicitly learned, conscious, easily changed, objective knowledge.” Hidden below, however, are the “internal cultures of beliefs, values, thought patterns, and myths: implicitly learned, unconscious, difficult to change, subjective knowledge.”

Participants explored their own particular iceberg using several different tools. One was high- and low-context communications styles. Low-context had such characteristics as individual-oriented, linear logic, direct and confrontational attitude, fact-finding and open and direct strategies. High context style characteristics are group-oriented, have spiral logic, indirect, non-confrontational attitude, focus on relationship and have ambiguous, indirect strategies. Persons can exhibit characterisitics of both styles, and workshop participants examined where they were situated on a continuum of low to high.

Another tool was the high or low power distance societal norm. Low power distance features concepts such as all people should be interdependent; equality in a society should be minimized, the system is to blame and the way to change a social system is by distributing power. High power distance concepts: the underdog is to blame; the way to change a social system is by dethroning those in power and a few should be independent; most should be dependent.

Providence Sister Myrta Irrturriaga, who helped arrange for the workshop, said the evaluations were very positive. “We learned a lot about our own icebergs in our internal cultural backgrounds,” she said. “One thing is very clear, if we don’t know our own cultural roots, we cannot relate well with others.”

She praised the process used by Rev. Law, in how participants shared their experiences and were actively involved. The end result, she said, is that “the diversity in our midst enriches each other and makes a great community.”

Participants came from a number of different organizations: both the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses, Spokane’s Catholic hospitals, the Sisters of the Holy Names and of Providence, the Native American Institute, Hospice and others. Workshop contributors were the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane and Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Rev. Law was the ministry and congregational development officer of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada. He has assisted educational, health care and religious institutions to deal with issues of cultural diversity for over nine years.

He has written two books, both published by Chalice Press, St. Louis.

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