When andrew lau and members of his congregation set out to establish an intercultural church in Markham, Ont., (immediately northeast of Toronto), they had a mandate but no model to follow. But they had a
vision, and set about making a plan.
lau (who was born in hong Kong) was the pastor of an English-language congregation
within a large chinese church in 1996, when the church commissioned him to start a church
plant. after a consensus-building process, 35 adults met together regularly for a year to
train and plan, while continuing their English service. “We had a clear vision of reaching other
people,” lau says.
cornerstone christian community church was established with 60 adults, only a few of
them non-chinese, in a community that was then 85 per cent caucasian. Today corner-
stone is made up of 300 people (a third of them children) from 30 different countries of
origin. Now almost a third of the people are non-chinese.
The church’s growth has mirrored Markham’s demographic shift. The municipality
of 300,000 now comprises 65 per cent visible minorities, the highest rate of
diversity, says lau, on the continent. “it’s no longer white.”
The church is also active in the community. “We have a Wednesday night basket-
ball program in the school with 60 to 80 kids,” says lau. “We share the gospel at half-time.” and even though everyone knows
the christian foundation of the program, it’s so well-appreciated that “parents from other schools are sending their kids.”
But cornerstone’s outreach doesn’t end in Markham. Every year church teams head to latin american countries
for short-term missions. cornerstone provides food for 300 children a day, and has developed a holistic ministry that
includes things such as microfinancing in Nicaragua.
Baha habashy and his wife Margaret were attracted to the warmth and friendliness of cornerstone as much as to its
cultural makeup. “We really value friendliness,” says habashy. Unfortunately, “The church of Jesus christ has lost the skill
of being friendly and warm.”
although the habashys are the oldest members in a “very young church,” they value the opportunity to minister to
younger members. Egyptian-born habashy leads a men’s group that includes americans, chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and
Fifteen years on, cornerstone anticipates a move from its current quarters in Markham Secondary School to its own
building, designed as a community centre, on property the church has purchased.
cornerstone has come a long way from being seen as a “chinese” church. But there’s still a long way to go, lau admits.
“We’re barely scratching the surface of what an intercultural church would look like in the future.” –DF
Mirroring Demographics in Markham
of translation – all could be factors of change. “There may
be white Anglo-European people feeling uncomfortable
because there’s a more inclusive way of doing things,”
says Dan Sheffield, director of intercultural and global
ministries for the Free Methodist Church of Canada.
A third factor Habashy sees is the ability to change.
“Will the congregation allow that change to happen?”
But whatever the reasons for reticence, leaders agree
churches need to face the reality of a rapidly changing
country, especially in our largest cities. More than half
the residents in the Greater Toronto Area, a metropolis of
five and a half million people, were born outside Canada.
Vancouver is getting close to that mark, with 40 per cent
of its residents foreign born in 2006. And, according to