Accepted paper:

‘Guard the good deposit’: migrant Christians recreating heritage in suburban church life


Natalie Swann (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses narrative accounts of migration from Christians in three churches in Melbourne. It discusses how heritage is embodied in local physical and relational space. It pays attention to the way ‘home’ is remembered and recreated in everyday, liturgical aspects of worship and memory.

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses the ways in which the heritage of Christian migrants is embodied in local physical and relational space. Based on research with migrants who worship at three Christian churches in suburban Melbourne, it discusses the ways in which migrants’ faith converges with how they remember and recreate ‘home’. While ethnicity and religion are often profoundly intertwined, Christian denominations also transcend – and even relativise – ethnic and national boundaries. Australia’s own denominational landscape is related to its migration history; some churches in Australia have accommodated new waves of migrants, while others have been established to accommodate new intersections of ethnic and religious identity. This study involved two multi-cultural English-speaking congregations (one Catholic and one Seventh Day Adventist) and one multi-cultural Arabic-speaking Baptist congregation. Each of the three congregations engaged in this project has a different theological heritage which shapes the worship service, the architecture and buildings used, and the daily practice of parishioners. The migrants involved typically value things such as physical environment, familiar songs, and other badges of ethnic identity as part of their spiritual heritage alongside the less tangible heritage of a particular theology (whether it is one they were raised in or one that they have chosen). Drawing on participant observation, interviews and photography, this paper presents reflections on what Christian migrants consider to be significant to their own heritage and how they recreate and remember that heritage in physical space and in their everyday liturgies.

panel P09
Re-membering transnational living heritages